2 The Glories of the Person of Christ (Hebrews 1 and Hebrews 2)
3 The High Priest of our Profession (Hebrews 3:1 — Hebrews 4:16)
4 Christ's Sufferings and Call to Priesthood (Hebrews 5:1-10)
5 The Spiritual Condition of the Hebrew Believers (Hebrews 5:11 - Hebrews 6:20)
6 The New Order of Priesthood (Hebrews 7)
7 The New Covenant (Hebrews 8)
8 The New Sacrifice and the New Sanctuary (Hebrews 9)
9 The New Worshippers (Hebrews 10)
10 The Path of Faith (Hebrews 11)
11 God's Means to Keep Us in the Path of Faith (Hebrews 12)
12 Outside the Camp (Hebrews 13)
The Epistle to the Hebrews is addressed to believers in the Lord Jesus from amongst the Jews. The contents of the Epistle clearly show that it was written to establish these believers in the truth of Christianity with all its privileges and blessings, and thus to deliver them from the Jewish system with which they had been connected by natural birth.
To understand the significance of the teaching in the Epistle, we must remember the character of this religious system with which the Jewish remnant had been connected. It was a national religion given to those who, by natural birth, were descended from Abraham. It raised no question of new birth. It was entirely for earth; it was silent as to heaven. It regulated man's conduct in relation to God and his neighbour, and promised earthly life, with earthly blessings, to those who walked according to its precepts.
This religion had for its rallying centre a visible temple — the most sumptuous building ever erected by man — with material altars, on which material sacrifices were offered by a special class of officiating priests who conducted an outward worship of God, accompanied by elaborate ceremonies, according to a prescribed ritual.
It was purposely designed to appeal to the natural man to prove whether there is anything in man in the flesh that can answer to the goodness of God when a religion is given which regulates every detail of man's life, from birth to old age, in order to secure his earthly prosperity, ease and happiness.
In result, this appeal to the natural man only served to show that there is nothing in unregenerate man to answer to God. Thus it came to pass that this Jewish system, which in its inception was established by God, in its history became corrupted by man. The culmination of wickedness, under this system, was the rejection and murder of the Messiah.
The Jews having thus filled up the cup of their iniquity became ripe for judgment. For the holy God to bear longer with a system that, in the hands of men, had been degraded to murder the Son of God would be to tarnish His righteousness and condone man's sin. Hence judgment is allowed to take its course and in due time the city is destroyed and the nation scattered.
There was, however, another purpose in the law. It not only regulated man's life by showing him his duty to God and his neighbour, but the whole system was the shadow of good things to come. Its tabernacle was a pattern of things in the heavens; its priesthood spoke of the priestly work of Christ; its sacrifices looked on to the great Sacrifice of Christ.
Christ being come — the glorious substance of all the shadows — the Jewish system has fulfilled its purpose as the pattern of things to come. It is therefore set aside, firstly, because man has corrupted it and, secondly, because Christ is its fulfilment.
We have further to remember that, while this system appealed to man in the flesh and left the great mass only in an outward and formal relationship with God, yet there were those in this system who clearly were in true relationship with God by faith, and when Christ came they acknowledged Him as the Messiah. They form but a remnant of the nation, and in this Epistle are recognised and addressed as already in relationship with God before Christianity was established.
To this godly remnant the Epistle is addressed in order to bring them into the new and heavenly relationships of Christianity by detaching them from the earthly religion of Judaism.
If, then, through the wickedness of men, and the coming of Christ the Jewish system is set aside, the way is opened for the introduction of Christianity. As ever, if God sets aside the old it is in order to bring in something better. While setting aside the old system God secures a believing remnant from the Jews, bringing them into the Christian circle. This Jewish remnant would naturally have strong links with the religion of their fathers. The ties of nature, the love of country, the prospects of earth, and the prejudices of training, would all tend to bind them to the system that God has set aside. It would therefore be especially difficult for them to enter into the heavenly character of Christianity. Moreover, while the temple was yet standing, and the Aaronic priests were still offering up visible sacrifices, there was the constant danger of those who had made the profession of Christianity turning back to Judaism.
To counteract this tendency, and in order to establish our souls in Christianity, the Spirit of God in this Epistle passes before us:
Firstly, the glories of the Person of Christ and His place in heaven (Hebrews 1, 2);
Secondly, the priesthood of Christ maintaining His people on earth, on their way to heaven (Hebrews 3-8);
Thirdly, the sacrifice of Christ, opening heaven to the believer, and fitting the believer for heaven (Hebrews 9, 10);
Fourthly, the present access to heaven where Christ is (Hebrews 10);
Fifthly, the path of faith that leads to Christ in heaven (Hebrews 11);
Sixthly, the different ways God takes to keep our feet in the path that leads to Christ in heaven (Hebrews 12);
Seventhly, The blessedness, on earth, of the outside place of reproach with Christ (Hebrews 13).
It thus becomes clear how constantly and blessedly heaven is kept before us in this Epistle. It is indeed the Epistle of the opened heavens. This presentation of the heavenly character of Christianity makes the Epistle of special value in a day when Christendom has lost the true character of it by reducing it to a worldly system for the improvement of man.
Moreover, as the Spirit of God passes these great and heavenly truths before our souls, we are given to see how they exceed, and set aside, all that went before. The glories of Christ eclipse every created being, whether prophets or angels; the priesthood of Christ sets aside the Aaronic priesthood; the sacrifice of Christ sets aside the many sacrifices under the law; the immediate access to God sets aside the temple and its veil; the path of faith sets aside the whole system of seen things; the outside place sets aside “the camp” with its earthly religion.
It will be further noticed that in this Epistle the Church, as such, is not presented. It is only once mentioned, and then as one amongst other things to which we have come. (The mention in Hebrews 2:12 is a quotation from Psalm 22.) It is the greatness of Christ and Christianity, in contrast with Judaism, that is passed before our souls. We are made to see how everything in Christianity lies in the region of faith, outside things of sight and sense. Christ in the glory, His priesthood, His sacrifice, approach to God, the path of faith, the heavenly race, and the things to which we have come, can only be seen and known by faith. The effects of Christianity may indeed be manifest in life and character, and may even produce results in the lives of unconverted men; but all that properly pertains to Christianity, that produces the effect in lives, is unseen, in contrast with Judaism with its appeal to sight and sense. Moreover, in coming to heavenly things and the things of faith, we have come to things which are before God, and things which are stable. We are surrounded by things which are passing, things which are changing, things which are shaking. In Christianity we are brought to that which never passes, never changes, and never will be shaken. Christ remains, Christ is the Same, and all that is founded upon Christ, and His eternal redemption, is stable and will never be moved.
The practical effect of the teaching of the Epistle must be to detach us from every form of earthly religion, whether it be Judaism, or corrupt Christendom formed after the pattern of Judaism. Moreover, if the truth puts us in the outside place on earth, it gives us a place inside the veil in heaven itself, and makes us strangers and pilgrims in the world through which we are passing.
2 The Glories of the Person of Christ
(Hebrews 1 and Hebrews 2)
The writer's name not being mentioned, we may conclude it is not of importance for us to know who wrote the Epistle. The reference by the Apostle Peter to an epistle written by Paul to the Jews, which he classes among “other Scriptures”, would seem to indicate that the Apostle Paul is the writer (2 Peter 3:15, 16).
The special character of the Epistle may well account for the omission of the writer's name, for, amongst other purposes, the Epistle was written to show that God is no longer speaking through men, but, in wonderful grace, has put Himself into direct contact with men in the Person of the Son. Moreover, in the Epistle, Christ Himself is presented as the Apostle by whom God has spoken to man, and therefore eclipsing all others who may, in a subordinate sense, be apostles.
The great end of the Epistle is to establish believers in the heavenly character of Christianity and deliver them from an earthly religion of external forms. Everything in Christianity — the glory it brings to God and the blessing it secures for believers — depends upon the Person and work of Christ. Very fittingly, then, the Epistle opens by presenting the glories of His Person. The divine glory of Christ as the Son is unfolded in Hebrews 1; the authority of His word in Hebrews 2:1-4; and the glory of His humanity in Hebrews 2:5-18.
The Glory of The Son
(Vv. 1-3). In times past God spoke to the fathers of Israel at sundry times and in divers manners. God had spoken by Moses, asserting in the law His claims upon man. At other times God had spoken by angels in His providential ways with His people. Later, God had spoken by the prophets to recall a rebellious people to Himself. The prophets are specially mentioned as preceding the coming of the Son.
The Son came “at the end of these days” — the close of the days of the prophets. The testimony of God to man rendered in the past days was continued in the Person of the Son. The prophets spoke as instruments used by the Spirit of God. When the Son came it was God Himself speaking. In the Person of the Son God drew near to men, and man could draw near to God without the intervention of prophet or priest.
The importance of anything that is said largely depends upon the greatness and glory of the person who speaks. God has spoken to us in the most glorious Person — the Eternal Son. That we may learn the greatness of the Speaker, and therefore the importance of that which is spoken, the Spirit of God passes before us a sevenfold view of the glory of the Son.
Firstly, the Son is the appointed Heir of all things. Sonship and heirship are ever connected in Scripture. Men are trying to possess the earth, to rule the sea, and conquer the air. They strive to inherit power, riches, wisdom, strength, honour, glory and blessing. Christ, as Son, will inherit all, for He is the appointed Heir of all, and He alone is worthy of all. The long history of the world only proves that man is utterly unworthy to inherit these things. In any measure that they come within the grasp of man, he abuses them to exalt himself and shut out God. Power he uses for the assertion of his own will; riches in the effort to make himself happy without God; wisdom to shut God out of His own creation; strength to act independently of God; honour to exalt himself; glory to display himself; and blessing to minister to himself. The One who is the appointed Heir of all things man had entirely rejected and nailed to a cross. Nevertheless, heaven delights to say, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.” When Christ enters upon the inheritance of all things, He will use all for the glory of God and the blessing of man. In Christianity we are identified with the Heir of all things. What a consolation for those, who, like these Hebrew believers, suffer the spoiling of their goods.
Secondly, the Son is the One by whom the whole universe has been created: “He made the worlds.” Not simply this world, but also all those vast systems that pursue their way through the unmeasured depths of space. We look on and see that He is the appointed Heir of all things: we look back and see that He is the maker of all things, great and small. The impress of the Son is upon the whole creation.
Thirdly, the Son is “the effulgence of His glory” — the shining forth of the glory of God. The Son become flesh fully presents the glory of God. This glory of God is the combination of all the attributes of God brought into display. The Son has drawn near to us in a way that makes it possible for us to see God displayed in all His attributes.
Fourthly, the Son is “the expression of His substance.” This is more than the shining forth of attributes; it is the setting forth of God Himself — the expression of His Being. The Son become Man was the visible representative of One who is invisible. It is possible to bear the attributes of a person without being the representative of the person. Not only did the attributes of God shine forth in the Son, but He was the representative of God in creation. All His acts showed that God was present with us.
Fifthly, the Son is the Upholder of all things by the word of His power. Even if men allow that there must be a first cause, they would seek to shut out God from all present activity in creation. They conceive of a creation, as one has said “sufficient for itself, a perfect machine made to run eternally without the hand that made it.” The truth is that, not only was the universe brought into being by the Son, but, it is also maintained by the Son. Not a star can hold on its way, nor a sparrow fall to the ground, without Him.
Sixthly, the Son has made purification for sins. Not only is He the Creator of the world, He is also the Redeemer of a fallen world. He has “by Himself” accomplished a work whereby the sins of the believer can be forgiven and removed from before God.
Seventhly, the glory of the Person of the Son is further witnessed by the exalted place He now occupies at the right hand of the majesty on high. In the course of the Epistle it is stated four times that He has sat down at the right hand of God. Here it is by reason of the glory of His Person; in Hebrews 8 it is in connection with His present work as our great High Priest; in Hebrews 10 His position at the right hand of God is the result of His finished work at the cross; in Hebrews 12 it is as having reached the end of the path of faith.
Having asserted the glories of the Son in His passage through time, and in His present position at the right hand of God, the Spirit of God proceeds to pass before us the surpassing excellencies of the Name that Christ inherits when manifest in flesh. Name, in Scripture, sets forth the renown or fame that distinguishes a person from others. Seven passages are quoted from the Old Testament to show that Christ has a more excellent Name than any created being or thing.
(Vv. 4, 5). Firstly, Christ has a place and Name far above angels. Psalm 2 is quoted to prove that, coming into the world, Christ takes a place much better than that of the most exalted created beings. However blessed their position, angels are but servants: Christ is the Son. Never was it said to an angelic being, “Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.” Christ is indeed presented in Scripture as the Son from all eternity; here He is hailed as the Son when born in time. One has truly said, “He always was the Son and will always be the Son. He was the Son here as Man, and He will be no less the Son throughout eternity … There could be no difference between the Eternal Son and the Son born in time, except as to condition.”
To show further that the fame of Christ exceeds that of angels, a second Scripture is quoted, 2 Samuel 7:14, telling us that Christ not only stood in the relationship of Son of God, but that, in His path through this world, He ever enjoyed the characteristic privileges of the relationship, as it is written, “I will be to Him a Father, and He shall be to me a Son.”
(V. 6). Yet another Scripture is quoted to show that the place the Son takes is far above that of angels, for, coming into the world it is said of Him, “Let all the angels of God worship Him.” (Psalm 97:7). Not only was He the Object of adoring worship in heavenly scenes, but, coming into the world, whether in past humiliation or future millennial glory, He is the Object of worship by angelic hosts. This homage bespeaks His glory for, if not a divine Person, such worship would be wholly out of place.
(Vv. 7, 8). Secondly, the throne He takes, as come into the world, is above every throne. The angels are made spirits; the Son is not made anything, but He is addressed as God, and, in contrast with the thrones of earthly kings, His throne is for ever and ever. The quotation is from Psalm 45, which, we know, is “touching the King”. From the Epistle we learn that this King, who is going to reign over Israel, is none less than the Son — a divine Person. The thrones of men come to an end for they have no righteous foundation; but the throne of the Son is a lasting throne, for His rule will be in righteousness.
(V. 9). Thirdly, in grace He has associated others with Himself as His companions; even so, the quotation from Psalm 45 reminds us that He has a place above His companions. While, as a divine Person, He is addressed as God, He is nevertheless viewed as the perfect Man on earth, of whom it can be said, “Thy God has anointed Thee.” By reason of His moral perfection — His love of righteousness, and hatred of iniquity — He is exalted above all those who, in grace, He associates with Himself.
(Vv. 10, 11). Fourthly, all creation gives way before this glorious Person who is addressed as Creator. Psalm 102 is quoted to prove that the One who humbled Himself to become a Man of sorrows and tears is none other than the Lord of creation, by whom earth and the heavens were made, and that, while the creation will wax old and perish, He will remain.
(V. 12). Fifthly, time brings its changes and will come to its end; yet, from Psalm 102 we learn that with this glorious Person there is no change, and His years will never fail.
(V. 13). Sixthly, no enemy can stand before Him. Psalm 110 is quoted to remind us that every enemy will be put under His feet. In the days of His flesh His enemies nailed Him to a cross: in the day of His glory they will be made His footstool.
(V. 14). Seventhly, Christ, though taking His place as Man, is greater than all angels, in that, according to Psalm 110, He is set upon a throne to govern, while they are sent forth to serve, as ministering spirits, to the heirs of salvation.
Thus, if the Son becomes flesh, His glory is carefully maintained. The excellency of His Name is seen in this galaxy of glories. His fame exceeds the angels; His throne is above every throne. Creation may perish; but He remains. Time may cease; but His years will not fail. His enemies are made His footstool; and He sits at God's right hand to direct while others serve. If He comes into the world, all creatures in the universe give place to Him.
The Authority of the Word of The Son
(V. 1). The first chapter has asserted the fame of the Son when come into the world. Recognising the exceeding glory of the Speaker, it becomes the hearers to take earnest heed to what is said. To make a profession of hearing, and afterwards to neglect the great salvation announced by the Lord, by going back to Judaism, was fatal. The snare was not merely letting slip the things they had heard, but the far greater danger of the professors themselves slipping away from Christian ground by returning to Judaism. This would be apostasy. (See New Translation.)
Throughout the Epistle the writer is addressing Jews who had made a profession of Christianity, and among them he includes himself. In the first chapter he says, God has “spoken to us”; here he says, “We ought to give the more earnest heed.” Others have pointed out that in this Epistle the church is not addressed as such, but rather believers individually. They are viewed as having made a profession which is presumed to be real unless, by turning back from Christ, it is proved to be merely outward.
(V. 2). God maintained the authority of the word communicated by angels by attaching a just punishment to every transgression of and disobedience to that word. How much more will God maintain the authority of the word of the Son. If there was not escape from the consequences of disobeying the law given by the disposition of angels, still less will there be any escape for the one who, having nominally made a profession of Christianity, treats the word of Christ with indifference and gives it up to return to Judaism.
(Vv. 3, 4). In its strict interpretation the salvation of which the writer speaks is not the Gospel of the grace of God as presented today; nor does it exactly contemplate the indifference of a sinner to the Gospel. Yet an application in this sense may surely be made, for it must ever be true that there can be no escape for the one who finally neglects the gospel. Here it is the salvation which was preached by the Lord to the Jews, by which a way of escape was opened to the believing remnant from the judgment about to fall on the nation. This salvation was afterwards preached by Peter and the other apostles in the early chapters of the Acts, when they said, “Save yourselves from this untoward generation.” This testimony was borne witness to by God with “signs and wonders” and “divers miracles”. This Gospel of the kingdom will again be preached after the church has been completed.
To have broken the law was solemn; to turn from the preaching of grace is worse; but most solemn of all is to profess to believe the word, and afterwards to treat it with contempt by giving it up and turning back to Judaism or some other religion. This is apostasy; and for the apostate Scripture holds out no hope.
The Glory of The Son of Man
Having asserted the authority of the word of the Son, and warned us against neglecting His word, the writer continues to unfold to us the glories of Christ. Already he has passed before us His glories as the Son of God in eternity, and as manifest in flesh: now we are to learn His glories as the Son of Man.
(V. 5). His glory as the Son of Man will be brought into display in the world to come, though, even now, faith can see Jesus crowned with glory and honour.
It would seem that “the world to come” can hardly be heaven. We cannot speak of heaven as “to come”. We have yet to come to heaven, but it exists and always has existed. Scripture speaks of three worlds: the world before the flood, of which Peter writes, “the world that then was”; the present world, “the heavens and earth which are now” (2 Peter 3:6, 7); and, in this passage, “the world to come”.
“The world to come” refers to the millennial earth, introducing an order of blessing which does not yet exist. This new world of blessing will be in subjection to the Son of Man and thus the scene for the display of His glory. In one sense the present world is placed in subjection to angels, who are used as instruments in God's hand for carrying out His providential government for the protection of the heirs of salvation as they pass on their way to glory. In the world to come the angels will give place to the rule of the Son of Man.
(Vv. 6-9). To bring out this great glory of Christ, the writer quotes from Psalm 8, where the question is raised by David, “What is man, that Thou art mindful of him?” The question brings out the littleness of man: the answer the greatness of Christ, the Son of Man. David, when contemplating the moon and the stars, feels his own insignificance in comparison with their immensity, and exclaims, “What is man?” Looking at man fallen, he is indeed very small; looking at man according to the counsels of God as set forth in Christ, the Son of Man, he is very great. Led by the Spirit of God, the writer of Hebrews sees Christ in the Son of Man of Psalm 8, and can say, “We see Jesus.”
David says, “Thou hast put all things under His feet.” The Spirit of God tells us that this is Jesus reigning in the world to come, and that the “all things” include, not only things on earth, but the whole created universe, and every created being, for “He left nothing that is not put under Him.”
David says, “Thou hast made Him a little lower than the angels.” The Spirit of God says that Jesus was “made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death.” In a world where God has been dishonoured, the Son of Man perfectly glorified God and vindicated His holy character by suffering death. Man tastes death as the result of sin: the Son of Man tastes death by the grace of God. He tastes death for all, that grace might flow out to all.
David says, “Thou ... hast crowned him with glory and honour.” The Spirit of God leads faith to say, That is Jesus and “We see (Him) crowned with glory and honour.” God has thus counselled that, in the Person of Christ, Man is to be Lord of all. The Maker and Upholder of all, having become Man, will be the Centre and Head of the vast universe. This is a glory that eclipses the glory of angels. No angel has, or ever will have, the place of universal dominion.
There thus passes before us the past, present and future glories of the Son of Man. In the past He tasted death for every thing; in the present He is crowned with glory and honour; in the future the whole universe will be brought into subjection to Him.
(V. 10). Verses 5-9 have unfolded the glories of Christ in connection with the world to come. From verse 10 to the end of the chapter we learn the further glory and blessedness of Christ in connection with the many sons that are being brought to glory.
The quotation from Psalm 45 in the first chapter has already told us that it is the purpose of God that Christ should have companions to share His coming glory. In the remaining portion of this chapter these companions are referred to as the “sons” of God, and the “brethren” of Christ. Further, we learn all that Christ has passed through to deliver His brethren from death, the devil and sins, as well as His present service to succour and sustain them as He leads them on to glory.
If, however, many sons are to be brought to glory, it must be in a way that becomes the holy character of God. So we read, “It became Him” — God — “for whom are all things, and by whom are all things” that Christ should not only taste death but, in order to be the Leader of His people, enter into their circumstances and sufferings, and through these sufferings be perfected. Ever perfect in His Person, He was perfectly fitted to fill the position of Leader of His people through the wilderness with all its sufferings. He thus becomes the “Leader of their salvation”. He is able to save them from every danger on their way to glory.
(V. 11). From verse 11 onwards we learn the blessed results that flow to believers through Christ having entered into their position, borne the consequences of that position, and in it maintained the glory of God.
Firstly, the Sanctifier, Christ, and the sanctified, believers, are viewed as all of one. This wonderful expression would seem to indicate that Christ, having come into our position and borne the consequences, has so truly brought us into His position before God, as Man, that He and His own — the Sanctifier and the sanctified — are viewed as forming one company before God. It is well to remark, however, that the Word of God never says of Jesus and of men that they are all one, but that “He that sanctifies and they who are sanctified are all of one.” For this cause, because of the position into which He has brought them through His sanctifying work, He is not ashamed to call them “brethren”.
Believers are sanctified; being sanctified they are brought into the same position before God as Christ — all of one; and, being all of one, He is not ashamed to call them brethren. We know from the Gospels that it was not until Christ was risen that He called His disciples “brethren”. The Lord Himself ever walked in relationship with God as His Father. Never once in His path do we hear Him address God as “My God”; it is always “My Father”. Only on the cross, when made sin, does He say “My God”. We, however, are brought into this relationship, not by incarnation but through redemption. Therefore, it is not until He is risen that the Lord can say, “I ascend to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God” and immediately speaks of His disciples as “My brethren”.
(Vv. 12, 13). Three quotations from the Old Testament are given to prove how blessedly the Sanctifier is identified as one with the Sanctified — His brethren. Firstly, in Psalm 22:22, the Lord declares in resurrection, “I will declare Thy Name to My brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise Thee.” Here the Lord identifies Himself with His brethren: on God's side to declare the Father's Name, on our side to lead the praise of His people to the Father. That which was foretold in Psalm 22 is expressed in John 20 and expounded in Hebrews 2.
Secondly, in Isaiah 8:17 (Septuagint version) we read, “I will put My trust in Him.” Taking a position as Man, the Lord identified Himself with His own in the only proper life for a man to live — the life of dependence upon God.
Thirdly, in Isaiah 8:18 we read, “Behold, I and the children that Jehovah has given Me.” Here again we see the identification of Christ with the excellent of the earth — not with the children of men — but with the children that God had given Him.
(Vv. 14, 15). Verses 12 and 13 have shown how blessedly Christ has identified us with Himself in His position before God. Now we are to learn the further truth that He has identified Himself with us in our position of weakness and death before God. If the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He likewise partakes of the same. If they are under the dominion of death and the devil, He, having taken flesh and blood, is able to enter into death to annul the devil who had the power of death, and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. The devil knows that the wages of sin is death, and is not slow to use this solemn truth to keep the sinner in the fear of death and its consequences all his life. The Lord, on whom death has no claim, goes into death and bears the death penalty that was upon us, and thus robs the devil of his power to terrify the believer with death. We may indeed pass through death, not as the penalty of sin leading to judgment, but only as the gateway out of all suffering into the fulness of blessing.
(Vv. 16-18). It was not to the help of angels that the Lord came, but to take up the cause of the seed of Abraham. To do this it behoved Him in all things to be made like to His brethren. Thus He fully enters into their position, though not their state. Here, for the first time in the Epistle, we learn of His gracious work for us as a merciful and faithful High Priest. In order to exercise this needed service He must, through His life of humiliation and trial, enter into all our difficulties and temptations. Then, when that perfect life is finished, He goes into death to make propitiation for our sins, in order that they might be forgiven. That great work being accomplished, He is able from His place in glory to exercise His priestly grace, and in mercy and in faithfulness succour them that are tempted, because He Himself has suffered being tempted.
The suffering is through not yielding to the temptation. If we yield, the flesh does not suffer; on the contrary, it indulges itself by the temptation, finding its pleasure in the thing by which it is tempted. It enjoys the pleasure of sin at the moment, though for the sin it will finally have to suffer. The Lord was tempted, only to bring out His perfection that never for a moment yielded to the temptation. This entailed suffering. He endured hunger rather than yield to the devil's temptation. Having thus suffered in the presence of temptation, He is able to succour His people and enable them to stand firm in the presence of temptation. With a perfectly tender heart He enters into our temptations and succours us with mercy and faithfulness. Too often we can show mercy at the expense of faithfulness, or act in faithfulness at the expense of mercy. He, in the perfection of His way, can show mercy without compromising faithfulness.
3 The High Priest of our Profession
(Hebrews 3:1 — Hebrews 4:16)
The first two chapters unfold to us the glories of the Person of Christ, and thus prepare us for entering into the blessedness of His service as our great High Priest. In this fresh division of the Epistle we learn, firstly, the sphere in which the priestly service of Christ is exercised — the House of God (Hebrews 3:1-6); secondly, the wilderness circumstances which call for this priestly service (Hebrews 3:7-19); thirdly, we are told of the rest to which the wilderness leads (Hebrews 4:1-11); finally, we learn the gracious means God has provided to preserve us in the wilderness (Hebrews 4:12-16).
The Sphere of Christ's Priestly Service
The latter part of Hebrews 2 has shown the gracious way the Lord has taken in order that He may exercise His priestly sympathy with His suffering people. In the opening verses of this chapter the House of God is introduced to show the sphere in which His priesthood is exercised.
(V. 1). In the introductory verse the Jewish believers are addressed as “holy brethren” and “partakers of the heavenly calling”. As Jews they had been accustomed to being called “brethren” and were partakers of the earthly calling. As Christians they are “holy brethren” and, in common with all other Christians, are the subjects of the “calling on high of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).
The glories of Christ having been set before us in Hebrews 1 and 2, we are now exhorted to “consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Jesus.” The title Apostle is especially connected with the truth of the Son of God presented in the first chapter, in which the Son is seen coming to earth and speaking to men on behalf of God. The title High Priest is connected with the second chapter, in which the Son of Man is presented as going from earth to heaven to serve before God on behalf of men. The true end of all ministry is not simply to occupy hearers with the truth ministered, but to bring them into touch with the end of all ministry — to leave them “considering” Jesus.
It should be noticed that here it is Jesus, not “Christ Jesus” as in the Authorised Version. Every Jew would own the Messiah, but only the Christian would recognise that the Christ had come in the Person of Jesus.
(Vv. 2-6). The Spirit of God alludes to Moses and the tabernacle in the wilderness to show that Moses is surpassed by Christ, and that the tabernacle was only a testimony of things to be afterwards revealed. Moses was never a priest; his service was rather apostolic in character. He came to the people on behalf of God: Aaron, the priest, went to God on behalf of the people. Moses, under the direction of God, built the tabernacle in the wilderness. Jesus, the true Apostle, is the Builder of the whole universe, of which the tabernacle was a testimony. Moreover, if God dwells in the heaven of heavens, it is also true that He dwells in the midst of His people who today form His House. The House in its present spiritual form is one of the things of which the material tabernacle was a figure.
Moses was faithful in God's house in the wilderness as a servant. Christ is over God's House — composed of God's people — as Son. Thus the introduction of the people of God as forming the House of God shows the sphere in which Christ exercises His priesthood; and therefore a little later we read that we have a great High Priest over the House of God (Hebrews 10:21).
The Wilderness that calls for the Priestly Service of Christ
The allusion to Moses and the tabernacle very naturally leads to the wilderness journey of God's people. If the tabernacle is a type of the people of God, the wilderness journey of Israel is typical of the journey of God's people through this present world with all its dangers. This wilderness journey becomes the occasion that calls for this priestly grace.
Moreover, in the wilderness the reality of our profession is put to the test by the dangers we have to meet. These Hebrews had made a public profession of Christianity. With profession there is always the possibility of unreality, and hence the “ifs” come in. So the writer says that we are the House of God “if indeed we hold fast the boldness and the boast of hope firm to the end.” This is not a warning against being too confident in Christ and the eternal security that obtains for the believer for, it has been truly said, “There is no 'if' either as to Christ's work or as to glad tidings of God's grace. All there is, is unconditional grace to faith.” The warning supposes that those addressed have this assurance, and they are warned against giving it up. That the true believer will hold fast, or rather that God will hold him fast through the priestly grace of Christ to the end, in spite of many a failure, is certain. The believer's reality is proved by his enduring to the end. The wilderness that tests the true believer exposes the unreality of the mere professor.
(Vv. 7-11). To encourage us to hold fast we are reminded, by a quotation from Psalm 95:7-11, of the warnings given by the Spirit of God to Israel in view of the coming of Christ into the world in glory and power to bring the nation into rest. Today is a day of grace and salvation in view of sharing the glory of Christ in the world to come. In such a day of blessing they are warned against acting as their fathers in the wilderness. Israel made the profession of leaving Egypt and following Jehovah through a wilderness scene which abounded with dangers, and in which confidence in God could alone support them to the end. For forty years they saw God's works of power and mercy providing for their needs and preserving them from every danger. Yet, in spite of every token of His presence, they tempted and put God to the test by saying, “Is Jehovah among us, or not?” They thus proved the hardness of hearts untouched by God's goodness. Seeking only their own lusts and ignorant of God's ways, they clearly showed that whatever profession they had made, they had no real confidence in God. Of such God said, “They shall not enter into My rest”.
(Vv. 12, 13). In these verses the warnings of Psalm 95 are applied to professing Christians. We are to “take heed” lest, through an evil heart of unbelief, we turn away from the living God to put once again our confidence in dead forms, thus showing that, whatever profession may have been made, the soul has no confidence in Christ and the grace that, through His finished work, secures to the believer salvation and forgiveness. However, what is contemplated is hardly the adding of Jewish forms to the Christian life, bad as this is, but the giving up of Christ altogether and turning back to Judaism, which is apostasy.
Further, we are not only exhorted to take heed to ourselves but to “exhort one another” each day, while it is still a day of grace and salvation, lest any be hardened by the deceitfulness of doing one's own will. Here it is not the deceitfulness of committing sins, solemn as this is, for one sin leads to another: it is the principle of sin of which the writer speaks, which is lawlessness. We little think how we harden our hearts by doing our own will. We are thus to take heed to ourselves and care for one another. Love should not be indifferent to a brother slipping away by doing his own will.
(Vv. 14-19). Believers are not only the House of God; they are also the companions of Christ. Here again it is not the body of Christ, and the members of His body as united to the Head by the Holy Spirit, in which nothing unreal can come. Profession is still in view, assumed to be real, but leaving room for unreality. Therefore it is again said, “ ... if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast to the end”. This is not assurance founded on anything in ourselves, which would only be self-righteousness. The assurance insisted upon is grounded upon the Lord Jesus, His propitiatory sacrifice and the accepted efficacy of His work. Such assurance we are not blamed for having: on the contrary, we are exhorted to hold it fast.
Then referring again to Israel in the wilderness, the writer asks three searching questions to bring out the hardness, sin and unbelief of Israel. Firstly, who was it that, when they heard the Word of God speaking of a rest to come, did provoke? Was it only a few of the people? Alas! it was the great mass, “all that came out of Egypt”. Secondly, with whom was God grieved forty years? It was with those who, by reason of the hardness of their hearts, chose their own sins. Thirdly, to whom did God sware that they should not enter into His rest? It was to those who believed not. Thus we learn the root sin was unbelief . The unbelief left them exposed to their sins, and sins hardened their hearts.
The Rest to Which the Wilderness Leads
The wilderness journey of the children of Israel, of which the writer has been speaking in Hebrews 3:7-19, was in view of the rest of Canaan. Into this rest those who came out of Egypt could not enter because of the hardness of their hearts, their sin and their unbelief (Hebrews 3:15, 17, 19).
Like Israel of old, believers today are passing on their way through a wilderness world to the rest of the coming glory. This rest is the great theme of the first eleven verses of Hebrews 4: Let us note that it is God's rest of which the writer speaks. It is called “His rest”, and, in the quotations from the Old Testament, “My rest” (Hebrews 3:18; Hebrews 4:1, 3, 5).
This rest — the rest of God — is wholly future. It is not the present rest of conscience that faith in the Person and work of Christ gives the believer, according to the Lord's words, “Come to Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Nor is it the rest of heart that is the daily portion of the one who walks in obedience to Christ, submitting to His will, again according to His Word, “Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest to your souls” (Matthew 11:28, 29). Nor is it the temporary rest of a tired labourer, of which we read in the Gospels, when the Lord said, “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place and rest a while”, words which imply that we must be working again (Mark 6:31).
God can only rest in that which satisfies His love and holiness. God's rest will be reached when God's love has fulfilled all His mind for those He loves. When righteousness is established, and sorrow and sighing flee away, God will “rest in His love” (Zephaniah 3:17). “Holiness cannot rest where sin is; love cannot rest where sorrow is” (J.N.D.).
The Christian is called out of this world of unrest to have part in the rest of heaven. For the moment he is in the wilderness — neither of the world he has left, nor in heaven to which he is going. Faith keeps in view the heavenly rest to which we are going, which Christ has secured for us, and where Christ is, as we read a little later, He has entered “into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us” (Hebrews 9:24).
(Vv. 1, 2). Having this blessed promise, we are warned of seeming to come short of God's rest. The mere professor, who gives up His Christian profession and returns to Judaism, would not only seem to come short; he would actually do so, and perish in the wilderness. But the true believer may appear to come short by turning back to the world and settling down on earth. Of old, Israel heard the good tidings of a land flowing with milk and honey, but alas, they hearkened not to the word. (Compare Hebrews 3:18, N.Tn. with Deuteronomy 1:22-26.)
The Christian has still more glorious tidings of yet greater blessedness in heaven's eternal rest. To faith, these coming glories are real. If the Word is not mixed with faith, it can no more profit the hearer now than of old.
(Vv. 3, 4). Nevertheless, though some in old days did not believe the glad tidings of the Canaan rest, and though the vast profession today may not believe in the glad tidings of the heavenly rest, the blessed fact remains that God has a future rest, and believers are to enter into that rest. Every step they take is bringing them nearer to God's rest. The mere professor, without personal faith in Christ, will irretrievably fall in the wilderness. God's oath, “If they shall enter into My rest”, (a quotation from the Septuagint version of Psalm 95:11) actually means, “They shall not enter into My rest.”
The writer refers to creation to show that from the beginning God has had before Him “rest”, and to manifest the character of God's rest. After the world was formed and man was created in the image and likeness of God, the creation works of God were finished. This led to creation rest with its two distinctive marks: firstly, God's satisfaction in all that He had made, as we read, “God saw everything that He had made, and behold it was very good”; secondly, the entire cessation from all His creation work, as it is written, “He rested on the seventh day from all his work which He had made.” (Gen. 1:31; Gen. 2:2). Thus we learn the two great truths that mark God's rest: the absolute complacency in the result of the labour; and satisfaction being reached, the absolute end of all toil.
(V. 5). The creation rest is a foreshadowing of the eternal rest. The creation rest was broken into by sin. Nevertheless, God does not give up the settled purpose of His heart to have a rest — an eternal rest — which no sin will ever mar. Thus again, in the days of Joshua, God's rest is kept before us, for once more there is the good news of rest, even though the unbelief of Israel hindered the enjoyment of the Canaan rest, so that God has to say, “They [shall] not enter into My rest” (Psalm 95:11).
(V. 6). In spite of the fact that sin had broken the creation rest and unbelief marred the Canaan rest, God assures us that He still has a rest before Him, which He calls “My rest”, and that there are some who will enter into God's rest, even though those to whom it was first preached missed the rest through their unbelief. God's purpose to secure a rest according to His own heart is not to be thwarted by the sin and unbelief of man.
(Vv. 7, 8). If the creation rest is marred and the Canaan rest is lost, what is the rest of God which those who believe are to enter? Joshua had failed to bring the people into the Canaan rest, therefore David, long years after, speaks of another rest in “another day”. To set forth this rest, the writer quotes Psalm 95:7, 8. This Psalm is a call to Israel to turn to Jehovah with thanksgiving in view of the future coming of Christ to earth to bring the nation into rest. In view of the glad tidings of this fresh day of grace, Israel is warned not to harden their hearts as in Joshua's day. To refuse this fresh appeal would be to miss the earthly rest under the reign of Christ.
(Vv. 9, 10). The writer concludes his argument by saying, “There remains therefore a rest to the people of God”, and the great characteristic of this rest will be cessation from toil, for “he that is entered into his rest, he also has ceased from his own works.” Thus the great truth is established that whether it be God's heavenly rest for a heavenly people, or God's earthly rest for an earthly people, the rest is still future. It is a rest to which faith is pressing on. Moreover, it is not rest from sin, but rest from labour, and not rest from labour because the labourer is tired, but rest because his work is finished. As one has said, “No present rest is the rest of God; and the futurity of that rest is a grand safeguard against the snare for any Christian, most of all for a Jewish one, to seek it now here below. As God cannot rest in sin or misery, neither ought we to allow it even in our desires, still less to make it our life. Now is the time for the labour of love if we know His love, now to seek true worshippers of the Father as He is seeking Himself” (W.K.).
(V. 11). As the rest is future, and the blessedness of the rest, we are exhorted to labour, or to use diligence to enter into the rest that lies before us. Later in the Epistle we are again exhorted to “work and labour”, to “diligence”, to “be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Hebrews 6:10-12).
There is the danger that we may despise the rest of God that lies at the end of the journey, or grow weary of the labour of love on the way. Israel did both. Let us then beware lest any of us fall after the same example of unbelief. The two great exhortations are, “Let us fear” lest we despise the promise of the rest (verse 1) and “Let us labour” on the way to the rest (verse 11).
God's Provision to Maintain Us in Our Wilderness Journey
The concluding verses of the chapter bring before us the two great means by which believers are preserved as they journey through the wilderness to the rest of God: firstly, the Word of God (verses 12, 13); secondly, the priestly service of Christ (verses 14-16).
(Vv. 12, 13). We are reminded that the Word of God is not a dead letter; it lives and acts by penetrating the heart of man. The result for the one whose conscience and heart come under its influence is twofold: firstly, it reveals the thoughts and intents of the heart; secondly, it brings the soul into the presence of God with whom we have to do.
The Word exposes to us the hidden lusts of the “soul” and the reasonings and unbelief of the “spirit”, so revealing to us the true character of the flesh by searching the secret thoughts and intents of the heart. Here it is not a question of outward sins, but rather the hidden motives and spring of evil. The Word discovers to us the hidden depths of the heart, making manifest how much of “self” is the secret motive of the life. Moreover, being the Word of God, it brings us into the presence of God. It is God speaking to me, laying bare my heart in His presence, there to confess all that the Word detects. How was it that Israel fell in the wilderness? Was it not because “the word preached did not profit them”? Had they by faith let that Word have its place in their hearts, it would have led them to discover and judge the secret roots of unbelief that hindered them from entering into rest.
Thus everything that would hinder us pressing on to the rest of God, everything that would tempt us to settle down in this world, is detected and judged by the Word, in the presence of God, so that the soul may be set free to pursue the pilgrim path, and labour of love, having the rest of God in view.
(V. 14). Moreover, the Word of God, by leading us to judge the secret working of our wills, prepares us to profit by the priestly help and sympathy of Christ. We have not only to contend with the hidden roots of evil in our hearts, but we are encompassed with infirmities and faced with temptations. To deal with the secret evil of our hearts we need the Word; to support us in the presence of infirmities and temptations we need a living Person, One who represents us, One who at every moment knows and interests Himself in all our difficulties and weakness, and One who can sympathise with us, inasmuch as He has experienced the temptations and difficulties that we have to meet.
Such an High Priest we have, “Jesus the Son of God”, who has been before us in the path that leads to the rest of God. He has travelled every step of the way; He has passed through the heavens; He has reached the rest of God. In all our weakness He can support us as we tread the wilderness path until we rest where He rests, above and beyond every trial and temptation, where toil has for ever ceased.
Having such an High Priest, we are exhorted to hold fast our confession. This is not simply holding fast to the confession that Jesus is our Lord and Saviour, blessed and important as this is, but rather the confession that we are partakers of the heavenly calling. Our confession is that, as partakers of the heavenly calling, we are to enter God's rest. The danger is that in the presence of temptation we may, by reason of our infirmities, give up our confession of the heavenly calling and settle down in a round of busy service, if not in the world itself.
(V. 15). We need the succour and sympathy of our great High Priest, firstly because of our infirmities, and secondly because of temptations we have to meet. Infirmities are the weaknesses that belong to us as being in the body with its varied needs and liability to sickness and accident. Infirmity is not sin, though it may lead to sin. Hunger is an infirmity; to grumble because of hunger would be sin. Paul, learning the sufficiency of the grace of Christ in the presence of his infirmities, can even say, “I rather glory in my infirmities”, and again, “I take pleasure in infirmities” (2 Corinthians 12:9, 10). He would not have gloried in sins, or taken pleasure in sinning.
As to temptations, we have to remember that the believer has to meet two forms of temptation, the temptations from the trials without and the temptations from sin within. Both forms of temptation are brought before us by the Apostle James. Firstly, he says, “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations”. There are various external trials by which the enemy seeks to turn us aside from the heavenly calling and hinder us from pressing on to the rest of God. Then the Apostle speaks of a very different character of temptation when he says, “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed”. This is temptation from sin within (James 1:2, 14).
It is the first form of temptation that comes before us in this passage in Hebrews — the temptation to turn from the path of obedience to the Word of God that leads to the rest of God. Further, the devil would seek to use the infirmities of the body to turn us aside by his temptations, even as he sought to use hunger to tempt the Lord from the path of obedience to God. In this form of temptation we have the sympathy of the Lord, as He Himself has been “in all points tempted like as we are.” Of the second form of temptation He knew nothing, for, while it is said that He was “in all points tempted like as we”, it is added, “sin apart”.
(V. 16). In the presence of these infirmities and temptations we have a resource. Whatever the difficulties we may have to meet, however much we may be tried and tested, whatever emergency may arise, there is grace available to enable us to meet the trial. — the throne of grace is open to us. We are exhorted therefore to draw near to the throne of grace, that is to God Himself. We are not told to draw near to the High Priest, but to God, and we can do so boldly because the High Priest represents us at the throne of grace. Drawing near we obtain mercy, not because we have failed, but in order that in the trial we may not fail. The time of need is not here the time of failure, but the time when we are faced with trials and temptations which may lead to failure.
4 Christ's Sufferings and Call to Priesthood
The Apostle has shown us the sphere in which the priesthood of Christ is exercised — the House of God — and the circumstances of His people which require His priestly service — the wilderness journey. Now he unfolds to us the sufferings that Christ passed through in view of His priestly service and the call to the priestly office.
(Vv. 1-4). To develop the blessedness of the priesthood of Christ, the Apostle refers in these verses to the Aaronic priesthood as setting forth general principles as to priestly service. At the same time he shows by contrast the superiority of the priesthood of Christ over that of Aaron.
We must definitely recognise that these four verses refer, not to Christ and His heavenly priesthood, but to Aaron and the earthly priesthood. The Apostle calls attention to the person of the earthly priest, the work of the priest, the experiences of the priest, and the appointment of the priest.
As to his person, the high priest is taken “from among men”. This is in striking contrast with the priesthood of Christ. Truly Christ is Man, but He is much more. The writer has borne witness, and will yet do so, that the Christ who is our High Priest is none less than the Eternal Son.
As to His work, the earthly priest is established for man in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins, and exercise forbearance toward the ignorant and the erring. Here there is the shadowing forth of the priestly service of Christ. As the High Priest He acts on behalf of men — the many sons that He is bringing to glory — to keep them from failing and maintain them in a practical walk with God. Christ has offered gifts and sacrifices for sins to bring His people into relationship with God, and having accomplished the great work that removed their sins, He now exercises His priestly work in intercession, sympathy and succour on behalf of His ignorant and erring people.
As to the personal experiences of the earthly priest, we read, “He himself also is compassed with infirmity. And by reason hereof he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins.” Here there is partial analogy, and definite contrast, to the priesthood of Christ. It is true that, in the days of His flesh, Christ was found in circumstances of weakness and infirmity; but, in contrast with Aaron, His was sinless infirmity, therefore it could not be said that for Himself He offered for sins.
As to the appointment of the earthly priest, “No man takes this honour to himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.” Here again there is an analogy, as we are at once reminded, to the priesthood of Christ. No one can truly take the place of priest, in any sense of the word, that is not called of God. The intense solemnity of neglecting this great truth is seen in the judgment that overtook Korah and those associated with him, who sought to establish themselves in the priesthood without being called of God. Jude warns us that in Christendom there will be many who in like manner will appoint themselves priests without the call of God, and will perish in the gainsaying of Core (Numbers 16:3, 7, 10; Jude 11).
Here, then, we have the character of the earthly priesthood according to the mind of God, and not as illustrated in the history of failing Israel, which ends with two wicked men filling the place of high priest at the same time, and conspiring together to crucify their Messiah.
(Vv. 5, 6). With verse 5 the writer passes to speak of Christ as High Priest. He brings before us the greatness of His Person as called to be a Priest, the experiences He passed through in order to take the position of Priest, and the appointment of God to this place of service.
The glory of His Person. Christ, who is called to be our great High Priest, is truly taken from among men to exercise His priesthood on behalf of men. Nevertheless, in Manhood He is recognised as the Son: “Thou art My Son; this day have I begotten Thee.” It is this glorious Person — the One who is truly God and truly Man, and in whom Godhead and Manhood are perfectly expressed — who is appointed Priest according to the word, “Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.” As to the character of this order of priesthood, the Apostle will have more to say. Here Psalm 110:4 is quoted to show not only the greatness of the Priest but the dignity of the priesthood.
(Vv. 7, 8). In the verses that follow, we learn the experiences that Christ passed through in order that He might exercise His priestly service. How necessary that He should be the glorious Person that He is — the Son — to exercise the High Priesthood in heaven. But more was needed. If He is to succour His people through their wilderness journey, He Himself must enter into the sorrows and difficulties of the way. At once, then, the Apostle recalls “the days of His flesh” when He took part in our infirmities, trod the path that we are treading, faced the same temptations that we have to meet, and was encompassed with like infirmities. The writer especially refers to the closing sufferings of the Lord, when the enemy, who, as one has said, “at the outset had sought to seduce Jesus by offering Him the things that are agreeable to man (Luke 4), was presenting himself against Him with terrible things” (J.N.D.). In Gethsemane the enemy sought to turn the Lord from the path of obedience by pressing upon Him the terror of death. In the presence of this assault the Lord acts as the perfect Man. He did not exercise His divine power and drive the devil away or save Himself from death; but as the perfectly dependent Man He found His resource in prayer, and thus met the trial and overcame the devil. Nevertheless, His very perfection as Man led Him to feel the terror of all that was before Him and to express His feelings in strong crying and tears. He met the trial in perfect dependence upon God who was able to save Him out of death.
In all this sore trial He was heard because of His piety, which brought God into every circumstance by dependence and confidence in Him. He was heard inasmuch as He was strengthened in physical weakness, and enabled in spirit to submit to taking the cup from the Father's hand. Thus He overcame the power of Satan, and though He were Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered. We have to learn obedience because we have a wicked will: He because He was God over all, who from eternity had ever commanded. We oftentimes learn obedience by the suffering we bring upon ourselves through disobedience: He learned obedience by the suffering entailed through His obedience to the will of God. He learned by experience what it cost to obey. No suffering, however intense, could move Him from the path of perfect obedience. Another has said, “He submitted to everything, obeyed in everything, and depended upon God for everything” (J.N.D.).
The sufferings to which the Apostle refers were in “the days of His flesh”, not the day of His death. At the cross He suffered under the wrath of God, and there He must be alone. None can share or enter into His atoning sufferings. In the Garden He suffered from the power of the enemy, and there others are associated with Him. We can in our little measure share these sufferings when tempted by the devil, and so doing we have all the sympathy and support of the One who has suffered before us.
(Vv. 9, 10). Moreover, not only was He heard in the Garden, but, having suffered, He is also heard in resurrection and is made perfect in glory. He takes His place as the glorified Man, according to His own words, “Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures today, and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected” (Luke 13:32). Nothing could add to the perfection of His Person, but having passed through the sufferings of the days of His flesh, having accomplished the work of the cross, and having been raised and glorified, He is perfectly fitted to exercise His service on behalf of the many sons on their way to glory. Being perfected, He is addressed by God as High Priest according to the order of Melchisedec. In incarnation He is called to take up the Melchisedec priesthood (verse 5); when risen and perfected in glory, He is addressed as having taken up the calling (verse 10, N.Tn.).
5 The Spiritual Condition of the Hebrew Believers
(Hebrews 5:11-Hebrews 6:20)
The great object of the Apostle in this portion of the Epistle is to develop the blessed character of the priesthood of Christ. Having referred to the Melchisedec priesthood to show by analogy the dignity of the priesthood of Christ, the Apostle breaks off the thread of his discourse to resume it again at the beginning of Hebrews 7.
In these parenthetical verses the Apostle refers to the spiritual state of those to whom he is writing. Their dull condition of soul exposed them to a serious difficulty and a grave danger. The difficulty was that they were unable to interpret the Old Testament figures. This is referred to in Hebrews 5:11 to Hebrews 6:1-3. The danger was that in their low condition some might give up the profession of Christianity and turn back to Judaism. This danger is developed in Hebrews 6:4-8. The remaining verses of the parenthesis express the Apostle's confidence and hope concerning those to whom he is writing (Hebrews 6:9-20).
The Hindrance to Spiritual Intelligence
(Vv. 11-13). Those to whom the Apostle was writing were not simply ignorant of the truth, nor young in the faith — things that would not necessarily make it difficult to understand the teaching of Scripture. The real difficulty was they had “become dull of hearing.” Their spiritual growth had been arrested. The time had come when they should have been teachers. Alas! they needed to be again taught the elementary truths of the beginning of the oracles of God.
They had become such as had need of milk instead of solid food. The Apostle does not at all slight the use of milk; but he says, If milk is the proper diet, it is a clear proof that the soul is spiritually a babe, needing to be established in the righteousness of God.
(V. 14). The stronger food — the full truth of Christianity into which the Apostle desires to lead us — belongs to the full-grown Christian, the one who is established in the position in which the righteousness of God has placed him as a son before God. Such, instead of being dull of hearing, have their senses exercised to distinguish both good and evil.
(Hebrews 6:1-3). The Apostle proceeds to show the hindrances to spiritual growth. The saints at Corinth were hindered by the wisdom and philosophy of man (1 Corinthians 1-3). These Hebrew believers were hindered by clinging to their traditional religion. One has truly said, “There is no greater hindrance to progress in spiritual life and intelligence than attachment to an ancient form of religion which, being traditional and not simply personal faith in the truth, consists always in ordinances, and is consequently carnal and earthly” (J.N.D.).
As with these Hebrew believers, so in Christendom nowhere is the darkness and ignorance of God's Word greater than among those who cling to tradition and religious ritual. Occupied with mere forms and dazzled by a sensuous religion that stirs the emotions and ministers to the natural mind, people are blinded to the Gospel of the grace of God unfolded in the Word of God.
To meet this snare the Apostle's exhortation is, “Wherefore, leaving the word of the beginning of the Christ, let us go on to what belongs to full growth.” He then refers to certain fundamental truths known in Judaism before the cross, and suited to a state of spiritual infancy. In contrast with these truths the Apostle presents the full truth of the Person and work of Christ now revealed in Christianity, which he speaks of as perfection. By clinging to truths which were for the time before Christ's coming, these believers hindered their growth in the full revelation of Christ in Christianity.
The Apostle speaks of repentance from dead works, faith in God, of the doctrine of washings, of imposition of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. These things were all known before the incarnation of Christ. The faith he speaks of is faith in God, not personal faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. The washings refer to Jewish purifications, not Christian baptism. The laying on of hands refers to the way by which the Israelite identified himself as the offerer with the victim he offered. Resurrection is of the dead, not “from among the dead”, as in Christianity. Martha, in the Gospel story, believed in the resurrection of the dead; she found it difficult to believe in the Christian truth that one could be raised from among the dead while others were left in death.
The Apostle does not ask us to deny any of these Old Testament truths, but to leave the partial light and go on to the full light of Christianity — perfection. This, he says, we will do, if God permit. To go back to these things would be laying again “a foundation”; not, indeed, “the foundation”, as if it were the foundation of Christianity, but rather “a foundation” of Jewish things.
The Danger of Apostasy
(Vv. 4-6). Having sought to meet the difficulties occasioned by their dull spiritual condition, the Apostle passes on to warn these believers of the serious danger to which they were exposed. The fact that they were clinging to the forms and ceremonies of Judaism might indicate that some who were enlightened by the truths of Christianity, and had tasted its privileges, had given up their profession and had returned to Judaism. For such there would be no recovery. This “falling away”, of which the Apostle speaks, is not the backsliding of a true believer, but the apostasy of a mere professor.
The passage speaks of enlightenment, not of new birth, nor of eternal life. It speaks of the outward privileges of Christianity, the presence of the Spirit, the preciousness of the Word of God, and the outward display of power in the Christian circle. All this could be felt and known by those brought in among Christians, even where there was no spiritual life. Such partook in an outward way of the privileges of the Christian circle, and yet could give up their profession and return to Judaism. So doing, they returned to a system that had ended in the crucifixion of the Messiah. They virtually, for themselves, crucified the Son of God and put Him to an open shame, for, by their action, they practically avowed that they had tried Christ and Christianity, and found Judaism better.
It removes all difficulty from the passage when we clearly see that the Apostle is not supposing the possession of divine life, or a divine work in the soul, but merely tasting the outward privileges of the Christian circle.
(Vv. 7, 8). The illustration used by the Apostle makes his meaning clear. The herbs and the briars equally partake of the blessing of the rain which comes from heaven, but the herbs bring forth fruit, while the briars end by being burned.
Comfort and Encouragement
(Vv. 9-12). Having met the difficulty of their low condition, and warned them of the danger of apostasy, the Apostle now encourages these believers by expressing his confidence and hope concerning them. Though he has warned them, he does not apply to them what he has been saying as to falling away. On the contrary, he is persuaded better things of them, and things that accompany salvation. He thus clearly shows that the outward privileges of the Christian circle, of which he has been speaking in verses 4-8, can be known in measure by those who are not saved.
The things that accompany salvation are things which give evidence of divine life in the soul. They are “love”, and “hope”, and “faith”. That they possessed love was proved by their continual service to the Lord's people. God will not forget service of which love to Christ is the motive. The full reward for such service is in the day to come. This leads the Apostle to speak of the “hope” that lies before us. He desired that these believers should diligently pursue their service of love in the full assurance of hope that looks on to the rest and reward of all labour.
The Apostle does not suggest that the prospect of reward is a motive for service. This, he clearly states, is love “to His Name”. But, as ever, reward is brought in to encourage in the face of difficulties. To continue to the end, however, calls for faith and patience. We are exhorted to be imitators of men of God “who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” Their faith looked on to the future blessing and enabled them to endure with patience their wilderness trials.
(Vv. 13-15). Faith, however, requires some absolute authority upon which to rest. The Apostle turns to the history of the patriarch Abraham to show that the Word of God is the solid ground on which faith acts. In the case of Abraham, this word was confirmed by an oath. In the fullest way God pledged His Word to bring Abraham into blessing, the result being that he was enabled to endure patiently all the privations of a wilderness journey.
(Vv. 16-18). Moreover, it was not for Abraham's sake only that God gave this twofold guarantee, His Word and His oath. Thus the principles on which God acted towards the fathers of old are applied to the children of faith now that “we might have a strong encouragement.” God, in His condescending grace, to convince the heirs of promise of the unchangeable character of His Word, confirmed His promise with an oath, even as men do in their dealings with one another. As He could swear by no greater, He swore by Himself. Thus, by two immutable things, His Word and His oath, in which it was impossible for God to lie, He gives strong encouragement to all those who have fled to Christ for refuge from judgment, to lay hold on the hope set before them, instead of turning back by reason of the difficulties on the way. The allusion is to the city of refuge for the manslayer. The Jews had murdered their own Messiah and brought themselves under judgment. The believing remnant, separating themselves from the guilty nation, fled for refuge to the living Christ in glory.
(Vv. 19, 20). The believer that flees to Christ has a hope that is sure and stedfast, as Jesus, our great High Priest, has entered within the veil of heaven. Christ appears before the face of God for us as the Forerunner and as our High Priest. The Forerunner implies that there are others coming after. We have therefore not only the Word of God, but Jesus, a living Person in the glory, as the everlasting witness of the glory to which we are going, and the guarantee that we shall be there. Until we reach the rest of heaven, Christ is our great High Priest to sustain us by the way. Thus again, as in the end of Hebrews 4, the Apostle keeps the Word of God and the living Christ before our souls. Here it is the Word of God as the firm foundation of our faith, and the living Christ as the anchor of our soul, the One who links us with heaven and holds the soul in calmness amidst all the storms of life.
6 The New Order of Priesthood
Having given the word of warning and encouragement contained in the parenthetical portion from Hebrews 5:11 to the end of Hebrews 6, the Apostle resumes the great theme of Hebrews 5. In that chapter he had brought before us the dignity of the priesthood of Christ by reminding us that, as risen, Christ is addressed as an High Priest after the order of Melchisedec. In Hebrews 7 the Apostle proceeds to set forth the exalted character of this order of priesthood by showing its superiority over the Aaronic priesthood.
It is important to distinguish between the order of the priesthood and the exercise of the priestly functions. When it is a question of the order or rank of priesthood, Melchisedec is the fitting type of the priesthood of Christ. When it is a question of the exercise of His work as Priest on behalf of Christians, Aaron is the type that very largely prefigures the work of Christ. The Aaronic priesthood introduces sacrifice, intercession and the sanctuary furniture, of which we have no mention in connection with Melchisedec. Thus we are reminded that no single person can, even typically, set forth the glories of Christ.
(Vv. 1, 2). The Apostle refers to the striking episode in the history of Abraham when, for a brief moment, the patriarch is met by Melchisedec, a greater person than himself. This man is purposely surrounded with an air of mystery in order that, being in certain respects “made like to the Son of God”, he may fittingly prefigure our great High Priest, the Son Of God. The passage in Genesis 14:17-24, in which this scene is described, is typical of the Millennium. After the slaughter of the kings, by whom the people of God had been taken captive, Melchisedec comes forth to meet Abraham. His name and that of his country signify that he was King of righteousness and King of peace. Further, he was the “priest of the Most High God”, the God who, by the slaughter of the kings, had shown that He can deliver His people from their enemies and overthrow every rival power.
In position, Melchisedec was a king. His reign was marked by righteousness and peace, and in the exercise of his priesthood he stood between Abraham and God. As the representative of God before man, he blessed Abraham on behalf of God; as the representative of man before God, he blessed the Most High God on behalf of Abraham. He brings blessing from God to man, and leads the praise from man to God.
Thus, in coming millennial days, God will be known as the Most High God, who will deliver His earthly people and deal in judgment with every hostile power. Then indeed Christ will shine forth as King and Priest. As we are told by direct prophecy, “He shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon His throne; and He shall be a priest upon His throne: and the counsel of peace shall be between them both” (Zechariah 6:13). He will be the true King of Righteousness, King of Peace and the Priest of the Most High God.
(V. 3). Moreover, Melchisedec is purposely invested with mystery, inasmuch as no record is given of his descent, his birth or his death. As far as the story is concerned, he is “without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life.” He comes upon the scene without any details of his origin, and passes off without any sequel to his story. As far as the record is concerned, he “abides a priest continually”, in striking contrast with Aaron.
In all these ways he is made like to the Son of God and therefore fittingly sets forth the dignity of the priesthood of the Son of God, who abides a Priest continually.
(Vv. 4-7). We are further asked to consider other incidents in this story which show the superiority of the Melchisedec priesthood over that of Aaron. Firstly, this king-priest is so great in dignity that even the patriarch Abraham gave him the tenth of the spoils. From Abraham, however, the sons of Levi are descended, who, in the exercise of their priesthood, “take tithes of the people.” But, though taking tithes, they themselves paid tithes to Melchisedec in the person of Abraham their father.
Further, not only did Melchisedec receive tithes from Abraham, but he blesses the one who is the recipient of the promises. The one of whom it was said he should be a blessing, and through his seed all the nations of the earth are to be blessed, is himself blessed, and without contradiction “the less is blessed of the greater.”
(Vv. 8-10). Moreover, in the case of Aaron and his sons, dying men receive tithes. But of Melchisedec we have no hint of his death. As far as the story goes, “it is witnessed that he lives.”
Thus, in the person of their father Abraham, the priests after the Aaronic order paid tithes and received the blessing, instead of receiving tithes and dispensing blessing. Moreover, as dying men they paid tithes to one of whom it is witnessed that he lives. Clearly, then, the rank of the Melchisedec priesthood is far above that of Aaron.
(V. 11). If, however, the Melchisedec priesthood is superior to the Aaronic, it is clear proof of the imperfection of the Aaronic priesthood. It was transitory in its character and imperfect in its work. Later in the Epistle we learn that it gave no permanent relief to the conscience and did not enable the offerer to draw nigh to God. This very imperfection proved the need of another Priest to rise after the order of Melchisedec. This Priest is found in Christ in whom alone is perfection.
(Vv. 12-14). This change of the order of the priesthood necessitates a change of the law, for it is evident that Christ belonged to the tribe of Judah from which no man is called to priestly service under the law of Moses.
(Vv. 15-17). It is equally plain that though the Lord came from the tribe of Judah, He is called to be a priest. Being a priest after the similitude of Melchisedec, He is such, but not after any fleshly commandment, which recognises the priest as being in the flesh and therefore subject to death, for which provision has been made by a succession of priests. In contrast, the priesthood of Christ stands alone in all its solitary dignity, for it is after the power of an endless life. It is as risen in the power of a life beyond death that the Lord is called to be a Priest, and therefore not for a lifetime, but “for ever”.
(Vv. 18, 19). The commandment of Moses as to priesthood is therefore set aside because of its weakness and unprofitableness. It was weak because the priest, being subject to death, could not continue. It was unprofitable because it could not set the offerer in the presence of God with a conscience free from the fear of judgment. The law points to better things, but in itself made nothing perfect. With the priesthood of Christ there is the bringing in of a better hope. It has in view the believer being brought to glory, though before we reach the glory we can draw nigh to God through our High Priest. (Compare Hebrews 10:21, 22.)
(Vv. 20-22). We are further assured of the superiority of the priesthood of Christ over that of Aaron by the fact that, in contrast with Aaron, the call of Christ to the priesthood is confirmed with an oath. To prove this the Apostle again quotes Psalm 110:4. The oath involves that there can be no revoking or setting aside of the priesthood of Christ, as in the case of the Levitical priesthood. The oath makes all the more sure the blessings of the New Covenant, which rest upon Jesus and His work.
(Vv. 23, 24). Under law men were appointed priests who were unable to continue their office by reason of death. A priest could in his measure sympathise with and succour those for whom he exercised his priestly function, but death cut him off and another priest arose who would be a stranger to the sorrows of those who had drawn near to his predecessors. With Christ how different! Having triumphed over death He continues ever in the exercise of unchangeable priesthood: “Thou remainest” and “Thou art the Same” (Hebrews 1:11, 12).
(V. 25). Having shown the superiority of the priesthood of Christ, the Apostle sums up the blessings that flow to the believer through this priesthood. As we have such an High Priest who ever lives and never changes, we are assured that He is able to save to the uttermost point of our wilderness journey, while through Him we can approach to God while on the journey. He can save us from every enemy, bring us to God and intercede for us in all our infirmities.
(Vv. 26, 27). The Apostle closes this portion of the Epistle by showing us that “such an High Priest” becomes us. In Hebrews 2:10 we learn that such an High Priest becomes God; here we learn that He “becomes us”. Because of who God is in all His holiness, none less than Christ as great High Priest would be suitable for God. Because of what we are in all our weakness, none less than Christ would avail for us. He becomes us because of His intrinsic holiness; because of the purity of His motives — He is harmless, without a single evil thought; because in passing through this scene He was undefiled — untainted by the corruptions of the world; because of His exaltation on high; above all, because of His finished work for sins, when He offered Himself up on the cross.
(V. 28). Thus the Son, consecrated to be a Priest for evermore by the word of the oath, is declared to be in striking contrast with the men, encompassed with infirmity, who were called to be priests by the law.
To sum up the teaching of the chapter, there passes before us:
Firstly, the dignity of the order of Christ's priesthood as typified by Melchisedec (verses 1-3);
Secondly, the greatness of Christ's priesthood, as evidenced by the superiority of the Melchisedec priesthood over the Levitical priesthood (verses 4-10);
Thirdly, the imperfection of the Levitical priesthood, necessitating a change of priesthood (verse 11);
Fourthly, the change of priesthood makes necessary a change of the law in relation to the earthly priesthood (verses 12-19);
Fifthly, the priesthood of Christ confirmed with an oath (verses 20-22);
Sixthly, the priesthood of Christ continuing and unchangeable (verses 23, 24);
Seventhly, Christ's perfect competency for His priestly work (verse 25);
Eighthly, Christ's personal suitability for His priestly office (verses 26-28).
7 The New Covenant
In the seventh chapter there has been presented the new order of priesthood, to which Christ has been called, and its superiority over the Aaronic priesthood, involving the setting aside of the law of the Levitical priesthood.
Now we are to learn that the new priesthood not only sets aside the Mosaic law as to the appointment of the priest, but opens the way for the new covenant, based on a new sacrifice and exercised in the new sanctuary for new worshippers. The two great themes of this chapter are: firstly, the great fact that Christ's priestly service is now exercised in connection with heaven (verses 1-5); secondly, that it implies the new covenant (verses 6-13).
(Vv. 1, 2).The chapter opens with a brief summary of the truth already presented. The Apostle states, not only that there is such an High Priest, but that “we have such an High Priest.” This great and glorious Person, called to be an High Priest after the order of Melchisedec, is for service to us. He is One to whom we can turn for sympathy in our sorrow and for succour in our infirmities. The Apostle reminds us of the incomparable dignity of our High Priest by bringing before us His place of power “on the right hand of the throne”, His nearness to God, “the throne of the Majesty”, and His exalted position, “in the heavens”.
Moreover, He is a minister of the sanctuary, or “holy places”. This is not the earthly sanctuary, but “the true tabernacle, which the Lord has pitched, and not man.” Later in the Epistle we are told that this is “heaven itself” (Hebrews 9:24). The mention of the sanctuary introduces another part of the priestly service of Christ. This is no longer the service of succouring us in our sorrows, or support in our weakness, but rather that higher service by which we are led as worshippers into the presence of God. His service for us in our wilderness circumstances has been presented in Hebrews 2-7; His priestly service in leading us into the sanctuary as worshippers is more definitely presented in Hebrews 8-10.
(V. 3). Even as it was an important part of the work of the Levitical priests to offer gifts and sacrifices, so Christ as our High Priest has somewhat to offer, as we read later in the Epistle, “By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually” (Heb. 13:15).
(Vv. 4, 5). This priestly work of Christ is exercised in heaven and on behalf of a heavenly people. If He were on earth He would not be a priest, as on earth the only human priests ever sanctioned by God as a distinct class among the people of God were appointed according to the law. They served as “the representation and shadow of heavenly things”. This is implied by the explicit directions given to Moses, who was told to make the tabernacle after the pattern shown to him in the mount (Ex. 25:40). Christ having come, “the representation and shadow of heavenly things” has fulfilled its purpose. The human priesthood exercised on earth on behalf of an earthly people gives place to the heavenly priesthood of Christ, exercised in heaven on behalf of an heavenly people.
Alas! Christendom, having lost the heavenly calling of the Christian, has set up an earthly system after the pattern of Judaism, with a humanly ordained priesthood as a distinct class amongst the people of God. In doing so there is not only a return to the shadows and the loss of the substance, but there is the practical denial of the priesthood of Christ and the usurpation of His office and service.
(Vv. 6-9). Not only does Christ exercise a more excellent ministry in heaven, but He is the Mediator of a better covenant, established upon better promises. Of this new covenant the Apostle speaks in verses 6-13.
A covenant sets forth the terms on which two people can be in relation with each other. Scripture speaks of two great covenants between God and men, the old covenant and the new, the covenant of law and the covenant of grace. Both the old and the new covenants set forth the terms on which God can bless His earthly people. The great difference between the covenants is that under the terms of the first covenant the blessing depended upon man doing his part, whereas under the second covenant the blessing is secured by the unconditional promise of God. The mediatorial work of Christ lays a righteous basis for God to bless the believer in sovereign grace according to the terms of the new covenant.
In the book of Exodus we have the historical account of Israel formally entering into a covenant with God. Jehovah undertakes to bless the people if they will obey His voice and keep His covenant. The people on their side undertake to do their part, as we read, “All the people answered together, and said, All that the LORD has spoken we will do” (Ex. 19:5-8). Later, this covenant is renewed by the people and sealed with blood (Ex. 24:6-8).
It becomes manifest that, under the old covenant, the people of Israel were set in outward relationship with God on the ground of law. If they kept the law, life and blessing on earth were promised to them; if they broke the law, they were cursed. The blessing all depended upon man doing his part. This was the weakness of the first covenant, for it is manifest that a fallen man cannot keep God's holy law. Thus a place is sought for a second covenant, of which Christ is the Mediator.
Jehovah does not indeed find fault with the first covenant itself, but with those who were unable to fulfil its terms. “Finding fault with them”, Jehovah speaks of a new covenant. The Apostle, in verses 8-12, quotes from the Septuagint version of Jeremiah 31:31-34 to bring before us the terms of this new covenant.
From this quotation we learn that the new covenant has in view the day to come, and strictly is made with Israel and applies to an earthly people. Nevertheless, if the letter of the new covenant is confined to Israel, the spirit of it can be applied to Christians. Therefore, in another epistle the Apostle speaks of himself as being an able minister of the new covenant, “not of the letter, but of the spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:6).
For this reason we should hardly expect to find in the new covenant any of the truths that exclusively set forth Christian privileges, but rather blessings that are essential for all the people of God and common to all the redeemed. These blessings that restored and redeemed Israel will enter into in a day to come are anticipatively enjoyed by believers in the present day of grace.
The new covenant is in contrast with the old covenant made with Israel in the day when they were led out of Egypt. In that day God separated the nation from the world of Egypt that they might be in relationship with Himself. But, as we have seen, according to the terms of the covenant, the blessing depended upon the people carrying out their part of the covenant. This they failed to do, as the Lord says, “They continued not in My covenant.” Consequently they lost the blessing, and the Lord “regarded them not”. To regard a people who, by disobedience and idolatry, failed to carry out their obligations would be to sanction their evil. Thus God refused to own them as in relationship with Himself on the ground of the old covenant. On this ground the nation is rejected.
(Vv. 10-12). Nevertheless, God can and does fall back on His sovereign grace and speaks of a fresh covenant for the days to come. This new covenant depends entirely upon the sovereign grace of God and sets forth the terms upon which He can be with man according to His own holy nature and His own will. In setting forth the blessing of the new covenant, again and again the Lord says, “I will” — “I will make a new covenant”; “I will put My laws into their mind”; “I will be to them a God”; “I will be merciful”; “Their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” It is clear that the blessings of the new covenant depend, not on man's doings or man's will, but on God's sovereign will. The essence of the new covenant is that the Lord undertakes its accomplishment.
Jeremiah tells us that the blessings of the new covenant are, firstly, a work of God in the hearts of His people, whereby their minds will be renewed and their affections engaged, so that the law of God will be written in the heart, in contrast with being written on tables of stone. Secondly, those thus wrought upon will be a people in relationship with God. Into the spirit of this believers in this day enter, as we read in the Gospel of John, “As many as received Him, to them gave He the right to be children of God, to those that believe on His Name; who have been born, not of blood, nor of flesh's will, nor of man's will, but of God.” (John 1:12, 13). Thirdly, there will be the conscious knowledge of the Lord, so that there will be no question of teaching a neighbour or a brother to know the Lord. How truly this is so amongst the true people of God today, who personally know the Lord, however much they may have to learn about the Lord, and in this sense need teaching! Fourthly, there will be the mercy of the Lord by which their sins will be so righteously dealt with that God will be able to say, “Their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” Into this great blessing every believer is brought today.
(V. 13). Such are the terms and blessings of the new covenant. If there is a new priesthood by which we draw nigh to God, there must of necessity be a new covenant, otherwise the new priesthood, however perfect, would be of no avail. Under the first covenant our drawing nigh to God would depend upon our keeping the terms of the covenant. This being impossible we should find ourselves constantly shut out from God by our own failures. Under the new covenant we are in relationship with God entirely on the ground of what God has done in sovereign grace.
The covenant is new in the sense that it is entirely different to the old covenant: it is not a new covenant of the same pattern. Being new makes the old out of date; and decaying and waxing old, it is ready to vanish away. It is vain, therefore, for Jews or Christendom to go back to that which man has broken and which God has set aside by the cross, and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.
8 The New Sacrifice and the New Sanctuary
The Apostle has brought before us the new priesthood of Christ (Hebrews 7), involving the blessings of the new covenant (Hebrews 8). Now in Hebrews 9 he presents the new sacrifice of Christ in all its infinite value, together with the new sanctuary to which the sacrifice of Christ gives access.
The Earthly Sanctuary with its Carnal Sacrifices
(Vv. 1-5). The Apostle first refers to the tabernacle of old, not to speak in detail of its furnishings however symbolically instructive, but in order to show by contrast the superiority of the heavenly sanctuary.
We learn that though there were ordinances of divine service connected with the tabernacle, yet it was essentially “a worldly sanctuary”. By its beauty, its elaborate ritual and impressive ceremonies, it made special appeal to the natural man, and was thus entirely suited to this world. Further, the Apostle lays great stress upon the two divisions of the tabernacle separated by the veil, the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies.
(Vv. 6, 7). Having referred to the form of the tabernacle and its contents, the Apostle passes on to speak of the priests, the sacrifices connected with the tabernacle, and the people. In connection with this tabernacle it was the priests, not the people, who accomplished the service of God. Moreover, into the second part of the tabernacle the high priest alone had access, and that only once every year, and then not without blood, which he offered for himself and the errors of the people.
Here, then, in these first seven verses we have a description of what the Apostle speaks of in the closing chapter as “the camp” (Hebrews 13:13). The camp was composed of a host of people surrounding a beautiful tent that appealed to nature, with one portion veiled off as the Holy of Holies, and served by a company of priests, distinct from the people, who accomplished the services of God on behalf of the people.
The Signification of the Tabernacle and its Sacrifices
(Vv. 8-10). What then are we to learn from the tabernacle and its services? We are not left to give our own interpretation, but are definitely told that the Holy Spirit has signified their true meaning. Firstly, we are to learn that the services of the tabernacle clearly showed that, under the law, the way into the presence of God was not yet made manifest.
Secondly, if the way into the Holiest was not yet open, it was a clear proof of the insufficiency of the sacrifices. They could not make the offerer perfect as to the conscience.
Thirdly, these things during their existence were a figure of things to come. The figures, however, could never satisfy God nor meet the need of man. Under such a system God was shut in and man was shut out. The Jewish system could neither open heaven to us nor fit us for heaven.
Christendom, alas, ignoring the teaching of the Holy Spirit, instead of seeing in the tabernacle a figure, has used it as a pattern for their religious services. So doing, it has lost the “good things” of which the figures speak. Thus the mass in Christendom have again set up magnificent buildings, have again railed off one part of their buildings as more holy than the rest, and again have instituted a priestly class distinct from the laity, who perform religious services on behalf of the people. Thus a system has been adopted after the pattern of the Jewish camp that keeps people at a distance from God and can never make the conscience perfect.
It is well to remember that the “perfect” or “purged” conscience, of which the Apostle speaks in Hebrews 9 and 10, is very different to that which is spoken of elsewhere as “a good conscience”. The purged conscience is one that, being “once purged”, has no more conscience of sins (Hebrews 10:2). It supposes a conscience that has been exercised as to its sins, but has had that exercise met by learning that the believer is cleansed from all sins by the precious blood of Christ and will never come under judgment. A good conscience is a conscience void of offence in the practical ways and walk.
The New Sacrifice
(V. 11). With the coming of Christ all is changed. At once we have a new High Priest, a greater and more perfect tabernacle and a new sacrifice. Aaron was high priest in reference to things in this present world; Christ is our “High Priest of good things to come”. The sacrifice of Christ does indeed secure present blessings for the believer, but the “good things” in reference to which Christ is High Priest are yet “to come”. Thus again the Spirit of God keeps in view the end of our wilderness journey. In Hebrews 2:10 we have learnt that Christ is bringing many sons to glory; in Hebrews 2:5 we read of “the world to come”; in Hebrews 4:9 we are told of the rest that remains; in Hebrews 6:5 we again read of “the world to come”. Christ is our High Priest to support us through the wilderness in view of bringing us into the “good things” at the end of the journey in the world to come.
If, then, the Aaronic priesthood is set aside by the priesthood of Christ, so too the earthly tabernacle is set aside by “the greater and more perfect tabernacle”. The earthly tabernacle was made with hands and was of this creation; the perfect tabernacle is “heaven itself” (verse 20).
(V. 12). The Levitical sacrifices are set aside by the one great sacrifice of Christ, who by His own blood has entered into heaven itself, prefigured by the Holy of Holies. Moreover, in contrast with the Aaronic priest who entered once “every year”, Christ has entered into heaven “once for all”. He enters to take up His priestly service on behalf of those for whom He has already obtained eternal redemption.
(Vv. 13, 14). The blood of Christ, by which eternal redemption has been obtained, sets aside the blood of bulls and of goats. The blood of these animals did indeed have a sanctifying effect, so far as the cleansing of the body is concerned. (See Numbers 19:7, 8.) But the blood of Christ purges the conscience. The blood of an animal offered through a priest is entirely set aside by “the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God.” By the Holy Spirit Christ became incarnate; by the Holy Spirit He lived His life of perfection. So, by the eternal Spirit, as the perfect Man He “offered Himself without spot to God”. (Compare Luke 1:35 and Acts 10:38.) In the ninth verse of the second chapter we read that by “the grace of God” Jesus tasted death “for every man”. Here we learn that He has offered Himself without spot to God. Thus we can announce to the sinner that Christ has offered Himself to God, but for you.
For the one that believes, the effect of this great sacrifice is to purge the “conscience from dead works”. As Christ has offered Himself without spot to God and God has accepted the great sacrifice and is infinitely satisfied with Christ and His shed blood, the conscience of the believer is relieved of all thought of working to secure the blessing. Such works, however good in themselves, would only be dead works. Thus set free in conscience, the believer becomes a worshipper of God.
(V. 15). As the offering of Christ meets the holiness of God and the need of the sinner, Christ becomes the Mediator of the new covenant, the One through whom all blessings of the new covenant are secured for those who are called, that they might enter into the promise of the eternal inheritance.
(Vv. 16, 17). The Apostle has shown that “by means of death” the believer receives the promise of the inheritance. In order to illustrate the necessity of death he refers in these two parenthetical verses to the fact that, amongst men, the inheritance is secured by a will that only comes into force by the death of the one who makes the will.
(Vv. 18-22). The writer proceeds to show the great fact that the blessings of the new covenant and the new sanctuary can only be secured “by means of death” was set forth in figure in the first covenant and the earthly tabernacle. The first covenant was dedicated by blood, and the tabernacle with all its vessels were sprinkled with blood, the witness that there can be no blessing for man, no drawing nigh to God apart from the blood.
Thus the great conclusion is reached that “without shedding of blood is no remission.” Here it is not simply the sprinkling of blood, but the “shedding of blood” — the righteous basis upon which God can proclaim forgiveness to all and proclaim all who believe forgiven.
(V. 23). The tabernacle and its furnishings were only “the patterns of things in the heavens”. It was possible to enter the earthly tabernacle through the purification of the flesh, afforded by the blood of bulls and goats; but the purification of heavenly things demanded better sacrifices.
The New Sanctuary
(V. 24). The writer has spoken of the better sacrifices, introducing the subject with the words, “But Christ being come” (verse 11). Now he leads our thoughts to the New Sanctuary with the words, “For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself.” There, in the very presence of God, the Lord Jesus as our great High Priest now appears to represent His people before the face of God. Christ appearing in heaven before the face of God “for us” is the everlasting witness that heaven is secured and thrown open to the believer.
(Vv. 25-28). Moreover, every hindrance to the believer being in heaven has been righteously met and removed by one eternally efficacious sacrifice. The yearly repetition of the Levitical sacrifices was a proof of their inadequacy to put away sin. In contrast with these sacrifices, Christ has once appeared in the consummation of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself, “and as it is appointed to men once to die, but after this the judgment: so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many.” Thus, by one sacrifice, of Christ Himself, sin has been put away, sins have been borne, and death and judgment removed for the believer.
The blessed result for the believer is that when Christ appears the second time, He will no more have to do with sin. Sin having been dealt with at His first appearing, His second appearing will be wholly for the salvation of His people from a world of sin and the power of the enemy to bring them into the rest that remains.
The passage thus presents the three appearings of the Lord Jesus: His past appearing at the cross to put away sin, bear sins and remove judgment (verse 26); His present appearing in heaven itself as the great High Priest on behalf of His people; the future appearing in glory for the final salvation of His people from this wilderness world with all its temptations and infirmities.
9 The New Worshippers
The tenth chapter of the Epistle sets forth the way in which the believer has been fitted for heaven. His conscience is purged (verses 1-18), so that he can now enter into the holiest in spirit (verses 19-22), hold fast on his way through this world without wavering or turning back (verses 23-31), face persecution (verses 32-34), and tread the path of faith (verses 35-39).
The Purged Conscience
(Vv. 1-4). In Hebrews 9 we have learnt that a place in heaven is secured for every believer, not by anything the believer has done, but wholly through the work of Christ and the position He occupies before the face of God. In Hebrews 10 we learn how the same work is applied to the believer's conscience, in order that even now he may enjoy and, in spirit, enter this new place. To find our home with Christ in heaven itself, it is necessary to have a purged conscience. The first eighteen verses of Hebrews 10 plainly set forth how this purged conscience is secured.
In three passages, in Hebrews 9 and 10, the Apostle speaks of a “perfect” or “purged” conscience. In Hebrews 9:9 he definitely states that the Jewish sacrifices could not make the offerer perfect as to the conscience. Again, in Hebrews 9:14 we read of the perfect offering of Christ purging the conscience from dead works so that the believer is set free to worship the living God. Lastly, in Hebrews 10:2 we are told that the worshipper who has a purged conscience is one that has no more conscience of sins. He who has a conscience of sins lives in the dread that God will one day bring him into judgment on account of his sins, and therefore cannot enjoy peace with God. To have no more conscience of sins implies that this dread of judgment is removed by seeing that God has dealt with all the sins of the believer.
Nevertheless, though God will never bring the believer into judgment for his sins, as a Father He may have to deal in chastening if, as children, we sin (Hebrews 12:5-11). A purged conscience does not therefore imply that we never sin, or that we never have the consciousness of failure, either past or present, but it does imply that all dread of a future judgment on account of our sins is entirely removed. Thus a purged conscience is not to be confounded with what we speak of as a good conscience. If, by reason of careless walk, a true believer fails, his conscience will be surely troubled, and only by confession to God will he regain a good conscience. This, however, does not touch the question of the eternal forgiveness of his sins which gives him a purged conscience.
Under the law it was impossible to obtain a “perfect” or “purged” conscience. At most the sacrifices could only give temporary relief. Each fresh sin called for a fresh sacrifice. Had the sacrifices given a purged conscience they would not have been repeated. The law showed, indeed, that a sacrifice was needed to take away sins, but it was only a shadow of good things to come; it was not the substance. The blood of bulls and goats can never take away sins.
How, then, is a purged conscience obtained? The following verses answer this question by bringing before us three great truths:
First, the will of God (verses 5-10);
Secondly, the work of Christ (verses 11-14);
Thirdly, the witness of the Spirit (verses 15-18).
(Vv. 5-7). The will of God was written in the volume of the book. This clearly is not the volume of Scripture, for this reference to the volume of the book forms part of the quotation from Psalm 40. It would seem to be a figurative reference to the eternal counsels of God. Coming into the world, the Lord says, He has come to do the will of God. Sacrifice and offerings under the law could not carry out God's will. A body had to be prepared for the Lord, that in accord with the counsels of God He might accomplish the will of God.
(Vv. 8, 9). What the Lord said when He came into the world had already been said “above” in heaven. To carry out the will of God necessitated taking away the first covenant to establish the second.
(V. 10). In the tenth verse we are definitely told what the will of God is. There we read, “By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” It is in vain and needless to look within in the endeavour to find in our faith, our repentance, our experiences or our feelings that which will bring relief or peace to the burdened conscience. This Scripture so blessedly takes our thoughts entirely away from ourselves and occupies us with the will of God and the work of Christ. God discovers to us the blessed secret of His counsels that it is His will to have us divested of every spot of sin, not through anything we have done or can do, but entirely through the work of another, the Lord Jesus Christ.
(Vv. 11-14). These verses now bring before us in greater detail the work of Christ whereby the will of God is carried out. These verses are wholly concerned with Christ and His work. We have no part in this work except the sins which necessitated it. We must keep out our feelings and our experiences, and in simple faith stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.
Verse 11 brings before us the utter hopelessness of Jewish sacrifices. This verse covers a period of fifteen hundred years and with one comprehensive sweep takes in every Jewish priest, all the days of their never-ending works, with the innumerable sacrifices that they offered. Then we are told that this vast parade of human energy, with the rivers of blood that flowed from Jewish altars, “can never take away sins.”
Having thus in one brief verse dismissed the whole Jewish system, the Apostle in verse 12 presents in contrast the mighty work of Christ. “This Man”, Christ, in contrast with all the Jewish priests, “after He had offered one sacrifice for sins” — in contrast with all the Jewish sacrifices — “for ever sat down on the right hand of God”, in contrast with the priests who were ever standing, never having finished their work.
The blessedness of the truth of this verse is somewhat obscured by the faulty rendering of the Authorised Version. The comma, coming after the words “for ever”, links these words with the one sacrifice. Properly, the comma should come after the word “sin”, leaving the words “for ever” rightly connected with Christ having sat down at the right hand of God. Christ might have done one work for ever, meaning He would never undertake the work again, and yet that work would not be finished. If, however, He has sat down “for ever”, or “in perpetuity” (N.Tn.), it is the everlasting proof that His work is finished. So far as the work of atonement is concerned, He will never have to rise up. Moreover, as He has sat down at the right hand of God, we know that His work is an accepted work.
The two verses that follow set forth the result of Christ having sat down in perpetuity, both for His enemies and for believers. For His enemies it involves judgment; His work having been rejected, there is nothing more to be done to put away sins. “Henceforth” Christ is waiting “till His enemies be made His footstool”.
As to the sanctified, Christ, as risen and glorified, is perfected; and by His work He has perfected the believer. We wait to receive our glorified bodies, but our souls have been perfectly cleansed from sins in the sight of God by the work of Christ. As one has said, “The Father and the Son could do no more for our sins than is already accomplished in the sacrifice of Jesus, and revealed to our faith in the written Word.” Not only has Christ sat down for ever, but believers are sanctified for ever. If Christ has sat down in perpetuity, then believers are perfected in perpetuity.
(Vv. 15-18). The passage has presented the will of God as the source of our blessing, and the work of Christ as the efficacious means by which the blessing is secured. Now the Apostle presents the witness of the Spirit as the One who brings to us the knowledge of the truth with divine authority, so that it may be possessed with divine certainty. In other Scriptures we read of the witness of the Spirit in us (Romans 8:16); here it is the witness of the Spirit to us. The witness “to us” is what the Spirit has said in Scripture, as we read, “after that He had said before”. Then follows the quotation from Jeremiah 31:34, already quoted in Hebrews 8, to present the terms of the new covenant. Here the quotation is repeated to prove that the efficacy of the work of Christ is such that God can say of believers, “Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.” God does not say, “Their sins and iniquities I will not remember”, but “Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.” The simple statement that God would not remember our sins might imply that He passed them over. But when God says they will be remembered “no more”, it implies that they have all been remembered, confessed, borne and dealt with in judgment. As they have been dealt with, God can righteously say they will be remembered “no more”.
The New Worshippers
(Vv. 19-22). The truth of the purged conscience prepares the way for worship. Already the Apostle has spoken of the new sacrifice and the new sanctuary; now he presents the new worshipper. In contrast with Judaism, in which the offerer had no access to the holiest, in Christianity the believer has “boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus”. Provision has been made to remove all that would hinder our drawing nigh to God as worshippers. Sins have been met by the blood of Jesus. Christ, having taken flesh and become Man, has opened a living way for men to enter the holiest. Our infirmities are met by our High Priest. Neither the sins we have committed, the bodies we are in, nor the infirmities with which we are encompassed, can hinder the believer from entering in spirit within the veil, into heaven itself.
Let us then, says the Apostle, draw near to God with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, having the affections set free from a condemning conscience and our bodies set apart from every defiling practice.
Here we may well pause and ask ourselves, How much do we know of this drawing near, of entering within the veil? We may, indeed, know something of that other exhortation of which the Apostle speaks in Hebrews 4, when he says, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need”. That is fleeing to a refuge to escape the storms of life: this is turning to our home to bask in the sunshine of love. There is a vast difference between a refuge and a home. A refuge is a place to which we flee for a shelter in the time of storm. A home is a place where our affections find their rest. We all know Christ as a refuge to whom we flee in our troubles, but how little we know Him as the home of our affections. Christ is indeed “an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest . . . a great rock in a weary land” (Isaiah 32:2). And blessed indeed, as we pass through this world with its withering blasts, its barrenness and weariness, to have One to whom we can turn for shelter and relief. Let us, however, remember that if we only flee to Christ as a shelter in the time of storm, when the storm is passed we shall be in danger of leaving Him. Alas! this is what happens too often with each one of us. We turn to Him in the storm; we neglect Him in the calm. But if our affections are drawn to Him where He is, if we see that His place is our place in heaven itself, then the place where He is will become the home of our affections, where we can have fellowship with Jesus in a scene on which no shadow of death will ever fall, and where all tears are wiped away.
The Path and its Dangers
(Vv. 23-25). The more we realise and use our privilege of drawing near to God within the veil, the better we shall be able to face the path through the wilderness with its dangers. Thus the exhortation, “Let us draw near”, is followed by the exhortation, “Let us hold fast the confession of the hope” (N.Tn.). There is a bright hope set before us, and He that has given the promise of the hope will be faithful to His word. But there is the danger of giving up “the confession” of the hope by settling down in this world. It is only as we look to Him who is faithful that we shall be able to hold fast without wavering.
Moreover, in the midst of sorrows, difficulties and dangers we shall need the mutual support of one another. We may at times be tested by isolation, but practical fellowship is God's way for His people. Let us then consider one another and not forsake the assembling of ourselves together. The vanity and self-sufficiency of the flesh may esteem the help of others of little value; but a true sense of our own nothingness will lead us, not only to look first, and above all, to the One who is faithful, but also to value the support of our brethren. And those we value we shall consider, seeking to draw out the love we need and the practical help of their good works. Alas! how easily the flesh, carried away by a little bit of spite, can indulge its spleen to provoke a brother by deliberately and needlessly saying what is known to be offensive. Let us rather seek to provoke to love by showing love.
None can neglect the gathering together of God's people without loss. To forsake the gatherings of the saints is a sure sign of waning affection. Oftentimes a course of habitual neglect of the meetings precedes leaving an assembly to turn back to the world or worldly religion. As “the day” — the day of glory — approaches, the difficulties will increase, making it all the more needful that we should seek the support of one another and not neglect the assembling together of the saints.
(Vv. 26-31). The Apostle has considered the danger of letting go our hope, slighting one another and forsaking the assembling of ourselves together. Now he warns us of the more serious danger of apostasy that assails the Christian profession. The wilful sin is apostatising from the Christian faith. The Apostle is not speaking of a backslider who may go back into the world, like Demas, of whom we read in another epistle. Such an one can be recovered. The apostate not only gives up Christianity, but he takes up some human religion, after having professed Christianity. He practically says, “I have tried Christianity, but I find Judaism, or Buddhism, or some other religion, better.” For such there is no more sacrifice for sin, only a fearful looking for of judgment. Such an one treats with contempt the Son of God, despises the sacrifice of Christ and insults the Spirit of grace.
The apostate must be left to God. It is not for us to take vengeance. God cannot trust us with vengeance. We are definitely told that vengeance belongs to the Lord. The apostate will find that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
(Vv. 32-34). Further, the Apostle warns us not to be discouraged by sufferings, reproaches and afflictions. There is the ever present danger of shrinking from the path of faith because of the reproach and suffering entailed. These believers had begun well. Having been enlightened by the truth, they at once found themselves in conflict for the truth. But in that conflict they endured, and whole-heartedly associated with those who were suffering for Christ's Name. They even took joyfully the spoiling of their goods, knowing they had in heaven a better and enduring substance.
(Vv. 35-39). Such confidence will have its bright reward, but in the meantime we need patience to submit to the will of God while waiting to receive the promise. The waiting time is but a little while, then “He that shall come will come and will not tarry.” Until He comes, the path of the believer is a path of faith. It ever has been, for in days of old it was as true as it is today that, according to the words of the prophet Habakkuk, “The just shall live by faith.”
God will have no pleasure in the one who draws back. The apostate draws back to perdition; but of those to whom the Apostle is writing, he can with confidence say, “We are not of them who draw back to perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.”
10 The Path of Faith
In Hebrews 3 believers are addressed as partakers of the heavenly calling. We are called from earth to heaven. In Hebrews 9 we learn that heaven has been secured to the believer, for Christ has entered into heaven itself now to appear in the presence of God for us. In Hebrews 10 we learn that believers have been fitted by the work of Christ for heaven, so that, even now while on earth, they can enter in spirit into heavenly joys within the veil.
In Hebrews 11 we have set before us the path which the heavenly man is to tread as he passes through this world on his way to heaven. The teaching clearly shows that from the beginning to the end it is a path of faith. The whole chapter is a beautiful unfolding of the quotation from the prophet Habakkuk, in the end of the preceding chapter, “The just shall live by faith.”
Remembering to whom the Epistle is written, we can understand that a whole chapter should be devoted to the insistence of “faith” as the great principle by which the believer lives. These Hebrew believers might have special difficulty in accepting the path of faith, as they had been brought up in a religious system that very definitely appealed to sight. The Jewish system centred round a magnificent temple with its altars and material sacrifices offered by an official priesthood clad in beautiful robes, conducting ornate ceremonies according to a prescribed ritual.
All this, however, had been set aside by Christianity into which they had been brought. These believers had to learn that in Christianity there is nothing for sight, but everything for faith. Moreover, the seen things of the Jewish religion were only the shadows of good things to come, whereas the unseen things of Christianity are the substance. They were called to go without the Jewish camp to reach Christ, who was in the outside place of reproach. Having come outside, they are warned by the Apostle not to “draw back”.
The Apostle's exhortations and warnings have a solemn voice for us today, as Christendom has to such a large extent drawn back, not perhaps in the full sense of the words used in Hebrews 10:38, 39, as that is actual apostasy. Christendom has drawn back in the way of imitation. It has copied the Jewish system in once again rearing magnificent temples with visible altars, and appointing official priests to conduct elaborate ceremonies which appeal to sight and the natural man, while raising no question of conversion or the new birth. Thus Christendom, though not giving up the profession of Christianity to go back to Judaism, has attempted to link Judaism on to Christianity, the result being that Christendom is losing the vital truths of Christianity, into which only the true believer can enter, while retaining the outward things of Judaism which the natural man can appreciate.
In this great chapter we leave the shadows behind to enter the path of faith in which alone the real and vital things of God can be known and enjoyed. We learn, moreover, that in all dispensations faith has been the vital link with God.
After the first three introductory verses, the chapter naturally falls into three main divisions:
Firstly, verses 4-7, presenting faith as the great principle by which we draw nigh to God and escape the judgment to come;
Secondly, verses 8-22, giving examples of men of faith that laid hold of the purpose of God for the world to come, enabling them to walk as strangers and pilgrims on the earth;
Thirdly, verses 23-38, in which faith is seen overcoming the power of the devil and the present world with all its attractions and difficulties.
(V. 1). The introductory verses present the great principles of faith. The first verse is hardly a definition of faith, but rather a statement of the effect of faith. It tells us what faith does, rather than what faith is. Faith substantiates things hoped for. It makes very real to our souls the things to which we look forward. It gives us the conviction of things not seen. The unseen things become as real to the believer as though present to sight, “yea, much more so because there is deception in things seen” (J.N.D.).
(V. 2). By faith the elders obtained a good report. It was not by their works, or by their lives, but by their faith that they obtained a good report. They were men and women of like passions with us, and their lives were marred with many a failure, and their works were on occasion to be condemned. Nevertheless, in spite of all failure, they were marked by faith in God, and after hearing their report, we are again reminded at the end of the chapter that it was by faith they obtained a good report.
(V. 3). Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the Word of God. The natural man, with enmity to God in his heart, seeks by reason to account for the formation of the universe without God. He would fain find the origin of the world in matter and forces of nature. The result is that he gropes in the dark and finds no certainty in his speculations. The theories that are hailed with delight as the last word in wisdom by one generation are rejected by the following generation as untenable nonsense. Man is only occupied with the things that appear. God definitely states that what is seen does not take its origin from things which appear. By reason men lead themselves into a sea of conflicting speculations: by faith the believer understands how the worlds were framed. We know that the origin of matter is not from matter, for things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. Faith knows that all the worlds came into being “by the Word of God”.
Thus the introductory verses present three great principles of faith: firstly, faith makes real to us things unseen; secondly, faith obtains for its possessors a good report; thirdly, faith leads us to understand things that lie outside the comprehension of the natural mind.
Faith Drawing Nigh to God
Passing from the introductory verses we come to the first main division of the chapter, in which faith is seen to be the great principle of approach to God, as set forth in Abel; of deliverance from death, as exemplified in Enoch; and of escape from judgment, as presented in Noah. Thus by faith the individual believer is set in right relationships with God.
(V. 4) In Abel we have set forth the only way in which a sinner can approach God. Abel knew that he was a sinner and that God is an holy God who cannot pass over sins. How then was he to be right with God? By faith he took the only possible way for a sinner under the sentence of death. He came to God on the ground of the death of a victim to which no sin attached. His sacrifice to God spoke of Jesus, the Lamb of God, and thus Abel obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts. God did not testify of his life, or even of his faith, but of the sacrifice which his faith brought. This is still the way of blessing for a sinner, and the only way. The one who believes in Jesus, and pleads His great sacrifice, obtains witness that he is righteous. The word to such is, “by Him all that believe are justified from all things”. Thus it is that Abel being dead yet speaks. He still speaks of the way of faith by which a sinner can obtain blessing.
(Vv. 5, 6). In Enoch we have presented another great trait of faith; it delivers from death. Of Enoch we read that by faith he was translated that he should not see death. In spite of sight and reason, and contrary to all experience, he looked to be translated without seeing death. Only faith could look for an event that had never taken place before in the history of men. So the believer today looks, not for death, but translation. We wait for an event that has no parallel in the history of Christendom. We wait for the sound of the trumpet and the voice of the Lord to call us to meet Him in the air. The natural man looks with dread for death to close his history on earth; only faith can look to be translated without passing through death.
In the history in Genesis nothing is said of the faith of Enoch, but we are twice told that he “walked with God”. It is to this fact that the Apostle apparently refers when he says that, before Enoch's translation, “he had this testimony, that he pleased God.” Upon this testimony the Apostle argues that he must have had faith, for without faith it is impossible to please God. The one that comes to God must believe, not only that God is, but that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.
(V. 7). In Noah we see how faith escapes the judgment of God. He was warned by God of coming judgment when outwardly there was not the slightest sign of impending doom, for, when God gave the warning, the coming judgment was “not seen as yet”. As far as things seen were concerned, everything went on as usual. The Lord tells us that the men of that day ate and drank, married wives and were given in marriage. Nevertheless, the man of faith believed the warning of God and, moved with fear, availed himself of the provision that God made, and thus escaped the judgment that overwhelmed the world. By the course he took in faith, he condemned the world that refused to believe the testimony of God to coming judgment, and became the heir with that long line of believers who, by their faith in God's Word, are accounted righteous.
Faith Laying Hold of the World to Come
With verse 8 we enter upon another division of the chapter setting forth the faith that embraces the purpose of God for the world to come, enabling the believer to walk as a stranger and a pilgrim in this present world. In this division, extending to verse 22, five Old Testament saints are mentioned by name: Abraham, Sara, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, each having their distinguishing marks of faith, but all looking on to the future world of glory.
(V. 8). Abraham is the main witness to the faith that lays hold of the purposes of God, leading him to look on to another world and walk as a stranger in this world. He was called to go out of the country in which he had lived in view of another country which he would afterwards receive. If God calls a man out of this present world it is because He has a better world into which to bring him. It will be remembered that Stephen commences his address before the Jewish council by saying, “The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham.” That is a wonderful statement, but the statement at the end of the address is more wonderful, for Stephen, looking up steadfastly into heaven and seeing Jesus standing on the right hand of God, can say, “I behold the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.” The beginning of the call is that the God of glory appears to a man on earth; the end is that a Man appears in the glory of God in heaven. Directly the Lord Jesus takes His place in glory we see clearly what Abraham saw dimly — the full result of the call of God. We, like Abraham, have been called according to the purpose of God (2 Timothy 1:9); but this means we have been called out of this present world to have part with Christ in the home of glory where He is, to be actually with Him and like Him — conformed to the image of God's Son (Philippians 3:14; Romans 8:29; 2 Thessalonians 2:14).
Moreover, in Abraham we have not only a striking illustration of the sovereign call of God, but also a bright example of the response of faith. Firstly, we read, “He went out, not knowing whither he went.” To leave your country, not knowing whither you are going, would appear to the natural man simple madness and contrary to all reason and prudence. This, however, is the very occasion for faith to shine. It was enough for the faith of Abraham that God had called him, and God knew whither He was leading him. At times we want to see what will be the result of taking a step in obedience to God's Word; consequently, we hesitate to take the step. Human prudence would carefully weight up results; divinely given faith leaves the result of obedience with God.
(V. 9). Secondly, Abraham not only went out in faith, but, having left the old scene, he walked by faith before he obtained the new. Thus, together with Isaac and Jacob he put on the stranger and pilgrim character. To him the land he was in was a strange country and he himself a pilgrim dwelling in tents. Is not this the true position of the Christian today? We have been called out of the world around us; we are not yet in the new to which we are going. In the meantime we are strangers in a strange world and pilgrims going on to another world.
(V. 10). Thirdly, Abraham looked for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. Here we learn what it was that sustained him as a pilgrim in a strange land: he looked on to the future blessing that God has for His people. He was surrounded by the cities of men which, in that day as in this, had no righteous foundations. For this reason the cities of men are doomed to destruction. Abraham looked on to the city of God which, founded on righteousness, will never be moved. We know from verse 16 and also Hebrews 12:22 that this is “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem”. Thus Abraham takes the path of faith in the light of the world to come.
To nature it may appear the height of folly to let go this present world of sight for a world that we have never seen. But faith looks on to the city of God — the heavenly Jerusalem; and when that fair city comes into view, with all its glory and blessedness — the city where there is no sorrow, no crying, no death and no night — then it will be seen how right and how wise was Abraham, and how wise are all those who follow in his steps, in letting go this present world and walking as strangers and pilgrims to the city of God.
(Vv. 11, 12). In Sara we further learn that faith not only looks to God in the face of pressing difficulties, but trusts in God in spite of natural impossibilities. She did not look at the ordinary means of obtaining a son, or reason, “How can this be?” Her confidence was in God, that He would faithfully carry out His own Word in His own way. God honoured her faith by giving her a child “when she was past age”. Thus God secures a great company of people according to His purpose, but does so in His own way, from one “as good as dead”. As so often in the ways of God, He carries out His plans by vessels of weakness in circumstances that seem hopeless. He brings strength out of weakness, meat out of the eater, life out of death, and “so many as the stars of the sky in multitude” from one as good as dead. “He that glories let him glory in the Lord.”
(Vv. 13-16). Further, we are told that these saints not only lived in faith, but they also “died in faith”, not having received the promises. They having died, God gives us a wonderful summary of their lives. In their history we know there was much failure, for they were men of like passions with ourselves, and their failures have been recorded for our warning. Here the failure is passed over, and God records all that in their lives was the fruit of His own grace. These verses are God's epitaph upon the Patriarchs.
Firstly, we are told that they looked beyond things seen. They saw the promises “afar off”. They were persuaded in their minds of the certainty of the future glory and they heartily embraced the hope of glory.
Secondly, the future glory being heartily embraced produced a practical effect in their lives — they confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
Thirdly, confessing themselves to be strangers and pilgrims, they gave a clear witness to God, “For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek [their] country.”
Fourthly, they overcame the opportunities to return to the world which they had left. Those who answer to the call of God and separate from this present world will find that the devil will seek to draw them back into it by giving them opportunities to return. The lust of the flesh, the attractions of the world, the claims of natural relationships, the business circumstances of life, will in various ways and at different times, open to us opportunities to return. Abraham declared plainly that he was a stranger and a pilgrim; Lot declared plainly that he merely followed a man, for three times it is recorded that he went with Abraham. So, when the opportunity came, Lot embraced it and returned to the cities of the plain, while Abraham passed on to the city of God. Alas! how many since Lot's day, not having embraced the promise, have embraced the opportunity to turn from a path which is impossible to nature and a constant trial to the flesh.
Would we escape the opportunities to return, then let us see that we declare plainly that we are on the Lord's side. Would we declare plainly, then let us definitely accept the path of separation from the world as strangers and pilgrims. Would we be truly strangers and pilgrims, then let us look on to the vast vista of blessing that is opened to us in the new world; let us be persuaded of the reality of the coming glory and heartily embrace it in our affections.
Fifthly, having refused the opportunities to return to their own country, they were free to press on with “desire” to a “better country”, that is “an heavenly”.
Sixthly, of men whose lives are thus characterised we read, “God is not ashamed to be called their God.” In the details of their lives there were many failures, and much of which they doubtless were ashamed, but the great governing principles of their lives which moved them and gave character to their walk were such that God was not ashamed to own them and to be called their God.
Seventhly, for such God has prepared a city, and in that city all that was of God in their lives will have a glorious answer.
If these things mark us in this our day, may we not say, in spite of our many failures, our weaknesses, and our insignificance in the eyes of the world, God will not be ashamed to be called our God?
(Vv. 17-19). The life of Abraham illustrates another phase of faith. If the life of faith is tried by the opportunities to turn back that are presented by the devil, it will also be tested to prove its worth by trials sent from God. So we learn that Abraham “was tried” when he was told to offer up Isaac, his only begotten son — the very one through whom the promises were to be fulfilled. His faith answered to the test and enabled him to offer up his son, accounting that God was able to raise him up even from the dead.
(V. 20). Isaac is next brought before us as an example of one who walked in the light of the future, for we read, he “blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come.” The history of the blessing of his sons is given in Genesis 27, and as we read that sad chapter in which every member of the family breaks down, we can discover little evidence of any faith. There, Isaac appears to be governed by his appetites and seeking to act according to nature. Here, God, who sees behind all outward failure, lets us know it was by faith Isaac blessed his sons concerning things to come.
(V. 21). Jacob is next mentioned amongst the elders who obtained a good report through faith; but apparently in his case God waits until he is dying before He records the act of faith that gave Jacob a place amongst the elders. His course as a saint was marred with many a blemish. A deceiver of his father, a supplanter of his brother, an outcast from his home, a wanderer in a strange land, serving a master that he cheated and by whom he was deceived, his children a grief to him, he ends at last his chequered career as a stranger in Egypt. Nevertheless, he was a true saint of God, and his stormy life had a bright sunset. Rising above nature, he acts in faith in blessing the sons of Joseph. Nature would have given the first place to the elder, but Jacob, knowing by faith that God had purposed the younger for the chief place, crossed his hands and, in spite of the protest from Joseph, he gives the younger the first blessing.
(V. 22). Lastly, Joseph is brought before us as an example of faith looking on to the future, for we read that, when dying, he made mention of the departing of Israel. Never had man wielded such power or occupied such a place of worldly glory as Joseph in Egypt, yet when he is dying all the glory of this world fades from his vision. Instead of looking back to the past glories of Egypt, Joseph is looking on to the coming glories of Israel. At that moment it looked very unlikely that Israel would ever leave Egypt. They had settled down in Goshen and, as we read, “they had possessions therein, and grew, and multiplied exceedingly.” However, faith saw that one hundred and fifty years hence Israel would be delivered from Egypt to enter their own promised land, and faith gave commands in view of their departure.
Faith Overcoming the Present World
The early part of the chapter presents the faith by which a believer draws nigh to God on the ground of sacrifice and finds deliverance from death and judgment (verses 4-7); then there passes before us the faith by which the believer walks through this world as a stranger and a pilgrim in the light of the world to come (verses 8-22); in the latter part of the chapter, commencing with verse 23, we see the faith that overcomes this present world. In the former section, Abraham was the great example of one whose faith laid hold of the world to come, the heavenly country and the city which has foundations. In this latter portion, Moses is the outstanding example of a believer who by faith overcomes the present world.
(V. 23). In connection with the birth of Moses, we are reminded of the faith of his parents that not only led them to ignore the king's commandment, but to overcome their fear. It is the fear of some impending evil that is often more difficult to overcome than the evil itself. Strangely enough, as we might think, what drew forth the activity of their faith was the beauty of their child. They acted in faith “because they saw the child beautiful” (N.Tn.). Apparently, it was faith working by love.
(V. 24). Passing on to Moses himself, we have a striking witness to the way faith overcomes this present world with all that it can offer in the way of attraction and glory. The parents overcame the fear of the world; their son overcame its favours. This makes the faith of Moses all the more striking, for we may overcome the fear of the world and yet fall under its favour.
In order to realise the fine quality of this man's faith it is well to recall what Scripture presents as to his remarkable character, as well as the high position he occupied in the world. Stephen in his address before the Jewish council gives us a brief but remarkable summary of the character and position of Moses (Acts 7:20-22). There we are told that he was “exceeding fair”, that he “was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds.” Here, then, was a man whose appearance was attractive, whose mind was well-stored with all the learning of the leading country of the world in that day, who could apply his wisdom with weighty words, and follow up his words with mighty deeds. Moses, then, was in every way fitted to fill with distinction the highest position in this world. Moreover, this great position was within his grasp, for he was by adoption the son of Pharaoh's daughter, and thus in the direct line to the throne of the Pharaohs.
Under circumstances so favourable to advancement in this world how does Moses act? Firstly, we read, “When he had become great” — when the moment was favourable for him to take advantage of his great abilities and position — he turned his back on all this world's glory and “refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter.”
(V. 25). Secondly, we learn what he chooses, and his choosing is as striking as his refusing. In his day there was a large number of people who formed the lowest class in Egypt. They were unwanted foreigners, treated with the utmost rigour as slaves. Their lives were made bitter by reason of their hard bondage as they laboured at brick-making and worked in the fields under the scorching sun (Exodus 1:13, 14). But, in spite of their low estate and hard bondage, these slaves were the people of God. With these people Moses chose to throw in his lot, preferring to suffer affliction with the people of God, rather than enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.
In the presence of this remarkable “refusing” and “choosing”, we may well ask what was the spring of his actions. In one word we are told that it was faith. In faith he refused the world; in faith he chose affliction with the people of God. Moreover, he acted, as faith ever does, in the face of providence, in spite of the dictates of natural feelings, and in a way that appeared to outrage common sense.
Against the course he pursued, providence might very well have been pleaded. Could it not have been argued, with every appearance of reason, that it would be wrong to ignore the remarkable providence by which God had placed a man doomed to death by the command of the king in the very highest position before the king? Right natural feeling could have been urged; for it might very well have been said that gratitude to his benefactress demanded that he should remain at court. Reason and common sense could be urged, for it could be said that his great abilities and his high position with its consequent influence could surely be used to promote the interests of his poor brethren. Faith, however, looks to God, knowing that while providence, right natural feelings and common sense may have their place, yet they cannot be a true guide or rule of conduct in the path of faith; and though providence brought Moses into the court of the king, faith led him out. By faith he refused his providential connection with the greatest people in the world to choose a path of identification with the most despised in the land.
(V. 26). If faith acts thus there must be some hidden power — some secret motive — that enables faith to take a path so contrary to nature. This brings us to the “esteeming” of Moses. Verse 24 gives us the “refusing” of Moses; verse 25 the “choosing” of Moses; verse 26 the “esteeming” of Moses, which discovers to us the secret of his refusing and choosing.
This esteeming will show that faith is not a step in the dark. Far otherwise, for faith has its secret motives as well as its outward energies. Faith forms a deliberate estimate of values, faith has a long outlook and faith has an object. The faith of Moses formed a true estimate of things seen and unseen. He looked these things in the face and he weighed them up. On the one hand, there was his great position in the world, and connected with it all the pleasures of sin and the treasures of Egypt. On the other hand, connected with the people of God there was at that time suffering and reproach. Having weighed them up, he deliberately refused the world and chose to suffer with the people of God.
Why did he thus act? Because his faith had a long outlook; as we read, “He had respect to the recompence of the reward”, and again, “He endured, as seeing Him who is invisible.” He looked beyond the treasures and the pleasures of Egypt on the one hand, and beyond the suffering and reproach of the people of God on the other. By faith he looked on and saw “the King in His beauty” and “the land that is very far off”. In the light of the glory of that land, and attracted by the beauty of the King, he overcame all the glory of the world. In the light of the coming world he formed a true estimate of the present world. He saw that connected with the reproach of Christ there were greater riches than all the treasures in Egypt.
He saw that over all the glory of this world there was the shadow of death and judgment. He saw that the pleasures of this world are only for a season, and all the treasures of Egypt end in a grave. Even so had Joseph found in an earlier day, for he too had occupied a great place in Egypt. Next to the king he had wielded a power that no mortal man before or since had ever wielded in this world. Nevertheless, it all ended in a coffin, for the last words of the Book of Genesis are these, “Joseph died ... and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.” So much for Egypt's pleasures and Egypt's treasures. “Earth's joys grow dim; its glories pass away.” All the glory of this world at last sinks down to a coffin. Pharaoh's mighty empire contracts to a narrow grave.
How different with God's people! Their portion in this world is one of suffering and reproach; but to suffer with Christ in reproach is to reign with Christ in glory, for is it not written, “If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him”?
To the man of the world, the refusing and the choosing and the esteeming of Moses seem the height of folly. Let us see then how it works out in the case of Moses. Pass on one thousand five hundred years from the day of his refusing and choosing, and we shall begin to see the recompense of the reward. Turn to that great scene described in the opening verses of Matthew 17 and we shall see that the land that was far off has drawn nigh and the King is displayed in His beauty. We are carried above the earth into the high mountain apart, and for a moment we see Christ in His glory, when the fashion of His countenance was altered. The face once marred more than any man's now shines as the sun. The garments of humiliation are laid aside and the garments that shine as the light are put on. This was a wonderful appearance, but there are other wonders to follow, for “Behold,” we read, “there appeared ... Moses and Elias talking with Him.” Fifteen centuries before, Moses disappeared from the sight of the world and this world's king to share the reproach of Christ with His poor and despised people: now he appears again, but this time to share the glory of the King of kings in company with prophet and apostles. Time was when he endured as seeing Him who is invisible; now he is “with Him” in glory. In the light of this recompense of the reward, who will say that Moses missed his opportunity when he refused the world and chose to identify himself with the suffering people of God?
(V. 27). Well it is for us to profit by this shining example of faith. Good indeed if we weigh the riches of Christ against the treasures of this world and esteem the former greater than the latter. Well, too, if we look beyond all self-denials and world-refusals and see the recompense of reward in the coming glory. Above all, well if we endure in the presence of all opposition, insults and reproach, by seeing Him who is invisible. In the presence of the opposition and insults of his enemies Stephen endured without a word of anger or resentment, by seeing Him who is invisible, for we read, “He, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus” (Acts 7:55). Let us not be content with knowing that He sees us, but let us seek to walk in the energy of the faith that sees Him. It is a great thing to realise that He sees us; it is yet more to walk as seeing Him by faith, while waiting for the moment when we shall actually see Him face to face,
For how will recompense His smile,
The sufferings of this 'little while'.
(V. 28). There are, moreover, further lessons for us in the story of Moses. We have seen that his faith lifted him above the fear of man; we are now to see that it leads to the holy fear of God. Faith recognises that we are sinners, and that God is a holy God who cannot pass over sin. Israel as sinners were under judgment equally with the Egyptians. How, then, were they to escape the destruction of their firstborn? God provides a way of shelter from judgment — the blood of the lamb — and God says, “When I see the blood, I will pass over.” Faith rests, not on our estimate of the blood of the Lamb, but on God's perfect estimate. Thus through faith Moses “kept the passover, and the sprinkling of blood, lest he that destroyed the firstborn should touch them.”
(V. 29). By faith in God's value of the blood, the children of Israel were passed over in Egypt; then, by faith “they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land.” God was met as a judge in Egypt: He intervenes as a Saviour at the Red Sea. There the people were told to “stand still, and see the salvation of Jehovah”; and there God held back the waters of the Red Sea so that His people passed through on dry land. Sheltered by the blood from judgment in Egypt, they were saved from all their enemies at the Red Sea.
By the death of Christ the claims of a holy God are met, and by the death and resurrection of Christ the believer has passed through death and judgment. In type the passover presents Christ offering Himself without spot to God: the Red Sea presents Christ delivered for our offences and raised again for our justification.
The Egyptians assaying to pass through the Red Sea were drowned. For nature to face death without faith is certain destruction. Alas! how many there are today who make the outward profession of Christianity yet assay to obtain salvation by their own efforts, and face death apart from faith in the blood of Christ, only to meet destruction.
(V. 30). If by faith the people of Israel were saved from judgment and delivered from Egypt, so by faith they overcame the opposition of the enemy that would prevent them entering the promised land. “By faith the walls of Jericho fell down.” Israel adopted an unheard of method of besieging a city; but it was not simply walking round the city for seven days that brought down the walls, but faith that obeyed God's Word.
(V. 31). Faith, moreover, obtains for a woman with a disreputable character a place amongst these Old Testament worthies. “By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not.” As a harlot she would come under the condemnation of men. By faith she comes into the great cloud of witnesses that obtain a good report from God.
(V. 32). Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthae, David and Samuel complete the list of the men of faith mentioned by name. It has been remarked that in this list of names the historical order is not followed. In history Barak came before Gideon, Jephthae before Samson. This may be to emphasise the fact that in the days of the Judges the faith of Gideon was of a brighter order than that of Barak, and that Samson's faith exceeded that of Jephthae. David may be classed with the Judges as himself a ruler; and Samuel may be mentioned last to connect him with the prophets that came after the kings.
(Vv. 33, 34). In the closing verses the Apostle refers to signal acts of faith to set forth the striking qualities of faith. Firstly, he refers to incidents that emphasise the power of faith that subdues kingdoms and overcomes armies; that is strong in weakness and valiant in fight; that triumphs over the power of nature, as represented by the lion, and quenches the violence of the elements such as fire; and that even obtains victory over death.
(Vv. 35, 36). Secondly, the Apostle passes before us the endurance of faith that in torture refused to accept deliverance and in trial endured mockings and scourgings, bonds and imprisonments.
(Vv. 37, 38).Thirdly, he speaks more particularly of the sufferings of faith: “They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword.”
Lastly, we see the reproach of faith. The world drove the men of faith from their midst, treating them as despised outcasts. They became wanderers in the earth. By its treatment of God's worthies, the world proved itself to be unworthy. In condemning the men of faith, it condemned itself.
(V. 39). Nevertheless, in spite of their acts of power, their endurance, their sufferings and their reproach, they did not in their day receive the promised blessing. In the past they lived by faith; today they have a good report; in the future they will enjoy the recompense of the reward when they enter upon the promised blessings. Great will be the blessing of these Old Testament saints; yet God has provided some “better thing” for the Christian. When God has completed His purpose in calling out the church, the Old Testament saints together with the church will enter upon the fulness of blessing. They wait, and we wait, for the resurrection morn in order to be “made perfect”.
11 God's Means to Keep Us in the Path of Faith
It is of the deepest importance that the Christian should have a true estimate of the world through which he is passing, while ever keeping before him the blessedness of the world to which he is passing on.
If, however, we are over occupied with the increasing evil of a world that is ripening for judgment, with the solemn state of Christendom, so soon to be spued out of Christ's mouth, and with the confusion and scattering amongst the people of God, we shall hardly escape being depressed and disheartened.
In the twelfth chapter of Hebrews the fact is recognised that it is possible for the Christian to be cast down by reason of the trials by the way. Moreover, truth is presented that will meet this snare. The Apostle evidently saw that those to whom he was writing were in danger of sinking under the pressure of trials and giving way in conflict with the enemy. He speaks of “weights” that drag down, of sin which besets us, and of difficulties that may arise in the Christian circle.
In the presence of these trials he sees there is a grave danger that believers may be hindered in running the race that is set before them; that they may grow weary and faint in conflict with the enemy; that they may faint under the dealings of the Lord; that their knees may become feeble; and that their listless hands and feeble knees may lead to wandering feet that turn aside into some crooked path.
To preserve us from being overcome of evil, the Apostle brings before us certain great truths, which, if held in power, will sustain and encourage us to run the race from earth to heaven, in spite of every trial and opposition.
(V. 1). Our feet are in the path that lies between the present world, upon which we have turned our backs, and the world to come, towards which our faces are set. This path is viewed as “the race”. It is not “a race” that we have to set before ourselves; but “the race that lies before us”. Many appear to think that, while there is only one way of being saved, there are many ways of travelling through this world; and that each Christian is at liberty to choose the way that he prefers. Scripture shows that God has His way of saving people out of the world, and His way of taking them through the world. Our great concern should be to discern the path that God has marked out for His people, and then run “the race that is set before us”.
It is evident, as we read the Epistle to the Hebrews, that God's path for His people is entirely outside the Jewish camp. It is equally evident that Christendom has returned to a camp order of things and hence the direction in the final chapter, to go without the camp, still has its application. But as then, so now, to go outside the religious world of the day entails reproach, and it may be suffering, and naturally we shrink from reproach and suffering.
Moreover, there are hindrances to taking this path. The Apostle says, “Let us ... lay aside every weight, and sin which so easily entangles us.” Here are two things that often hinder us in wholeheartedly taking the path that God has marked out — “weights” and “sin”. Weights are not things morally wrong. Anything that hinders the soul from accepting God's path, or running with patience when in the path, is a weight. Perhaps the quickest way for each one to find out what is a hindrance to our spiritual progress is to start running. A runner in the games will strip himself of all unnecessary clothing. Things that would be no weight in the ordinary life would become a weight on the race course. Moreover, we are exhorted to lay aside “every weight”. We are ready enough to lay aside some weights and yet retain others.
The other great hindrance is sin. This is not what we sometimes speak of as a besetting sin, as our somewhat defective translation might lead us to think. It should not be “the sin”, but simply “sin”, the principle of which is lawlessness, or doing our own will. Nothing will so hinder in taking the outside path of reproach as unjudged self-will. God's path must be one in which there is no room for the will of man.
The existence of these hindrances will call for energy and endurance, if they are to be overcome. The Apostle therefore says, “Let us run ... with endurance.” Running supposes spiritual energy, and combined with this we need endurance. It is easy to make an energetic start; it is hard to endure day by day in the presence of difficulties and discouragement. In order that we may overcome these hindrances, and put forth the needed energy to run with endurance the race that is set before us, the Spirit of God brings before us in this chapter the different means God uses to this end.
Firstly, we have for our encouragement a cloud of witnesses to the path of faith. If we have enemies to oppose us, trials to meet, and difficulties to overcome, let us remember that others have gone before in this path of faith; others have walked in the light of the coming glories; others have had to meet yet greater trials — cruel mockings, bonds, imprisonments, persecution and death — and by faith have overcome. We are thus compassed about with a cloud of witnesses to the faith that can rise above every kind of trial in this present world, and run with patience the race that leads to another world.
(V. 2). Secondly, far above and beyond all earthly witnesses, there is Jesus in the glory; and in order to encourage us in the path of faith, our eyes are turned to Him, “the leader and completer of our faith”. The Apostle does not imagine that, having taken the path outside the camp, we shall be able to keep the path in our own strength. On the contrary, his exhortation clearly implies that, having overcome the hindrances and commenced running, we can only continue by looking steadfastly on Jesus. The One who attracts us outside the camp to Himself is the only One who can sustain us when we have gone forth to Him. Others have trodden the path of faith, but they have not reached the ultimate goal; they are not yet “made perfect” (Hebrews 11:40). “Looking to Jesus” we see One who has trodden every step of the path and reached the goal. The Old Testament worthies are shining examples, but they are neither “leaders” nor “completers”; Jesus is both. In His path of suffering and shame He was sustained by the joy of that which lay before Him. As He trod the path He could say, “In Thy presence is fulness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.”
The witnesses of Hebrews 11 encourage us by their example, but not one of these witnesses can be an object of faith, nor minister grace to help in time of need. Jesus is not only the perfect example of One who has trodden the path of faith and reached the goal, but He is also One who, from the place of power “at the right hand ... of God”, can minister sustaining grace to those who are in the path. The cloud of witnesses has passed from the scene: they live to God, but so far as this world is concerned, they are dead. Jesus ever lives. We have wonderful examples behind us; we have a living Person before us.
It is to be noted how often in this Epistle the Lord is presented by His personal Name as Jesus. (See Hebrews 2:9; Hebrews 4:14; Hebrews 6:20; Hebrews 10:19; Hebrews 12:2; Hebrews 13:12.) The reason, apparently, is to impress us with the great fact that the One who is crowned with glory and honour — who is our Apostle and High Priest — is the same One who has been here as a lowly Man amongst men. However changed His position and circumstances, it is “this same JESUS” upon whom we are called to look with steadfastness. He is looking upon us, but are we looking steadfastly upon Him?
(Vv. 3, 4). Thirdly, we have the encouragement of the perfect path of Jesus. We are not only exhorted to look to Jesus where He is, but also to consider Jesus where He was. “Consider well” is the better translation. Considering His path we shall see that from beginning to end He was opposed by the “contradiction of sinners against Himself”. We too, if we take the path of faith outside the camp to run the race that is set before us, will surely find that we have to meet the perversity of men on every hand, the contradiction of sinners against Christ, and even the opposition of the people of God to sharing His reproach. Continual opposition is very wearying; and when wearied, the tendency is to faint and give way. Let us then “consider Him”, lest we faint. There is nothing we have to meet, whether from opposing sinners or failing saints, that He has not already met in full measure. He could say, “Mine enemies reproach Me all the day; and they that are mad against Me are sworn against Me” (Psalm 102:8). We have not yet resisted to blood striving against sin. The Lord shed His blood rather than give way to the contradiction of sinners and fail in obedience to the will of God. The sinners that surrounded the cross said, “Save Thyself. If Thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.” Had He done so, He would have failed in doing the Father's will, and would not have finished the work that was given Him to do.
Fourthly, to keep our feet in the path, we have, in verses 5-11, the Father's ways of love in chastisement. If, in striving against sin, we are called to suffer a martyr's death, we should be delivered for ever from the flesh. If, however, we are not called to suffer to blood, the Father takes another way to deliver us from the power of the flesh and make us partakers of His holiness. He may send trials to chasten and, if need be, correct.
(V. 5). In the presence of these dealings of the Father there are two dangers against which we are warned. On the one hand, we are in danger of despising the trial; on the other hand, we may faint under the trial. We are not, in the spirit of pride, to take the trial in a stoical way as being common to mankind; nor are we to sink under the trial in a spirit of hopeless despair.
(Vv. 6-8). Being warned of these two dangers, we are next reminded of two truths that will keep us from either despising or fainting in adversity. Firstly, we are told that love is behind every trial; for, it is written, “Whom the Lord loves He chastens.” The hand that smites is moved by a heart that loves. How then can I despise what perfect love sees fit to do? Why should I faint, for cannot love support in the trial that love sends? Secondly, we are told that in our trials God deals with us as sons. We see in our children the working of their wills and certain evil tendencies that need to be checked. In like manner God sees in His children everything that is contrary to His holiness — the evil tendencies and habits that we may little suspect, the impatience and irritability, the petty vanity and pride, the boastfulness and self-confidence, the hardness and selfishness, the lust and covetousness — and in His great love He deals with us so that we may be partakers of His holiness. The pains the Father takes with us in training and forming our character in conformity to His own holy nature is the outcome of His great love for His children. His love is not simply a passive love; it is active on our behalf. We too often think and speak of His love when spared some trial or relieved from some difficulty. This truly may be His tender loving mercy, but here we learn that it is equally His love that sends the trial.
The Apostle speaks of chastening and scourging. The scourging may be more the governmental dealing of God in rebuking and correcting for positive failure. The chastening is not necessarily for any sin, but rather to develop in us that which is according to the nature of God, that we may partake of His holiness.
(Vv. 9-11). We are then instructed in two truths whereby we may gain the benefit of God's dealing in chastening. Firstly, we are told to “be in subjection to the Father of spirits, and live.” Our earthly fathers dealt with the flesh; the Father of spirits deals with us in chastening to form within us a right spirit that we may live to Him. To get the full blessing of these dealings we must entirely submit to what God allows. By bowing to God in the trial, we keep God between ourselves and the trial; if we rebel and question God's way, the trial will get between us and God, and instead of our souls being sustained in life we fall into darkness.
Secondly, having submitted to what God allows, we are to be “exercised thereby”. In the day to come we shall see all the way He has led us, and fully understand the trials and the sorrows by which He has trained and blessed us. Then, indeed, we shall be able to sing,
With mercy and with judgment
My web of time He wove,
And aye the dews of sorrow
Were lustred with His love.
I'll bless the hand that guided,
I'll bless the heart that planned,
When throned where glory dwells
In Immanuel's land.
While, however, this is true, God desires that we should have present blessing from His dealings with us, and for this we need present exercise. The blessings are that we may be partakers of His holiness and enjoy the peaceable fruits of righteousness. The holiness of which the Apostle speaks in verse 10 is the quality of holiness which leads us, not only to refrain from unholiness, but also to hate all unholiness, even as God does. The hatred of evil will lead to practical righteousness, which in turn brings forth the fruit of peace, in contrast with the restlessness of an unrighteous world through which we are passing.
Fifthly, in verses 12-17, we have for our encouragement some very practical exhortations to enable us to meet special dangers and difficulties that may arise amongst those who take the path of faith. While seeking to walk in obedience to the Word, and refusing to lower the standard of the Word, we are not to suppose that we shall find a company free from all weakness or failure. To aim at securing a company from which all but the most spiritual are eliminated would only end in forming a pretentious company of self-centred and self-satisfied saints.
Thus, this Scripture indicates that we may find in the Christian path:
(1) some who lack Christian energy — their hands hang down, their knees are feeble;
(2) some who walk in a crooked path;
(3) some who raise discord;
(4) some who fail in practical holiness;
(5) some who fail in the grace of God;
(6) some who form unholy alliances with the world;
(7) some who treat divine things as common.
How then are we to act in the presence of these different evils into which any one of us may fall but for the grace of God?
(V. 12). Firstly, the Apostle says, “Lift up” the listless hands and the feeble knees. If spiritual energy is flagging, then encourage others by lifting up your own hands. May we not apply this exhortation to prayer? Writing to Timothy, the Apostle says, “I will therefore that men pray everywhere lifting up holy hands” (1 Timothy 2:8). Hands that hang down, and knees that are feeble, may well speak of hands seldom lifted up in prayer, and knees seldom bent in prayer. Of old the prophet had said, “The youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: but they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength” (Isaiah 40:30, 31). Are we not, too often, powerless in public because prayerless in private?
(V. 13). Secondly, practice must follow prayer, so the word continues, “Make straight paths for your feet.” In a day when many are prone to wander into crooked paths, let us see that we are careful to make straight paths for our feet, so that none be turned out of the way. There are many who may be lame and halting in their walk; they are not sure of the path they are treading, and have no clear perception of the place they are in. Such are easily turned aside on small provocation. How important, then, that there should be no occasion of stumbling by the pursuit of some dubious course. It is easy for an older saint, by an unwise act, to open a door through which the younger saints may pass, and so be turned out of the way.
(V. 14). Thirdly, if there are those who take a course that makes for discord, let us see that we follow peace with all. The Christian is to seek to pass through this world quietly, not interfering with this world's politics, nor expressing strong opinions about things which, as a stranger in the world, are not his concern. There is in fallen human nature an innate love of engaging in strife. The Christian is not only to refrain from all that would stir up strife, but also to pursue peace by taking a course that promotes peace.
Fourthly, let us see that we follow practical holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord. We see Jesus crowned with glory and honour, says the Apostle; but this supposes a normal walk in holiness. Any allowance of unholiness will obscure the vision. Without holiness we shall not see the Lord. Peace and holiness must be held together, as in this passage, otherwise we may follow peace at the expense of holiness, or holiness without peace.
(V. 15). Fifthly, the Apostle exhorts us to look “diligently” against anyone lacking the grace of God. Failing of the grace of God is losing confidence in God's grace and the practical enjoyment of what God is for us. In result some root of bitterness may spring up, troubling the saints, and many may be defiled by entertaining bitter thoughts of one another.
(Vv. 16, 17). Sixthly, we are to watch against any unholy alliance with the world, prefigured by fornication. Finally, we are warned against treating divine things as if they were common. This is profanity, of which Esau is a solemn example, who, for some present, passing advantage treated the birthright lightly — as if it were of little account. This surely was a solemn warning to these Hebrews, as indeed it is to all who have made a profession, against lightly throwing aside the blessings of Christianity. Alas! Christendom is fast falling into the profanity of Esau, to find, like Esau, they will be rejected. It was not, let us note, repentance that Esau earnestly sought with tears, but rather the blessing when it was too late. Christendom will find that there is no place of repentance for apostasy.
However, let us remember that, without going the length of apostasy, we may fall into profanity by treating divine privileges as of small account. Are there not those who have set aside the Lord's Supper as being of little account because we are not saved thereby? Is this not one instance of modern-day profanity?
(Vv. 18-21). Finally, to lift our souls above all the trials, the sorrows and the exercises of this present world, the Apostle unrolls before us the blessedness of the world to come.
At present, everything in this world of bliss, the world to come, lies outside the region of sight and sense. Thus, when the Apostle says we have come to these great realities, he surely means we have come to them in the apprehension of faith. In Hebrews 2:5, the Apostle definitely speaks of “the world to come”, an expression which signifies the vast inheritance of Christ in millennial days. It embraces everything over which Christ as Man will have dominion, whether in heaven or earth, for there is the heavenly side, as well as the earthly side of the world to come.
Before, however, speaking of these realities, the Apostle speaks, in verses 18 to 21, by way of contrast, of the things to which Israel came — things to which the Christian has not come. At Sinai, God was declaring to the people of Israel the covenant and setting forth what He commanded them to perform, even the ten commandments (Deut. 4:10-13). For this reason the presence of God on earth was accompanied with symbols of His majesty and holy destructive judgment against disobedience and sin. These symbols — the fire, the gloom, the darkness and the tempest — struck terror into the hearts of men. Everything at Sinai was against us. Moreover, everything at the first Mount appealed to sight and sense. We Christians have not come to the mount which “might be touched” (verse 18); nor to things which might be heard, such as “the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words” (verse 19); nor have we come to things which might be seen (verse 21). The natural man cannot endure the presence of God. Any glimpse of the glory of God is overwhelming when accompanied with a demand from man. Israel could not endure it, and even Moses found the sight terrible and said, “I exceedingly fear and quake.”
The great realities to which we have come in Christianity can neither be touched, nor heard, nor seen by the natural man; they can only be known by faith. This fact must have been specially testing for these Hebrew believers, accustomed as they were to a religious system in which everything was designed to appeal to man in the flesh. Now they found themselves introduced to that which was entirely new, and which set aside all the things that appeal to sight. They had to learn that the things of Judaism were but the shadows, and the unseen things of Christianity are the substance. Everything for sight is gone, and they, with ourselves, are brought into a wonderful circle of blessing which only faith can apprehend.
(Vv. 22-24). In this vista of blessing opened up to us, there are eight subjects mentioned to which we are said to have come:
1. Mount Zion;
2. The City of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem;
3. An innumerable company of angels, the universal gathering;
4. The church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven;
5. God, the Judge of all;
6. The spirits of just men made perfect;
7. Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant;
8. The blood of sprinkling, that speaks better things than that of Abel.
1. Mount Zion
As we look on to the world to come, in the faith of our souls, the Spirit of God first brings us to Mount Zion, the earthly Jerusalem, representing the earthly saints. Furthermore, Mount Zion sets forth as a symbol the ground on which all saints, earthly and heavenly, will come into blessing. Two Psalms, 78 and 132, give us light as to the spiritual significance of Mount Zion. In Psalm 78 we have the account of the utter failure of Israel on the ground of responsibility. Everything is lost on the ground of their own works. The tabernacle is forsaken (verse 60); the ark goes into captivity (verse 61); the land comes under judgment and the people are consumed (verses 62-64). Then, as recorded in verse 65, a great change in the circumstances of the people takes place, wholly brought about by Jehovah: “The Lord awoke as one out of sleep”, and began to act “like a mighty man”.
Hitherto, God had acted towards Israel on the ground of their works, but when they had involved themselves in utter ruin, He falls back on His sovereignty and acts from Himself for their blessing. So we read, He “chose the tribe of Judah, the mount Zion which He loved”, and again, “He chose David.” This is the sovereignty of divine mercy, exercising sovereign choice for the blessing of man. A mount is symbolic of power; Mount Zion is symbolic of mighty power exercised in sovereign grace.
Psalm 132 presents a further great truth in connection with Mount Zion. This Psalm celebrates the occasion when David brings the ark to Zion. The ark is not only recovered from the hands of the enemy, but is set in its rightful place on Mount Zion. The Psalmist says, “For the Lord has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His habitation. This is My rest for ever: here will I dwell; for I have desired it.” Immediately upon the ark being set upon Zion, we have the blessing flowing out to the people. “I will abundantly bless her provision: I will satisfy her poor with bread. I will also clothe her priests with salvation: and her saints shall shout aloud for joy.” Here again we have the thought of sovereign choice connected with Zion, but with the additional thought that it is connected with the ark. The ark, with its mercy seat, speaks of Christ, and thus we learn that the full symbolic meaning of Mount Zion is the power of God's sovereign grace exercised for the blessing of man through Christ. When everything has been lost for man through man's failure, then all blessing is secured through the sovereign grace of God righteously flowing to us on the ground of all that Christ is and has done. Such is the solid ground of blessing for the world to come, and to this we have come in the faith of our souls.
2. The city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem
Having begun with the sovereign grace that meets man in his utter ruin, we now pass by faith into heavenly scenes, and find ourselves in the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. This city is symbolic both of the heavenly saints and their dwelling in the world to come. The earthly blessing of millennial days will be administered through this city — the nations will walk in the light of it. In contrast with earthly cities, it is called the city of the living God. Earthly cities are composed of dying men, and therefore, like themselves, their cities are subject to death and decay. This city derives its life from the living God, and is therefore beyond the power of death and decay. In faith this glorious city rises up before our souls; we see what is coming. By sight we look around and see the misery, the squalor, the violence and the corruption of men's cities: by faith we look on and see this glorious city where sin-soiled feet have never trod. It comforts our hearts to know that, when the nations walk in the light of this city, the misery will be gone and the blessing of the world to come will be established.
3. An innumerable company of angels, the universal gathering
Having come to heaven we find ourselves in the presence of an innumerable company of angels. This will be the universal gathering of these spiritual beings. Every class and order of these glorious beings will be there. This innumerable company of angels exists already, and in the faith of our souls we have come to the conscious knowledge of their existence.
Angels are the divine guardians of God's people and will have this special service in the world to come. Psalm 34:7 presents this guardian care. There we read, “The angel of the Lord encamps round about them that fear Him, and delivers them.” The history of Elisha illustrates this guardian care. When he was compassed about by his enemies at Dothan, his servant was in great fear, but, says Elisha, “Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.” The Lord, in answer to prayer, opened the young man's eyes to see that the whole mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha (2 Kings 6:17). Elisha had already come to them by faith; the young man came to them by sight. Daniel, in his day, knew the guardian care of angels, for one was sent to shut the lions' mouths that he should not be hurt (Daniel 7).
The Lord as Man was in the guardian care of angels, as we read, “He shall give His angels charge over Thee, to keep Thee in all Thy ways” (Psalm 91:9-12). Angels waited upon Him at His birth; angels ministered to Him in the garden of Gethsemane; angels guarded His tomb; and angels were in attendance at His ascension.
At the present time believers are under the guardian care of angels, as we read, “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?” In the world to come they will still exercise their guardian care, for they stand at the gates of the heavenly city, and will pass between heaven and earth, ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.
4. The church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven
Travelling yet farther into the depths of glory we come by faith to the assembly of the firstborn which are written in heaven. In this vast system of heavenly glory there are those who have a special and distinct place. They are spoken of as the firstborn, giving the thought of pre-eminence. Seven times in Scripture Christ is spoken of as the Firstborn or First-begotten, for He must ever be pre-eminent. Here the word is in the plural, and refers to the saints who compose the church. They will have a pre-eminent place among the heavenly saints, even as Israel is called Jehovah's firstborn as having a pre-eminent place among the nations (Ex. 4:22). The names of these firstborn ones are registered in heaven, speaking of their heavenly home; for we belong where our names are written. As the heavenly Jerusalem, the church is seen administering blessing in connection with earth; so the assembly of the firstborn, the church, is viewed as worshipping in connection with heaven.
5. God, the Judge of all
Mounting yet higher, we come in the faith of our souls “to God, the Judge of all”. God is seen, as one has said, “looking down from on high to judge all that is below.” This surely has no reference to God exercising sessional judgment, as at the great white throne, but as the One who will govern the earth in righteousness. Thus Abraham speaks of God as Judge, when he says, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25). So in the world to come men will say, “Verily there is a reward for the righteous: verily He is a God that judges in the earth.” Again, it will be said, “Lift up Thyself, thou Judge of the earth: render a reward to the proud” (Ps. 58:11; Ps. 94:2). Under man's rule righteousness is too often divorced from judgment: under God, the Judge of all, righteousness will return to judgment, for “with righteousness shall He judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth” (Isaiah 11:3-5).
6. The spirits of just men made perfect
The world to come would not be complete without the Old Testament saints. There will be the earthly saints, finding their centre in Mount Zion: there will be the assembly, pre-eminent among the heavenly saints, and there will be the saints of all ages before the Cross. They are spoken of as the spirits of just men made perfect, thus intimating that they have all passed through death and have now received their bodies of glory after having been in the unclothed state.
7. Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant
In the faith of our souls we have come to Jesus, the One through whom all the blessing of the world to come is secured, whether earthly or heavenly. What would the world to come be without Jesus? He is the centre of that vast scene of blessing, the Object that will fill and satisfy the heart of every saint, and administer His kingdom for the glory of God.
8. The blood of sprinkling
Finally, we have come to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than the blood of Abel. This is the righteous and everlasting basis of all blessing for the world to come. Abel's blood was sprinkled on the earth, and cried aloud to God for vengeance on the one that shed it. The blood of Christ has been sprinkled on the mercy seat under the eye of God, and instead of crying for vengeance, it cries for pardon for those who shed it. “The very spear that pierced Thy side drew forth the blood to save.” All who believe in God's acceptance of the blood will come under the blessing that the blood secures and have their part in the world to come.
Thus there is opened up before our souls a wonderful vista of the fulness of times, when the counsels of God for the glory of Christ and the blessing of all His saints will have their fulfilment. And in the faith and affection of our souls we are permitted to see the earthly saints, the heavenly saints, the Old Testament saints, the great host of angelic beings, God over all, Jesus the Mediator of every blessing, even as His precious blood is the basis of all.
(Vv. 25-29). Having set before us the glorious prospect to which the believer has already come in faith, the Apostle utters a solemn warning against turning away from the One who speaks from heaven of these things. If there was no escape from judgment for the one who disobeyed the voice of God when He spoke on earth, requiring righteousness from man, much less will there be any escape from judgment for those who refuse the voice of God, now that He is speaking from heaven in grace that brings blessing to man. As Samuel Rutherford said, “The vengeance of the Gospel is heavier than the vengeance of the law.”
Moreover, we are warned of what is involved in this coming judgment. The holiness of God's judgment was, in a symbol, set forth by the shaking of the earth at Sinai. The future judgment will shake not the earth only, but also heaven. We are then definitely told that this shaking signifies the removal of what is shaken. Everything that is not the result of the sovereign grace of God will be removed in judgment. The old creation defiled by sin will finally be removed to leave only God's new creation, the result of His own grace. The kingdom that is received by Christians is established in righteousness, through grace, and therefore cannot be moved. Let us then serve God with reverence and godly fear, not, like Esau, treating divine things as if they were common, but realising the sanctity of the things of God, and walking in true piety. Let us not forget that, though we know God in grace, nonetheless, “our God is a consuming fire.” He will burn everything that is not of Himself, whether it be flesh in His people or a creation defiled by sin.
12 Outside the Camp
The great object in the Epistle to the Hebrews is to present Christ in glory as our great High Priest, bringing many sons to glory. A brief summary of the contents will make this clear:
Hebrews 1 — 2 present the glories of the Person of Christ and His place in heaven.
Hebrews 3 — 8 present Christ as the great High Priest, maintaining His people in earth as they travel home to heaven.
Hebrews 9 — 10:18 present the sacrifice of Christ, opening heaven to the believer, and fitting the believer for heaven.
Hebrews 10:19 — 23 shows that we have access to heaven, where Christ is, while we are still here.
Hebrews 11 traces the path of faith that leads to Christ in heaven.
Hebrews 12 speaks of the different means, used by God, to keep our feet in the heavenly path.
Hebrews 13 shows that the heavenly path lies outside the religious world, and that the present portion of those who belong to heaven is one of reproach.
Thus it becomes clear that, in the Epistle, Christ is seen in heaven, and believers are viewed as a heavenly people — partakers of the heavenly calling — running a race that begins on earth and ends in heaven.
In this closing chapter of the Epistle we are reminded that we are still in the body, and therefore subject to bonds and afflictions; are still in the relationships of life, which have to be respected; and with temporal needs, which have to be met. While, however, we are viewed as on earth, we are looked at as outside the religious world. If we share with Christ His place of favour in heaven, we must be prepared to accept His place of reproach on earth. If it is our privilege to go inside the veil, it is also our privilege and responsibility to go outside the camp. Thus the exhortations in this last chapter are all directed to securing conduct suited to those who share with Christ the outside place on earth. We do well to remember, however, that these exhortations as to the relationships of life clearly show that being outside the camp does not mean that we are outside what is natural.
(Vv. 1, 2). The first exhortation supposes the Christian circle governed by love. This is not natural love that loves those with whom we are linked by the ties of nature, however right in its place, but it is brotherly love, the portion of those linked together as brethren in Christ. We are to see that this love “abides”. The danger is that the love that is called forth by special trial, or persecution, may wane in the every-day life amongst those who are in daily contact with one another. By this daily intimacy we get to know the little weaknesses and peculiarities of one another, and this may tend to cool our love. Love is tested most by those with whom we are most in contact. With such we are to be careful that brotherly love continues, and that we practically express it by hospitality.
(V. 3). This brotherly love can further find an outlet by having practical fellowship with the Lord's people who may find themselves in bonds for Christ's sake, or who are suffering adversity. We are to remember such as ourselves having bodies that can suffer from bonds or adverse circumstances.
(V. 4). Moreover, while down here, there are the relationships of life. Marriage, which is the closest of all human ties, is not to be decried, but held in respect, and maintained in purity. Every violation of holiness, or of the marriage tie, will meet with judgment, either governmental or eternal.
(Vv. 5, 6). Furthermore, we have temporal needs to meet. We are to beware that they do not become the occasion of avarice. We are to be content with the present circumstances in which God has placed us. The reason given is very blessed: whatever our circumstances, the Lord is with us. He has said, “I will not leave thee, neither will I forsake thee.” If the Lord speaks thus, we may boldly say, “The Lord is my helper, and I will not be afraid: what will man do to me?” The last sentence is really a question. If the Lord is my helper, what can man do?
(V. 7). We are to remember our leaders — those who have passed from this scene. This word “remember” is a different word to that translated “remember” in verse 3. There it is a practical remembrance of those in need; here it is the remembrance of those we are apt to forget. They are worthy of remembrance because they have spoken to us the Word of God. Moreover, we are to consider the end of their conversation. If they spoke the word of God, it was not to attract to themselves, but to Christ in heaven. Further, we are to imitate their faith — not their peculiarities, their mannerisms, or even their ministry.
(Vv. 8, 9). In verses 8 and 9 we pass from the leaders who have gone from us to Jesus Christ who remains. Others pass away and others change, but “Jesus Christ (is) the Same yesterday, and today, and for ever.” At times we speak of the former great men of God as if, with their passing, we were almost left without resource. In so speaking there is the danger of putting an unintentional slight upon Christ. They have gone, but Christ remains with perfect love in His heart and perfect power in His hand. He too is the Head with perfect wisdom for His body. There is not a difficulty that He cannot enable us to overcome, not a danger from which He cannot preserve us, and not a question that may arise which He cannot settle. He is our stay and resource — our all. With this blessed presentation of Christ as the unchanging One the Epistle opens; and with this it closes. In the first chapter He is hailed as the abiding and unchanging One — “Thou remainest” and “Thou art the Same.” Others pass away but He remains: others change, but He is the Same. Seeing then that Christ is our resource, let us not be “carried away with various and strange doctrines.” Have we an itching ear seeking new light, or fresh light as people say? Let us beware lest, by our restless search after something new, we are carried away from Jesus Christ.
It is the active grace of Christ that establishes and sustains the soul, and not divers and strange doctrines, which appear to be very intellectual meat, but only minister to the mind, and therefore do not profit those occupied with them. The vanity of the flesh has a craving after that which is new, and seeks to exalt itself by presenting truth in a way that is different to all that has been taught before, the result being that the leaders who have gone before are belittled, Jesus Christ loses His place as the unchanging Object before the soul, and we are “carried away” by strange doctrines.
Thus we are led to the great theme of the chapter — the place which Christ has down here. We have learnt that He is with us; we have heard who this glorious Person is who is with us; we are now to learn where He is as regards the religious world, in order that we may take our place with Him.
(Vv. 10-12). To introduce this great theme a contrast is drawn between Judaism and Christianity. In the Jewish system there was indeed an appointed way of drawing near to God outwardly, in which the Gentiles, as such, had no right to participate. Now the altar — the way of approach to God — belongs exclusively to Christians, and of this altar those on Jewish ground have no right to partake. From Hebrews 9:14 we learn that Christ “by the eternal Spirit offered Himself spotless to God”, in order that we might have the conscience purged from dead works to worship the living God. And again in verse 15 of this chapter, which is a continuation of verse 10, we read, “By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually.” Christ and His cross constitute our altar. The sacrifice which settles the question of sin is the way of approach by which the believer draws nigh to God as a worshipper. It is evident that those who clung to Jewish altars were really despising the great sacrifice of Christ. They were clinging to the shadows and ignoring the substance. Obviously such had no right to partake in the Christian altar — Christ and His sacrifice.
The Jewish community were outwardly the people of God upon earth, composed of the seed of Abraham. Hence to participate in this religious system natural birth, in the line of Abraham, was the great necessity. With such the question of new birth was not raised. In this system God was testing man as man; hence a definite appeal was made to the natural man. Its gorgeous ceremonies, elaborate ritual and magnificent buildings were entirely adapted to appeal to the mind of the natural man. It was a worldly religion, with a worldly sanctuary, and a worldly glory. No reproach attached to it: on the contrary, it gave man a great position in the world, and a portion on earth; but the system, as such, gave man neither position nor portion in heaven.
How different is Christianity! It blesses us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ. It gives us a wonderful place in the brightest spot in God's universe — a place, the infinite blessing of which can only be measured by Christ Himself, the One who appears in heaven itself before the face of God for us. If, however, Christianity gives us Christ's place in heaven, it also gives us Christ's place on earth. The riches of Christ in heaven entail the reproach of Christ on earth. The inside place with Christ up there involves the outside place with Christ down here. The Jewish system is thus the exact contrast with Christianity. Judaism gave a man a great place on earth, but no place in heaven: Christianity gives the believer a great place in heaven, but no place on earth, save one of reproach.
What, then, is Christ's place on earth? It is clearly brought before us in this passage by the one word “without”, used three times in verses 11 to 13. In verse 11 we have the expression “without the camp”, in verse 12 “without the gate”, and again in verse 13 “without the camp”.
What, then, are we to understand by this phrase “without the camp”? It may help to a better understanding of the passage to notice that verse 11 presents the type, verse 12 Christ the anti-type, and verse 13 the practical application to the Christian. In reference to the type, two facts are stated which are brought before us in greater detail in Leviticus 4, the chapter to which verse 11 refers. In that passage we learn that, after the bullock had been killed, the priest was to dip his finger in the blood and sprinkle the blood before the Lord in the sanctuary; then the body was to be carried forth without the camp to a clean place, where the ashes were poured out, and burnt on the wood with the fire (Lev. 4:6, 12).
The camp was composed of a people in outward relationship with God. “Outside the camp” is a place where there is no recognised relationship with God or man. It is viewed either as the place of judgment from God, or as the place of reproach from man. Viewed in the light of judgment, it is the place of forsaking — a place without God. It is the “outer darkness” that no ray of light can ever pierce, no love can cheer, where there is no compassion to sustain, no mercy to relieve. The body of the sin offering burnt “without the camp” fitly presents God's holy judgment in respect of sin. Into this place Jesus went. In order that He might sanctify His people with His own blood He suffered without the camp, or, as the Word says, “without the gate”, for when Christ died the city had taken the place of the camp. In order that we might have the place of blessing within the veil, He must take our place of judgment outside the camp. The judgment our sins demanded must be borne before we could be set apart from sins, to live for the pleasure and praise of God.
We do well to ponder with adoring hearts the stupendous fact that Christ has been into the distance and darkness, and uttered that solemn cry, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Think what this means: He the righteous One — the only righteous One — forsaken of God. Never before or since has man died such a death. When has God ever forsaken the righteous? The fathers trusted in Jehovah and were delivered (Psalm 22:4). Others suffered with cruel mockings and scourgings, with bonds and imprisonments; others were destitute, afflicted, tormented: but not one was forsaken. In the midst of their sufferings they were sustained by grace, strengthened by the Spirit of God, and cheered with the conscious presence of the Lord. The light of heaven and the love of the Father so filled their souls that, in the midst of their martyr sufferings, they went out of the world with joy in their hearts and songs on their lips — not one was forsaken. Here, however, is One who is forsaken, One who can say to God, “Why art Thou so far from helping Me?”, One who cries to God, but has to say, “Thou hearest not.” Forsaken by God, no help in God, no answer from God.
Why, indeed, was He forsaken? The One who utters the cry alone can give the answer — “But Thou art holy, O Thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.” God is holy: there is the sublime answer to the forsaking of the Cross: it is not simply that man is evil, but that God is holy. It was God, not man, that the righteous One had before His holy soul when He went into the awful forsaking of the Cross. It is God's great purpose to dwell in the midst of a praising people — a people made suited by the work of Christ to stand before the face of God. To gain this people for the pleasure of God, Christ went into the forsaking. When His soul was made an offering for sin, the pleasure of the Lord began to prosper in His hand. Throughout the ages there will be a people to the praise of the glory of His grace standing within the veil, because once in the ages that are gone Jesus went into the forsaking without the camp.
(V. 13). Thus we come to the practical exhortation, “Let us go forth therefore to Him without the camp.” Here, however, we must carefully note that this outside place is viewed no longer as the place of judgment from God, but as the place of reproach from man. We are not called to go outside under the judgment of God, but we are called to go outside under the reproach of men, and that to the uttermost. He suffered as the holy victim under the judgment of God: He endured as the patient martyr under the reproach of men. We cannot share His sufferings at the hand of God, but it is our privilege to share the insults He received from the hands of men. He went outside the camp to bear our judgment: we go outside the camp to bear His reproach.
This raises the question, What was it that brought Christ into reproach? Psalm 69:7-9 give the answer. There we hear the Lord saying, “The zeal of Thine house has eaten Me up.” He was zealous for God in the midst of a God-hating nation, and in result He was treated as a “stranger” and an “alien”. His zeal brought Him into the outside place of reproach and shame. He represented God in a world that hated God. His presence among men gave them an occasion for expressing their hatred. They vented their hatred to God upon Christ, as the Lord says, “For Thy sake I have borne reproach”, and again, “The reproaches of them that reproached Thee are fallen upon Me.”
The Christian is called to accept the place that man has given to Christ, and thus go outside the religious system that appeals to the natural man, which, in this passage, is called the camp. The camp, as we have seen, was composed of people outwardly in relationship with God, and with an earthly order of priests who stood between the people and God. It had a worldly sanctuary and an ordered ritual. It is briefly summed up in Hebrews 9:1-10, where we are also told that it gave no access to God and no purged conscience to the one that did the service; and we may add, in that system there was no reproach.
In contrast with the Jewish camp, the Christian company is composed of a people, not in mere outward relationship with God by natural birth, but in vital relationship by new birth. Instead of a special class set aside as priests, all believers are priests. Instead of a worldly sanctuary, the Christian has heaven itself. Moreover, Christianity gives a purged conscience and access to God. Instead of appealing to the natural man, it entirely sets aside man in the flesh, and hence carries the reproach of Christ in a world that has rejected Him.
Bearing in mind these characteristic differences between the Jewish camp and the Christian company, we can easily test the great religious systems in Christendom. Do these national and nonconformist religious systems bear the characteristics of the camp or of Christianity? Alas, beyond all question, the truth compels us to admit that they are framed after the pattern of the camp. They have their worldly sanctuaries and have their special order of humanly ordained priests standing between the people and God. Moreover, these systems as such cannot give a purged conscience or approach to God in heaven itself. They recognise man in the flesh; they appeal to man in the flesh; they are so constituted as to embrace man in the flesh; and hence in these systems there is no reproach.
Are we to conclude then that such systems are the camp? Strictly speaking they are not. In one sense they are worse than the camp, inasmuch as they are merely imitations, framed after the pattern of the camp, with certain Christian adjuncts. In its inception the camp was set up by God, and in its corruption it was set aside by God. These great systems have been originated by men, though, admittedly, oftentimes most sincere and pious men, acting with the best of intentions. It follows that if the exhortation to Jewish believers is to go forth without the camp, how much more incumbent it is upon the believer of today to go forth outside that which is merely an imitation of the camp.
A difficulty, however, arises in the minds of many by the fact that numbers of true Christians are found in these great religious systems. It is argued, Can it be wrong to remain in systems in which there are many true, devoted Christians? In reply to this difficulty we may ask, Are we to be governed by what Christians do, or by what God says? Surely obedience to God's Word is the supreme obligation of every believer. If others have not the light of that Word, or the courage to face the reproach and suffering that obedience may entail, are we, therefore, to remain in a position that the Word of God condemns? Surely not.
Furthermore, while it is true that in the midst of the lifeless profession that mainly composes these great systems there are devoted saints of God, it must ever be remembered that the fact of there being such is not due to the system in which they may be found, but to the sovereign grace of God that ever works for the blessing of souls, in spite of the system. Such saints are not the product of the system they are in, nor do they give character to the system. Another has pointed out that the position of such saints is strikingly illustrated by the godly remnant in the midst of Thyatira. That church was characterised by Jezebel and her children. There were, however, those in Thyatira who were not the children of Jezebel. They were not the product of that evil system, nor did they give character to it. Such, it would seem, is very much the position of those saints who remain in these man-made systems; and, though in all love we would seek to make every allowance for such, yet, in the face of the plain exhortation to go forth without the camp, their position is a solemn one. It is not for us to judge the motives that hold many from going forth. Ignorance of the truth, lack of simple faith, the fear of man, the dread of consequences, the prejudices of religious training and associations, not to speak of more sordid motives, may hold many back. Perhaps, however, the most powerful influence to hold saints in these systems is the natural dread that we all have of being in reproach. To take a place outside the great religious systems of Christendom, in company with a rejected Christ and the poor and weak and despised of this world, entails reproach. From this everyone shrinks.
Is there then no power that will enable us to overcome this shrinking from reproach? Surely there is! And does it not lie in affection for Christ? Hence the word is, “Let us go forth therefore to Him.” This word is of the first importance, for it gives us a positive reason for leaving the camp order of things. Going forth from that which we have learned to be evil is merely negative, and no man can live on negatives. Going forth without the camp to Him does indeed involve separation from evil, but it is much more — it is separation to Christ. It is a separation that gives us a positive object.
Moreover, apart from having Christ as an object, the act of separation would be sectarian; it would simply be leaving one camp and seeking to make an improved camp. This, indeed, is the actual history of the great dissenting movements. True Christians were awakened to the evil and corruption of that with which they were connected, and they laid hold of certain important truths. Forthwith they broke their connection and formed a party to protest against evil and to maintain a truth. This, however, is only to form another camp, which in process of time becomes as evil as the camp they originally left. However precious the truth, be it the truth of the Lord's coming, the truth of the presence and indwelling of the Holy Spirit, or the truth of the one body, if we separate from the religious systems around simply to maintain these great truths, we are only forming sects. On every hand we see this has been done. Christians are exercised as to holiness, and forthwith they form a holiness league; they are awakened as to the reality of the Holy Spirit, and they must needs form a pentecostal league; they are awakened as to the truth that the Lord is coming, and they form a second advent mission; they lay hold of the truth of the one body, and they drift into a sect to maintain this great truth.
There is one way, and only one, whereby we can be kept in separation from evil and maintain the truth without sectarianism, and that is by going forth “to Him”. He is the Head of the body, and all religious systems are the outcome of not holding the Head. There is much meaning, and rich instruction, as well as solemn warning in that great word of the Lord, “He that gathers not with Me scatters” (Luke 11:23). That beloved servant of the Lord, J. N. Darby, writing on this verse, said, “It is not Christians but Christ who is become God's centre. We may gather Christians together, but if it is not Christ in one's own spirit, it is scattering. God knows no centre of union but the Lord Jesus Christ. It is Himself the Object, and nothing but Christ can be the centre. Whatever is not gathering round that centre, for Him and from Him, is scattering. There may be gathering, but if not “with Me”, it is scattering. We are by nature so essentially sectarian that we have need to watch against this. I cannot make Christ the centre of my efforts if He is not the centre of my thoughts.”
We have seen that the Lord promises to be with each of His people individually, but there is no promise that He will give the sanction of His presence to the systems in which many of His people may be found. On the contrary, He is outside in the place of reproach. He is with us individually, but are we collectively with Him? “Let us go forth” implies a company gathered to Christ.
(Vv. 14-21). Having thus exhorted us to “go forth ... to Him without the camp”, the writer indicates some of the blessings and privileges that can be enjoyed by those who obey the exhortation. It will be found that the outside place is one in which many privileges can be enjoyed, and many scriptural directions carried out with a fulness that is impossible to those who remain in the camp order of things. Thus we learn that those who gather to Christ in the outside place are viewed as having certain characteristics:
(1) They are a pilgrim company — “Here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.” In the outside place we can take up our proper character as strangers and pilgrims. A stranger is one that has no continuing city here; a pilgrim is one that seeks the city to come. We may, alas, fail in the outside place to be true to our pilgrim character, but in the camp it would be well nigh impossible to wear that character with any consistency (verse 14).
(2) They are a worshipping company — “Let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually.” How difficult, in the camp, to worship God in spirit and in truth. Outside, it is possible to find, not only worshipping individuals, but a worshipping company (verse 15).
(3) The company in the outside place is one in which bodies are cared for. Hence we are exhorted to do good and to communicate (verse 16).
(4) It is a company where souls are watched over. So we are to obey our leaders and submit to those who seek the good of our souls (verse 17).
(5) It is a praying company, where the leaders who care for souls are sustained by the prayers of the saints. If the saints require the ministry of the leaders, the leaders need the prayers of the saints (verses 18, 19).
(6) It is a company in which it is possible to do the will of God, and thus be well-pleasing in His sight (verses 20, 21).
(7) Lastly, it is a company to the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, “to whom be glory for ever and ever” (verse 21).
Very blessedly the Epistle opens with Christ in glory. Then we have a company of believers being brought to glory. Now, as the Epistle draws to its close, we learn that it is God's desire that those who are going to glory should take the outside place with Christ down here, and thus be for His glory in time, as they will be for eternity.
How blessed is the truth, as presented in Scripture, of a company of people who have gone forth to Christ in the outside place, bearing His reproach; having a pilgrim character; marked as a worshipping company, where bodies are cared for and souls watched over; in which prayer is made; and which is here for the pleasure of God and the glory of Christ. Alas! how little have we answered to the picture. Nevertheless, in spite of all our failure, let us press on, seeking to answer to the truth, and having nothing less before our souls.