To Paul, the apostle of the Gentiles, is commonly, and we believe rightly, attributed the epistle addressed to the Hebrews, to which, contrary to his usual practice, he did not affix his name. Awaiting Timothy's return, with whom he hoped shortly to see them, he wrote beforehand to build them up in the faith.
Part of God's ancient people, with hopes proper to that people, a land assigned them by God for their inheritance, with a ritual of divine appointment, and a revelation addressed directly through Moses to Israel, a Jew on becoming a Christian had to surrender much which a Gentile had never possessed. Not that he was giving up mistaken teaching and misplaced hopes; for he turned his back on the temple-worship appointed by God, on Judaism, and on the land in which he was dwelling, as that which was no longer to be his portion, his home. For a Jew, then, to become a Christian involved the surrender of cherished hopes, and that position once assigned them by God of complete separation, socially and ecclesiastically, from admixture with Gentiles. Yet if he gave up much that he had valued, and as a Jew rightly valued, he gained far more than he had lost, though at the expense of certain trouble, probably persecution, and, it might be, a martyr's death. Hence if those once Gentiles needed encouragement (1 Thess. 2:14, 15; 2 Thess. 1:5), how much more those who had been Jews. To encourage such the apostle wrote (4, 6, 10, 12), and this he did in the most effectual way by ministering Christ; first, truth about His person as God and man (1, 2.); then truth about Him as the apostle of our profession, and as to His present service as High Priest (3-8); and then truth about His atoning sacrifice. (9, 10.), followed by exhortations, and grounds for encouragement to persevere on to the end. The baneful errors of Judaizing, Paul had exposed when writing to the Galatians. The surpassing excellence of Christ above Moses and Aaron, and what as Jews they had valued, he unfolds in this letter to the Hebrews.
For centuries God had been silent. Between the days of Malachi and those of Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, we have no record of any communication in words between Jehovah and the earthly people. But now that silence had been broken - and God, who had spoken in times past unto the fathers by the prophets, had in the end of the days (i.e. of the age before Messiah should appear in power) spoken unto His people in the Son. Prophet after prophet had come: at last He sent His well-beloved Son. Thus, writing to those who once formed part of God's earthly people, the apostle connects all previous revelation to Israel with that which had been graciously vouchsafed in the day in which he and they lived. God "hath spoken to us," he writes, "in the Son." Then, like a master in the art of painting, who with a few bold strokes with his pencil presents the object he desires to the eye of the observer, the sacred writer, inspired of God, traces out for his readers, briefly but most clearly, the past, the present, and the future of Him here called the Son.
As to the future, God has appointed Him to be Heir of all things; as regards the past, by Him God made the worlds; and as to the present, He has sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on High, having first by Himself purged sins.* The Son, then, is both God and man. As man, He died; as God, He sits now on high, perfectly and everlastingly a man, yet God too, blessed for evermore - two natures in one person.
*The best authorities leave out "our" before sins. The point here is what the Son has done, and not who those are who reap the benefit of it.
Turning to the Old Testament Scriptures, the Hebrews are instructed in the teaching which they afford concerning the One here introduced as the Son; first, as to His Sonship; next, as to His divinity; and then as to His humanity. As regards His Sonship, He is here viewed as Son born in time. Hence quotations are made from Ps. 2:7, and from 2 Sam. 7:14, in proof that God owned Him as His Son; and from Ps. 97:7, and 104:4, to show that though a man, He is superior to, and quite distinct from, angels. But more, He is God as well as man; and from the lips of Jehovah this truth has been proclaimed in a psalm (45:6, 7), in which, describing Him returning to earth in millennial power, Jehovah addresses Him as God, and yet speaks of His God. But more, though Son as born in time, there never was a time when He did not exist; for He is Jehovah and the Creator, who laid the foundations of the earth, the heavens too being the work of His hands. They shall perish, but He remains. He is the same, and His years shall not fail (Ps. 102:25-27); and He sits where no angel can sit, at the right hand of Jehovah, until He makes His enemies His footstool. (Ps. 110:1.) How clear the Hebrews must have seen was the old testament teaching relative to His divinity who had by Himself purged sins. Hence it behoved all who heard not to neglect so great salvation, which began to be spoken by the Lord, but was confirmed unto them by those that heard, God also bearing them witness both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to His own will.
Following upon this exhortation, Old Testament witness to the humanity of the Lord is brought out. Of Him Psalm 8 spoke as the Son of man, under whom all things are to be put. As Son of man He will be above angels. By His death He became lower than them. Of His humanity He Himself is the witness. God attested His divinity, as we have seen. He proclaims His humanity, as the quotations from Psalms 22:22, 18:2; Isa. 8:18, make plain. How fitting was this! Who but God should attest His divinity? On the other hand, how suitable that He should identify Himself as man with some of the race of Adam. Of some we say, because He only here identifies Himself with those who are saints; "for He that sanctifieth and they that are sanctified are all of one: for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren;" i.e. those who are God's children. They were partakers of flesh and blood, so He took part of the same; i.e. became really a man, that through death He might annul him that had the power of death, and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. What results flow from His death He tasted death for every thing. (9.) Thus creation is concerned in it. By it He has annulled him that had the power of death, that is, the devil. The arch-enemy of God and man is affected by it. By that same death He has wrought deliverance for the saints; and as a consequence of it He has made propitiation for the sins of the people. (14-18.) But this introduces His priesthood, which is Aaronic now in character, and Melchisedechian in order. And so as Aaronic in character He has taken up the question of sins before God, and intercedes for the people before the throne.
In a double character then the Lord has appeared. God has spoken to us in the Son. He is the Apostle of our confession, He is also High Priest, and has made propitiation for the sins of the people. "Consider then," we read, "the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Jesus, who was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as also Moses was in all His house." (3:1, 2.) Now these words are addressed to "holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling." Abraham and Israel had an earthly calling. Christians have a heavenly calling. Now this first spoken of by the Lord (Matt. 5:11, 12; Luke 6:22, 23, 12:33) is developed necessarily in this epistle, which addresses those who once had been Jews, but who had given up all for Christ's sake. He then is set before them as surpassing Moses. Moses was faithful in all God's house as a servant; but Christ as Son over His, i.e. God's house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end. (3:5, 6.) Such language intimates that these Christians were, as it were, like their fathers of old, on the march through the wilderness. So suited exhortation follows. (3:7-4:11.)
God had spoken in the end of the days in the Son. The coming kingdom therefore might not be far off. And living in the end of the age ere the Messiah would appear in power to establish the kingdom, the language of Psalm 95:7-11, addressing the remnant of the future, was language suited for the Hebrews in the day this epistle was indited. "Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called today; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end." (3:12-14.) The psalm speaks of a rest - God's rest - into which His people shall assuredly enter; not rest of conscience, but rest from all toil and work, as God did when He rested on the seventh day from all His work that He created and made. (Gen. 2:3.) "He that hath entered into his. rest hath also ceased from his works, as God did from His own." (4:10.)
This clears the passage from misinterpretation. God's rest clearly is rest from all work. Hence for His saints it is future, and those who have believed are on their way to it. Further, attention to the forms of exhortation in this passage will show the reader that no doubt is cast on the future of believers, though they are exhorted in the strongest way to bestir themselves. When exhorting the saints not to stop short, he says "you." (3:12, 4:1.) When exhorting them to press forward he says "us" (3:14. 4:14), classing himself with them. He could not read their hearts. But each, as he, should know if he was really converted. So addressing them on the ground of profession he necessarily says "you." But each and all were to be diligent to press forward, and he shows that by writing, "Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief." (4:11.)
But God does not leave His people to get on as best they can. He has provided His word, living, and powerful, which can do what the keenest blade cannot, pierce even to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (12, 13.) Thus by the Word the believer may detect the springs of his actions, and see all in the light of the divine presence; "for all things are naked and opened to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do." But more is wanted than the searching and dissecting action of the Word. We need grace for the wilderness walk. Now this the High Priest procures, so the writer next dwells (4:14 - 8:13) on the present service of the High Priest, before dwelling on the sacrifice and offering up of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The grace needed the High Priest procures. Able to succour them that are tempted (2:18), He is also able to sympathise with His people, having been in all points tempted like as they are - sin apart. He knows what is needed, and intercedes for us with God, that we coming to the throne of grace may reap the fruit of His intercession by receiving mercy and seasonable help. (4:14-16.) Having then a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, i.e. has gone up to the throne, Jesus, Son of God, let us hold fast the confession. A great High Priest He is called. Aaron was high priest. Jesus, the Son of God, is greater. The Hebrews then were in this no losers by embracing Christianity. The Jews might boast of the Aaronic line of priesthood; these Hebrews could say, "The Son of God is our High Priest."
But this new priesthood, centred in Him who is in heaven, must be shown to be really of God, else none of those on whose behalf the Aaronic priesthood was instituted would be authorized to turn away from it. So Ps. 110 is quoted to prove it. The One who called Him His Son is the One who addressed Him as Priest after the order of Melchisedec. And He has passed through death, having learnt, too, obedience by the things which He suffered. A High Priest who first passed through death, having learnt obedience by what He suffered, and having experienced deliverance by God out of the deepest trials, who among the sons of Aaron could be compared with Him for fitness to understand the difficulties of the people, and to sympathize with each and all in their need? Each year that Aaron lived he might be better able to understand the personal difficulties of the people. But the Lord had learnt them all, and fully, are He entered on His office of High Priest. What encouragement was there in this for the saints in trial!
But the apostle could have unfolded more had the spiritual state of the Hebrews not hindered it. They had become gegonate, dull of hearing, needing to be taught the elements of the beginning of the oracles of God, when for the time they ought to have been able to teach others; and they had become such as had need of milk, and not of solid food. They had become this, let the reader observe. It was not the condition in which the gospel had found them. It was the condition into which they had got through not going on unto perfection; i.e. full growth.
To that the sacred writer would lead them. The word of the beginning of Christ, truth common to Jews and Christians, was not all that God was teaching, nor would that establish souls. He would therefore pass on from it to perfection; i.e. what belonged to full growth (6:1-3), not now occupying himself with such as had enjoyed every advantage a professor could share in without the heart being really changed. (4-8.) Fruitfulness through the truth working in power was what was desired, as the illustration of the ground shows us, and explains for any that need it, the real bearing of verses 4-6.
Two plots of ground receiving in common rain from heaven - the one fruitful, producing herbs meet for him by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God; the other, not requiting the labour bestowed upon it, and producing only briers and thorns, is found worthless, and is nigh unto cursing, whose end is to be burned. So of those called Christians. All enjoying the same outward advantages, those really converted are fruitful, the rest, mere professors, are unfruitful. With such, if they fall away, he could do nothing. They had heard, and had professed to receive, all Christian teaching. These then he would leave, addressing himself to those to whom he was writing, who had given evidence of the reality of their faith. (9, 10.) Yet they needed stirring up to show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end, and to imitate those who through faith and patience have been inheritors of the promises. Now all was really secure, God's promise and God's oath made that certain, and the entrance of the forerunner, Jesus, within the veil made it plain. (11-20.)
And He is High Priest after the order of Melchisedec. On the value of this for the saints the writer would now insist (7), reminding them of Melchisedec's history and of Abraham's interview with him (Gen. 14); and bow the patriarch, by giving him tithes of all, and by receiving his blessing, acknowledged his superiority. Hence a priesthood after this order must be more excellent than one after the Aaronic order; for, first, Levi, as it were, paid tithes to Melchisedec as being in the loins of Abraham (9, 10); second, the institution of this order of priesthood, after the induction of Aaron and of his sons into their priesthood, indicates a setting aside of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof (for the law made nothing perfect), and the bringing in of a better hope by the which we draw nigh to God (18, 19); third, the Lord was made priest by oath, which Aaron and his sons never were (20-22); and lastly, He has, like Melchisedec of old, an unchangeable priesthood (23, 24), whence He is able also to save completely those who approach by Him to God, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them.
Further, He who is our High Priest has sat down on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister of the holy places, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man. He is also mediator of a better covenant, the new covenant, established on the footing of better promises. (8)
Now what could Judaism offer in comparison with all this? Who among the tribe of Levi could present such credentials, and provide what is needed for the wilderness path, as He who, uniting the functions of Moses and Aaron in His own person, was addressed by God as High Priest after the order of Melchisedec?
A minister of the holy places and of the true tabernacle the Lord is. So we read next of the service which He has performed inside the veil. Having dwelt on His present priestly service, as meeting what the saints needed in their pathway on earth, the writer now proceeds to point out the superiority of the Lord's sacrifice of Himself above all that the Mosaic ritual could provide, by the shedding of His blood (9), and the excellency of the sacrifice of Himself. (10)
There was the holiest on earth, and at the date of this epistle the Mosaic ritual was still carried on. There is the sanctuary on high, of which this epistle treats. Into the former the High Priest went alone once every year with the blood of bulls and of goats. Into the latter the Lord Jesus Christ, the High Priest of good things to come, has entered by His own blood, and remains there, having found eternal redemption. Now blood had a prominent and important place in the ritual of old; so on the surpassing excellency of the blood of Christ we are taught to dwell. It purges the conscience from dead works to serve the living God. By His death redemption of the sins that were under the first covenant is effected, that they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance. By His blood too forgiveness is procured; on it the new covenant will rest, and the heavenly things themselves are purged with better sacrifices than any earth could have provided. For into heaven itself has He entered now to appear in the presence of God for us. Not to offer Himself afresh, for that He did once when manifested here for the putting away of sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And He will appear again the second time to them that look for Him without sin unto salvation.
Once He has suffered, never to repeat it. His death was enough. By God's will believers are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (10:10.) By His one offering He has perfected for ever them that are sanctified (14), and has sat down in token that all has been done in the sanctuary that He intended and came to do. Thus we learn what God thinks of the sacrifice, since we are sanctified by it. We see what the Lord thinks of it, since He has sat down, never to renew it. And the Holy Ghost attests its sufficiency, as He tells us by the prophet (Jer. 31:34) that the sins and iniquities of the redeemed people God will remember no more. Hence there can be no more offering for sin, and believers have boldness to enter the holiest by the blood of Jesus, the new and living way, which He has consecrated for us through the veil; that is, His flesh. And having a great priest over the house of God, we are to approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, sprinkled as to our hearts from an evil conscience, and washed as to our bodies with pure water, holding fast the confession of hope without wavering, caring for one another, assembling together, and exhorting one the other as we see the day approaching. The Lord will come. The just shall live by faith, but in one who draws back God will have no pleasure. (15-39.)
Hereupon we are reminded how the worthies of old walked by faith (11), the order in which they appeared on the scene illustrating the life of faith for the Christian. With what interest a Hebrew must have read this portion of the epistle, learning from it how God had been ordering the appearance on earth of person after person herein mentioned in pursuance of a design which has now been unfolded.
Commencing with a statement of what faith is, the substantiating of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen, we learn that it takes God at His word (11:3), and by it the person connected with the sacrifice, as illustrated in the case of Abel, is accepted before God. Then in one of two positions will the saint be found, either, like Enoch, to be taken away ere the judgment comes; or, like Noah, to be preserved on earth through it. Christians will be in this like Enoch, the godly remnant of the earthly people like Noah. But if we stand accepted in connection with the sacrifice, awaiting the being caught up to be with Christ, we are made at once pilgrims here, whose home is elsewhere. Hence faith for the pilgrimage walk, illustrated in the lives of the patriarchs, is next set before us. They looked for a city prepared for them by God (10). Abraham by counting on the fulfilment of his hopes in the heir raised, as it were, from the dead (17-19); Isaac by blessing Jacob and Esau, showing that the inheritance does not run in the order of nature (20); Jacob by blessing both the sons of Joseph, intimating that the double portion belongs to him who was rejected of his brethren (21), to be made good in the fullest way to the Lord, who will have heaven and earth as His inheritance; and Joseph by giving commandment concerning his bones (22), all tell us of the proper expectation and desire of the saints - the full deliverance of God's people, coupled with the wish to rest in the portion allotted them by God.
But if there is the pilgrimage walk, there will also be conflict. So illustrations of faith in times of conflict next come; yet all in the order of history (23-31), followed by examples of the life of faith in times of declension (32-34), and in times of persecution. (35-40.) Yet encouraging as this exposition of Old Testament times must have been, no one of these worthies could be a perfect example for them or for us. One only of all who have walked on earth is fitted to be that, even Jesus, the Leader and Perfecter of the faith, who, having endured the cross, despising the shame, is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. (12:1-3.) From Old Testament history we learn that the walk of faith was nothing new. In the Lord Jesus' walk on earth we have the perfect pattern of it, and in His exaltation we see where the road will surely lead us.
Exhortations then follow, and encouragements, first by reminding them that their sufferings were a proof that they were God's sons (4-17), and next by telling them to what they had come; viz., above and beyond all Jewish expectation and portion, and above all angelic ranks on high, to God the Judge of all, from whom receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, they were to serve Him acceptably with reverence and godly fear. "For also our God is a consuming fire."
With further exhortations as to brotherly love, hospitality, remembrance of those in bonds, and marriage; with warnings too against uncleanness and discontent, their leaders who had passed away by death they were called to remember, and to imitate their faith. But if leaders pass away, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and for ever. Hence, they were not to be carried away by divers and strange doctrines, but to have the heart established with grace, not with meats, which have not profited those who have been occupied therein. But Christians have an altar, whereof no Jew could eat, as they feed on Him who was the sin-offering, who suffered without the gate. Since, then, that is the case, they must go forth to Him without the camp, bearing His reproach; yet offering the sacrifice of praise to God continually, the fruit of their lips giving thanks to His name; doing good and communicating likewise; for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.
Then, exhorting subjection to their leaders, and asking for an interest in their prayers, and expressing his wishes for them (17-21), the writer closes his letter. What a communication it was! How it opened up the Old Testament, and ministered Christ as Apostle and High Priest, to establish the Hebrews in the doctrines and continued, confession of Christianity. "C. E. Stuart.