1. Theme: The priesthood of Jesus Christ
2. Key Verses: Hebrews 4:14, 8:1,2
This outline partitions Hebrews into sections of verses. Each section is labeled to relate to the theme of the whole book.
I. The Person of the Priest * Chapters 1:1 - 3:6
A. The Priest is God (Heb. 1:1 - 2:4)
1. Better than the prophets (Heb. 1:1-3)
2. Better than the angels (Heb. 1:4-14)
3. Better than the apostles (Heb. 2:1-5)
B. The Priest is Man (Heb. 2:5 - 3:6)
1. The victorious Brother of God's children (Heb. 2:5-18)
2. The glorious Son over God's house (Heb. 3:1-6)
II. The People of the Priest * Chapters 3:7 - 4:16
A. Unbelievers are excluded from God's rest (Heb. 3:7 - 4:2)
1. Israelites fell in the wilderness (Heb. 3:7-19)
2. The warning for today (Heb. 4:1-2)
B. Believers are included in God's rest (Heb. 4:3-16)
1. His rest remains today (Heb. 4:3-9).
2. His help is for today (Heb. 4:10-16).
III. The Plan for the Priest * Chapter 5:1-10
A. The Priest's requirements (Heb. 5:1)
B. The Priest's work (Heb. 5:2,3)
C. The Priest's calling (Heb. 5:4-6)
D. The Priest's perfection (Heb. 5:7-10)
IV. The Plan for the People of the Priest * Chapters 5:11 - 6:19
A. They are not unskilled in the Word, but go on to perfection in the doctrine of Christ (Heb. 5:11 - 6:3).
B. They do not fall away, but inherit the promise (Heb. 6:4-12).
C. God confirms their promised inheritance (Heb. 6:13-19).
V. The Promised Priesthood * Chapters 6:20 - 7:28
A. A divine priesthood after the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 6:20 - 7:4).
B. A superior priesthood to the Levites (Heb. 7:5-14)
C. An eternal and powerful priesthood (Heb. 7:15-28)
VI. The Perfect Priesthood * Chapters 8:1 - 10:18
A. A spiritual priesthood that is better than the earthly one (Heb. 8:1-6)
B. An effective priesthood that replaces the earthly one (Heb. 8:7-13)
C. The limitations of the earthly priest (Heb. 9:1-10)
D. The perfection of the spiritual priest (Heb. 9:11-14)
E. The new fulfills the promise and the old vanishes away (Heb. 9:15-17).
F. The death required to fulfill the promise (Heb. 9:18-23)
G. The perfect death that fulfills the promise (Heb. 9:24-28)
H. The earthly priesthood was never expected to remove sin (Heb. 10:1-4).
I. The spiritual priesthood was prophesied to remove sin (Heb. 10:5-18).
VII. The Perfect People * Chapters 10:19 - 13:19
A. They have a faithful and obedient heart (Heb. 10:19-25).
B. They do not despise the new priesthood (Heb. 10:26-31).
C. They are patient in affliction and in God's service (Heb. 10:32-37).
D. They have faith (Heb. 10:38 - 11:40).
E. They keep their eye on Jesus (Heb. 12:1-3).
F. They do not despise chastisement of the Lord (Heb. 12:4-13).
G. They live holy and not sinful lives (Heb. 12:14-17).
H. They have not come into an earthly kingdom which passes away in judgment, but they have come into a spiritual kingdom which endures forever (Heb. 12:18-29).
I. They are concerned about others in need (Heb. 13:1-3).
J. They honor marriage (Heb. 13:4).
K. The seek not mammon but God (Heb. 13:5,6).
L. They are faithful to the same spiritual Gospel that was brought to them (Heb. 13:7-16).
M. They obey and are concerned for the proper authorities in the church (Heb. 13:17-19).
VIII. The Blessings of the Priest * Chapter 13:20-25
4. General Comments
A great deal of effort has been spent trying to determine the identity of the human author of the book of Hebrews. The different views have some times been presented with long proofs and great zeal. In fact, for some people the issue is so important that they judge another person's faithfulness to the Bible based upon whether they believe Paul was the writer of Hebrews or not. While there may be indirect evidence that could link the book of Hebrews to either Paul, Apollos or some other man, any one who insists upon one man is basing his assertions upon imagination or speculation. No one can truthfully deny that, if we stay with Biblical data alone, there is no way to know for sure whom God used to write Hebrews.
The truth of the matter is that the real author of Hebrews is the Holy Spirit. That might seem like a trite answer, but it is true. More than that, it is important that we focus on that fact rather than overly concern ourselves with the contribution of the human author. This admonition is appropriate in light of the message of Hebrews itself, for one important principle Hebrews teaches is that men must recognize the Bible for what it is, God Himself speaking to man. A few of the many examples that emphasize this are, Hebrews 1:1,2, "God spake ... by the prophets, hath ... spoken ... by his Son," Hebrews 3:7 "as the Holy Ghost saith," Hebrews 4:7 "(God) ... saying in David," Hebrews 8:5 "Moses was admonished of God ... See saith (God)," Hebrews 9:8 "the Holy Ghost this signifying," and Hebrews 10:15 "the Holy Ghost ... had said before."
That the human author of Hebrews is anonymous is a grace of God. By it He reminds us that it is ultimately unimportant whom He used to write it, for, as always, God is in control of the Bible's contents (Num. 24:13, II Sam. 23:2, II Peter 1:21). We may think that God deliberately arranged things so that the writer of Hebrews would be unknown in order to focus our attention upon the divine nature and power of His word (Heb. 4:12), not just to show His sovereignty, but to show His kindness and love. The problem that faces us is not that we must properly identify the writer of Hebrews, but that we must recognize what God says in His word about our own spiritual need and the help He provides in Jesus Christ. The words in the Bible are words which God speaks, important words which must be believed and obeyed, for they deal with matters of life and death. That is why the book of Hebrews is so full of warnings to take heed to its message (Heb. 2:1-4, 3:7 - 4:13, 5:11 - 6:12, 10:26-39, 12:15-29).
Before He created it, God designed a marvelous plan for the universe and its inhabitants. Once He created it, the next great event was the fulfillment of His plan in the life of Jesus Christ. During the space of time between these two events God gave men the explanation of His plan by means of the law and the prophets. One of the purposes of the book of Hebrews is to help us understand the relationship between the explanation of God's plan, in what we call the Old Testament, and its fulfillment, which is described in what we call the New Testament. The Old Testament scriptures do not contradict nor offer an alternative to God's original plan or its fulfillment as described in the New Testament. Instead, the Old Testament describes and explains God's plan as well as anticipates its fulfillment.
The logic in the book of Hebrews is very tight. That is, the thoughts in one part of Hebrews are strongly dependant upon the thoughts in the other parts, supporting and building upon each other. Therefore, it is important to understand the logical structure of the whole book so that we can, in turn, properly understand the details. To that end we shall present the big picture of Hebrews so that we shall be guided to and avoid missing the main principles God is teaching in this book.
The first and most important point the book of Hebrews makes is that Jesus Christ is God Almighty Himself. He is the Man with a message who is better than all the prophets or all the angels who spoke before. Jesus did not just bring the same message as the prophets and angels, He was the message. All other messengers talked about the Savior. Jesus' message was "I am the Savior." The consequence of this is that, according to Hebrews 2:3, men must listen to Jesus, for how shall they escape the wrath of God if they neglect the message of salvation which He delivered Himself? Jesus brought a message with the greatest authority. If a man neglects that message of salvation, there will not be another person with another message that provides another option. Jesus' word is the highest and therefore the last word.
From chapter 2 we learn that it was necessary that Jesus become man in order to save men. When Jesus became man, He did not deny His divinity nor reduce the authority or value of His message. Jesus was willing to become a man because it was a requirement for the job of a Savior. One of the great wonders of history is that the same God who created and sustains all things also became a man. Hebrews teaches that He had to become a man in order to be an eternal High Priest, the Man whose job was to take away men's sins.
Chapters 3 and 4 clear up another possible misunderstanding about Jesus. Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible, which includes all the rules of the Aaronic priesthood. In addition, he led the Israelites out of Egypt and through the wilderness. Joshua led the nation into the promised land. Jesus neither wrote books about the priesthood nor led the physical nation of Israel. Nevertheless, He is better than both Moses and Joshua, for neither Moses, Joshua nor any other leader could bring the people into the promised rest. Jesus, on the other hand, is able to bring His people into the rest of salvation. For that reason the readers are called to seek the grace offered through the High Priest Jesus Christ (Heb. 4:15,16).
From Hebrews 5:1 through 10:31 we learn the basis for, as well as the value, the necessity and the success of Jesus' priesthood. The message of this passage is that it is essential that we have faith in Him who alone can separate men from sin and give them eternal life, a message that is an echo of a previous warning (Heb. 2:3). The objective of this extended explanation is to encourage and warn the readers to put their trust in Jesus the High Priest (Heb. 10:22,23).
Hebrews 11 is a call, by means of precepts and illustrations, to have faith in the promises of the word of God. Chapter 12 is a call, by means of precepts and illustrations, to value those promises above the things of this world (Heb. 12:2,16,22). Chapter 13 concludes Hebrews by showing how a person's faith in the great High Priest and the value he places on His promises shapes his life.
The book of Hebrews has a few things to say about the people to whom the letter was originally written. Evidently, they were targets of abuse from the start of their Christian life (Heb. 10:32-37). Despite their difficulties, the message of Hebrews to these people is not a word of indulgence for someone who is having a hard time, but an uncompromising word that insists in faithfulness no matter what (Heb. 2:1, 3:12,13, 4:11 6:12, 10:22-31,35-39, 12:12-15). Not only is that the best advice for those Christians among the readers who displayed a faithful walk amid harsh persecution (Heb. 3:14, 4:15,16, 6:9-11, 10:32-34, 13:22), but it is also an appropriate word for those who were weak (Heb. 5:11-14), and a warning to others who were not behaving as Christians at all (Heb. 6:4-8, 10:25). Nevertheless, the author has a personal interest in all the readers (Heb. 13:19). This is especially seen in the phrase "let us," used 13 times, as the author sympathetically encourages the readers by including himself in their struggles.
5. Observations on Specific Verses
a) Hebrews 1:1,2
The words "God ... hath ... spoken unto us by his Son" when compared with the words "spake ... by the prophets" at first seem to imply that Jesus is just the last prophet in a long line of messengers who brought God's word. It is true that Jesus was a prophet from God who spoke with wisdom and authority while He lived in Palestine hundreds of years ago. But it is not true that He is a prophet like all those who came before Him.
The point of verses 1 an 2 is not that God spoke through the prophets, then later God spoke through His Son, but rather that God who spoke through the prophets, came to earth Himself and spoke in Jesus Christ, the Son. God was not satisfied by bringing His message through the prophets or angels alone. God came to declare the same message Himself, not because the prophets did not do a good job, but rather because that was His plan. Jesus was Immanuel, God with us, speaking without anyone in between Him and man.
When we open the Bible, we read, "In the beginning, God ..." Suddenly God is there, ... all by Himself. The Bible starts with a wonder, the majesty of an eternal God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, a beautiful society, complete and perfect, needing no one. And yet we read "In the beginning, God created ..." God has His creation at heart. We exist because God cares and wants us to exist. We are made from nothing by means of His word. We could easily be nothing, if God were to abandon us. But there is another wonder. The Bible states "and God said..." So we learn that man was created to hear the voice of God, not as a curiosity, but out of love in response for the love that God has shown him.
Now from the book of Hebrews we are reminded of the amazing fact that the Creator came to earth to speak to His creatures in Jesus Christ. What message could be so important that God would personally deliver it? Only one: the message of salvation. God strides into history to announce the work of the gospel and to do that work. We must not presume to know why the majestic and almighty God would come down to earth and save rebellious, hateful, selfish sinners from the wrath they deserve. Yet two things cry out for our attention in the book of Hebrews. One is the great concern God has for the souls of men whom He created (Heb. 2:11,14,15). Another is the enormous effort that was required to make their salvation real (Heb. 5:7-9, 12:2).
The divinity of Jesus dominates Hebrews 1. One testimony is that Jesus is the Creator of the universe (Heb. 1:2). Another testimony is that Jesus continues to sustain His creation (Heb. 1:3) and will preside over its end (Heb. 1:12). Another testimony is from Psalm 2:17, "Thou art my Son, this day I have begotten thee" (Heb. 1:5). According to Acts 13:33, this phrase is primarily referring to the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. His resurrection is, in turn, a proof of His divinity (Rom. 1:4) because it showed that He completed a work that only God could have done (Rev. 1:18), because it revealed Him as the source and power of life (John 10:18, 11:25), and because it restored the glory that Jesus had with the Father before the beginning of time (John 17:5,24). One more testimony is the Father's crowning tribute to Jesus quoted in Hebrews 1:8 (Eph. 1:20-22).
Not only was Jesus different from the other prophets, in that He was God and always is God, but also He differed from all the other prophets in another important way. All the prophets spoke of the promised Messiah, but Jesus spoke of Himself (Matt. 9:5,6, Mark 10:45, Luke 24:27, John 11:25, 14:1). Jesus was both the messenger and the message at the same time. Jesus declared the salvation of God and was also the One who was designated as the Savior. In other words, Jesus was the Christ who was promised in the scriptures, the anointed One who was appointed before the foundation of the world to save men from the wrath of God and the dominion of sin and Satan. Therefore Jesus was both the one whom the prophets Abraham, David and Isaiah had in view (John 8:56, 12:41, Acts 2:30,31), and was the subject of His own message (Heb. 10:7). This fact is so important that we shall develop it a little further.
In I Kings we read that Israel's king Ahab had spared the life of Benhadad the king of the Syrians, even though God had wanted Ahab to kill him. For this rebellious disobedience, which was so characteristic of Ahab's life, God would require Ahab's life for Benhadad. It is interesting how God brought His message of doom to Ahab. In I Kings 20:35 and following, we read that a prophet demanded that one of his fellow prophets smite him of the face so that when he confronted Ahab with God's word of judgment the message was in effect written on the prophet's face. Similarly, Isaiah, in Isaiah 20, wrote that he was commanded by God to go naked and barefoot as he declared the message that the sinful Egyptian people were open for inspection before God. In this way, Isaiah carried in his body the very word of God that he spoke. In yet another example, Hosea was required to marry a harlot in order to demonstrate in his body the word which he brought from God. The message in Hosea's case was that God, in His grace, desired to marry a spiritual harlot. In other words, God was willing to save sinners who had turned from Him to worship other gods. Hosea, in his body, lived out the same message that he brought to Israel. These three episodes illustrate the principle that the life of God's messengers was part of the message which they brought. In a way these prophets were the very message that they brought, and this leads us to the most important example of all.
Jesus walked upon the earth and preached the gospel of salvation from sin. He brought that message not only by teaching, but also by performing amazing works that pointed to His authority to be the Savior from sin. His greatest work of all was that He bore the sins and endured the wrath of God in the place of His people, as He said He was appointed to do. He went to Calvary and proclaimed in His body the same salvation that He preached. In the fullest sense Jesus Christ embodied, that is, carried in His body the message He brought.
As we stated above, the contrast in Hebrews 1:1,2 is not that God spoke through two different conduits, first by means of the prophets and then by means of the Son. Rather, the idea is that the same message which God brought through the prophets He then entrusted to no one else but Himself. God in the presence of Jesus Christ came to earth to bring His own word, which He also embodied in His life. As we read in John 1:14, Jesus truly was the word of God made flesh. In a very special way Jesus was what He preached. Jesus said that God had planned to bring salvation from sin, then He went to the cross to be the Savior of whom he spoke. When we look at Jesus Christ, in all that He is and all that He did and continues to do, we see God's eternal plan displayed. Jesus in that sense fulfilled or filled up in His life the message which God had spoken of through the prophets.
b) Hebrews 1:7,14
The word "angel" is commonly understood to always refer to spiritual beings. But that is not necessarily true. In this word, we have another example of an idea that is automatically accepted by many people without being tested by comparing it with other scriptures.
The word "angel" can sometimes refer to spiritual beings as in Luke 16:22, John 20:12, or II Pet. 2:11. However, the word translated "angel" can also be translated "messenger" to refer to humans used by God to deliver His word, as in Matthew 11:10, Luke 7:24,27, or James 2:25. In either case the emphasis is upon a person who delivers a message from God rather than upon the nature of that person who is delivering that message. Only an understanding of the context can help us decide if a spirit or a human is in view.
The word "angel" clearly refers to spiritual beings in Hebrews 1:7,14, 2:16. However, it is better to understand the word in Hebrews 2:2 as God's human messengers. In that way Hebrews 2:2,3 is a follow up to Hebrews 1:1,2, the point being that God sent His message through both the prophets and His Son, and His message must not be neglected (Heb. 12:25).
c) Hebrews 2:2-4
We must be careful as we examine these verses. The basic meaning is rather straight forward. If men disobeyed the word of the messengers whom God sent and were punished because they ignored those messengers, how much more severe will be the punishment for those men who ignore God when He speaks to them Himself.
Does this imply that the words spoken by the Old Testament prophets had a lesser authority and value as compared with the words of Jesus, which we read in the New Testament? That cannot be true because there is really only one message. The words of the prophets and the words of Jesus are both God's words and have the same value, authority and imperative. The difference in punishment is related not to the content of the message or the method of delivery, but to the listener's comprehension of what is said. As Hebrews will later point out, the Old Testament is full of shadows and patterns of the gospel of salvation that God had promised. Those who read it should have seen their obligation to trust in the Savior to come, to whom it pointed.
However, in Jesus Himself we have the clearest revelation of the same gospel message and a more insistent obligation to trust Him. Therefore, although we could say that the punishment is in proportion to the dignity of the messenger who is ignored, a better conclusion is that these verses teach that to whom a much clearer message is given much is required in response (Luke 10:11-16, 12:47,48).
In Hebrews 2:2-4 there is also the idea that Jesus is the last of the messengers, so neglecting Him leaves a man without hope. A man may wish to wait for another messenger who will come with words that are better than Jesus' words, but he will die before another comes because none will ever come. A man can ignore the prophet who says "the Savior has already come and the Judge will soon come," and still seem to get away with his folly. But he is a fool, for there is Hell to pay (Psalm 2, 94:1-11, Isaiah 29:15).
Incidentally, verse 4 does not imply that signs are meant to bring faith in a hearer's heart. Verse 4 means signs were meant to verify that the human messengers, whom God sent into the world, were backed by His authority. The listeners at that time, who were already believers, were encouraged by the confirmation God gave to the word of His messengers. However, unbelievers were hardened, no matter what amazing events accompanied the apostles.
d) Hebrews 2: The Incarnation
We can think of the words in Hebrews 2:14 which come after "Forasmuch then" as a conclusion to all that has been written up to that point. The conclusion is that it was absolutely necessary that Jesus become man. There was no other way for Jesus to help His people. This is an important observation, for there seems to be a contradiction in God's plan of salvation. The apparent contradiction is that after carefully supporting in chapter one the claim that Jesus is God Himself, chapter two explains that He was just as much a man as any other human.
It is amazing enough that God Himself would, in Jesus Christ, personally bring to us the message of salvation, which is that God "had by himself purged our sins." But it is almost an unbelievable fact that Jesus also became man to fulfill that message. God becoming man! Immanuel! Who would ever think of such a thing? It is unthinkable and unknowable unless God were to reveal it to us by His word. It is a wonder that the mighty God would Himself come to our aid. But shouldn't He come in all of His power and glory to do what has to be done? Why would He empty Himself and become "a little lower than the angels" (Heb. 2:9). From chapter two, we learn something about the meaning and the value of the Incarnation.
The Incarnation is a dominant thought in chapter two. For instance, we read that Jesus and His people "are all of one" (verse 11), they are "brethren" (verses 11,12), or in the words of verse 14, "he also himself likewise took part of the same (flesh and blood)." The purpose of the Incarnation is that Jesus' identity with man allowed Him to, "through death, ... destroy ... the devil; And deliver them who ... were ... subject to bondage."
Let us briefly look at a few verses in chapter two which lead up to the conclusion in verses 14,15. We know that verse 5 must be related somehow to the verses before it because the word "for" in verse 5 means that it introduces a verse which supports what has just been written. At first we might be confused and think that the logic is disjointed, but we can understand the relationship between verse 5 to verses 3 and 4 by thinking of them as contrasting each other. The idea is that the world was not put into subjection under the angels, instead it was put under Jesus (Heb. 1:3,9,13). For that reason Jesus' supreme authority compels us to listen to Him as verses 3 and 4 state.
The words in verses 6,7a "But one ... the angels" seem to anticipate a question which the author expects will pop into the readers' minds. The logic of verses 6,7 can be expressed as, "Even though Jesus who is God was made man, which may surprise you, nevertheless He was glorified and in complete control of all creation, just as we would expect God to be." The point of all of this is that the Incarnation did not reduce Jesus in any way. It was not a negative reflection on His nature or character. Rather, it was a reflection of what was needed to save His people. In fact, that Incarnation was a wonderful display of His willingness to do whatever was required to save His people.
The Incarnation was an example of the maturest kind of love. Immature love, the kind, for example, that many children have, is genuine but fettered by self-centered interests. Children sometimes do not express the love they really have for someone because they are full of their own concerns. Mature love is particularly selfless. A mature parent or spouse will willingly humble and deny himself if necessary to protect and benefit the person he loves. Jesus, who is God Almighty, did not hesitate to be made "a little lower than the angels ... (in order) that he should taste death for every man" (verses 7,9).
Essentially God, who is God, became man, who is man, in order to do what only a man could do, namely die as just payment for sins. Additionally, only man who was also God could do that because only God could successfully endure the full penalty of wrath for all of His people without being consumed.
Verse 13 is a quote from Isaiah 8:18, which is an encouraging promise of salvation amid the great apostasy that surrounded God's people at the time. The principle is that God's people are a witness to the Incarnation and therefore in conflict with those who reject God's salvation in Jesus Christ (Isaiah 8:14,15,18). Verse 13 matches John 17:9, which also highlights the contrast between God's people and the rest of unsaved mankind who hate the truth (John 17:14). The point of this is that there is great resistance to the fact that God, who became man, is the only Savior. It is an affront to man's image of himself that God Himself must help him. It is also contrary to man's image of God that He would become a man and be burdened by the sin for which he is accountable. Man would much rather invent a religion that allows man to help himself, and which does not embarrass him by sharing his brokenness and shame with God, or expose his accountability before the law by requiring Jesus to deal with it in death.
It is important to clarify a few things about verse 14 that could easily be misunderstood. The word "children" is the word often used for believers, as in Matthew 18:3 and 19:14, and refers to the elect. It is true that all men share a common nature. They are all humans. But the focus in Hebrews 2 is that Jesus partook of the same nature that the "seed of Abraham" had, that is, which the true believers had (Gal. 3:29). And the death that Jesus died, He died as a representative of the elect only, and not as the substitute for all of mankind in general as a race. The words "for every man" in verse 9 means every man whom God had chosen before the foundation of the world and who would believe. They alone are the true "brethren" of Jesus (Rom. 8:15-17).
We must also think accurately about the meaning of the words "as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same." First of all, these words do not imply that God is a kind of man or that man is a kind of God. God is God and man is man. The two are never mixed up. Nor do the words "and the word became flesh" in John 1:14 mean that Jesus changed His nature. Rather the truth is that Jesus assumed or added to His divine nature, a human nature.
We must reject the idea of some who say that the power of God penetrated Jesus, but that Jesus was only a man. We must reject the idea of others who say that there was a person of the Son and a human person too, that is, two Christs. We must also reject the idea that Jesus was totally a supernatural being, not really human. The Bible simply states that God who remains God, became or added on the nature of man who remains man. The human baby of Christmas grew up and proved His Godhead. God and man are distinct but united in Jesus Christ. It is the personal will of the Second Person of the Trinity that keeps the two natures together. Jesus voluntarily took the form of humanity and will never relinquish it (Heb. 2:14,17; 5:14; 7:25).
Additionally, we cannot think that the Incarnation made Jesus a sinner, otherwise He would not be able to be our effective High Priest and acceptable sacrifice for sin. Sin is not one of the distinguishing characteristics of humanity, rather it corrupted what man originally was. The example of Adam and Eve prove that a person does not have to be a sinner to be human. However, after the fall anyone who was human was a sinner because all men inherit their nature from Adam. But Jesus did not have a human father. He could add a human part to Himself and still be without sin. Jesus was not born under sin, but under the law (Gal. 4:4). The Bible states that our sins were laid upon the sinless One. He carried our iniquities to the cross.
We might ask "who, then, really died on the cross? Did God die?" We cannot say that God died. Perhaps we could say that Jesus, in His humanity, died. Separating Jesus up into parts, however, does not serve any useful purpose. We can only say that God gave His only begotten Son. One person died, and we must leave it at that. The situation is similar to the fact that if we hurt the hand of a man we hurt the whole person. So we just say that Jesus Christ, the whole person, was hurt for us. Jesus, who had a human part, died for us and we were delivered from the fear of death.
We must never think that we can completely understand God's nature and figure out all the details of the Incarnation. But we must understand clearly and correctly what the Bible says in a verse such as Hebrews 2:14. The kinds of distinctions we have presented above are important because unless we are true to the facts, we are not true to the thing that can help us. Those who say "Let's just love Jesus and each other and forget the theology" cannot remain faithful nor endure persecution and trials very long. Such an idea is too appealing. It leads to "... its whatever you do that really counts," that is, it ends up with a gospel of works.
It must also be clear to us what verse 14 means by the words "through death ... destroy ... the devil." Briefly the death in view is the death that makes "reconciliation for the sins of the people" (Heb. 2:17). It is the payment that the law of God demands for disobedience. That is the death that is feared by all unsaved men (Heb. 2:15).
When Adam first listened to Satan, he died spiritually. As a man incapable of serving God, he continued to be under the domination of Satan. Satan has always done all he could to keep his subjects from hearing and obeying the word of God. As long as unsaved men remain unsaved, they are headed for the second death. Thus the words "had the power over death" do not mean the devil was the master over death in the sense he alone had control over who would die and when they would die. Only God has that power. Rather, the power in view is the power that the devil has to keep people in unbelief and, therefore, subject to the death that God declares is a consequence of their rebellion. As long as people are deceived by Satan, they fear the decay of their world and the eternal death that awaits them at Judgment Day. Satan had power over death in the sense that he was allowed to keep men under bondage to sin and the sentence of judgment.
Technically, until Jesus actually died on the cross, the salvation plan was only an unfulfilled promise. Satan could claim the right to rule over men of all nations of the world and keep them in fear of the second death, even though God's promise was always as good as done. In the Old Testament, God saved some people by grace through faith in God's Messiah who was yet to come. But when Jesus died in history, the gospel went out into all the world and released many men from the fear of eternal death under the wrath of God, as well and the dominion of Satan. After the cross, Satan was chained, with much less influence in the world. This is demonstrated by the fact that, since the time of the Cross, people from every nation on earth are being saved (Rev. 20:3). Jesus' death also demonstrated that the wages of sin is death for everybody, without exception. So Satan was effectively destroyed because his personal judgment was assured in as much as the cross showed that God means what He says. It is now certain that at Judgment Day Satan will be cast into Hell and forever separated from God and His people.
Finally, the Incarnation of Jesus means that Jesus shared the spiritual stress of temptation which all believers endure (Heb. 2:18, 4:15). Yet He was their Brother who was not overcome by sin. This motivates and encourages believers to seek His help and do what He says. They know that He understands their situation and is sensitive to their infirmary. They know that He is able and willing to give them the grace they need.
e) Hebrews 4:2
The word "gospel" does not refer to an exclusively New Testament message. It is true that after Pentecost the penetration of the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ was far more extensive, and the response to that gospel was much more universal than before. Not until after Pentecost did God commission His messengers to go into all the world and add believers from all nations to the church. However, the gospel message that the New Testament missionaries brought was the same that God "spoke in time past unto the fathers by the prophets" (Heb. 1:1).
This verse states that the same response of faith was expected from people who lived before the time of the cross as from people who hear the gospel call today. The idea that the gospel is the message of the Old Testament is very important and must be correctly understood. To that end, we shall briefly examine how the gospel is portrayed in the Old Testament.
God did not fulfill the salvation plan He designed and sealed until thousands of years after creation. In the intervening years, God explained His gospel plan as well as its fulfillment in what we call the Old Testament. The explanations were in two forms: explicit statements and word pictures.
Some of the Old Testament statements that describe the gospel are clear and direct. For example there are straightforward statements of guilt (Gen. 6:5, Psalm 53:3, 58:3, Jer. 17:9), grace (Gen. 6:8, Jer. 31:34, 33:8) and gratitude (Psalm 51:12-17, Ezek. 36:27).
Some of the Old Testament passages are not clear statements of the gospel, but their implications give us insight into God's plan. We can call these passages the moral laws. They are the laws that say "do this and live with My blessings," or "if you do not do this you will die with My cursing" (Gen. 2:16,17, Exod. 20:11-17, Micah 6:8). The guilt of men is revealed by comparing their behavior with God's holy and perfect standard.
The moral laws reveal to men their inability to obey, and their inability to do anything about the liability they have accumulated for their disobedience. In addition, the moral law reveals men's sinful hearts. Men do not even want to obey, and their rebellion increases the more God's will is declared to them (Rom. 5:20, 7:13). Therefore, the moral law teaches men that they need a Savior who can take away sin from both their record and from their heart. From the moral law, men learn about the kind of perfect character the promised Savior will have.
The moral law is also a guide that shows how all who have been saved can please God. A saved person has been released from the slavery of sin and the devil, and has the ability to serve God in loving thankfulness for the salvation he has obtained. The moral law shows him how to do that.
Some passages in the Old Testament do not clearly explain God's plan, but still teach the very same gospel that all the rest of the Bible teaches. We can call these passages word pictures of the gospel. They are also called shadows, figures and types (Heb. 8:5, 9:9, 10:1). The relationship between the pictures of the gospel and the gospel that they portray can be explained in this way. A tree can exist without its shadow. But if the sun shines, the shadow exists because the tree exists. The shadow may be a vague unsubstantial representation of a tree, but it is a faithful copy of a tree in the sense that it is not an outline of another object. Similarly, the passages that are a shadow of the gospel are a true but sometimes vague representative of the gospel, and are not teaching a message that is different than the gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
One kind of shadowy picture is found in the ceremonial laws. The laws pertaining to the priests, sacrifices and the tabernacle are some of these kinds of laws. For example, these laws picture the need for a sacrifice (uncleanness of people), the kind of the sacrifice needed (an unblemished life), and the effect of an acceptable sacrifice (escape from the wrath of God and restoration to fellowship in the congregation). Essentially these kinds of laws said, "this is the kind of Savior you can expect and this is the way He will save."
Another kind of picture is found in the social or civil laws. The laws pertaining to the people of Israel as a nation are some of these kinds of laws. For example, laws that governed the peoples' association with people of other nations illustrated that God's people must separate themselves from those who are a part of another gospel (Lev. 18:3, II Cor. 6:17). Other laws, such as the laws of the harvest pictured the command that God's people must make the gospel available to unbelievers of the world (Lev. 19:9,10).
Another kind of picture is found in the histories in the Bible. From the account of Creation in Genesis 1 and in all the subsequent stories to the Bible's end, we can see a picture of one or another aspect of the gospel.
In a special way, the whole history of the nation of Israel was a picture of God's plan of salvation. The Israelites were not only special as the trustees of God's word (Rom. 3:1,2) and as the earthly ancestors of the Savior (Rom. 9:4,5), but also as a shadowy display of the work of God in rescuing men and the kind of life God expects from those who are saved. The Israelites were not chosen to be a figure of God's people because God is a respecter of nations or bestows privilege based upon heritage. It is just that God outwardly separated them from other nations as a picture of His gospel plan. He dealt with them spiritually as He does with people of every nation in the earth (Jer. 18:7-10).
After all we have said about the different ways God brings the gospel in the Old Testament (direct statements, moral laws, social laws, civil laws, historical pictures), it is important to caution ourselves not to overly emphasize their differences. We must keep in mind that they all are different ways to explain the one gospel plan of God. All parts of the Bible tell the same tale of guilt (Rom. 3:19,20), grace (Luke 24:26,27, John 5:39) and gratitude (II Tim. 3:16,17).
Before we continue in our survey let us be sure that we have the main points of verse 2 in our minds. First of all, we see from the words "For unto us ... as well as unto them" that the point of chapter three, of which Hebrews 4:1,2 is a conclusion, is that the message of chapters one and two is for all believers, in both the Old and New Testament times. In other words, according to chapter three, all men who have ever lived, even those who lived in the Old Testament times, must listen to and not neglect the message which was first spoken by the prophets and then spoken by the Son.
Secondly, the words "not mixed with faith" warn us that the message must not only be heard, it must also be valued and believed (Heb. 4:11, 12:16). All men who are confronted by the word of God are confronted by the living God who speaks through it, even though they may not have lived during that time in history when Jesus walked on the earth. The written word, whether the Old or New Testament, is powerful enough to expose their sin and condemn them (Heb. 4:12,13). It is for that reason that men need help. They find in Jesus Christ alone a High Priest who has opened the way to the throne of grace (Heb. 4:14-16). No man, no matter when he lived, can refuse that gospel without peril.
f) Hebrews 5:1
We may think of this verse as a partial job description or definition of the priesthood. 1. One important qualification of a priest is that he must be "taken from among men." He cannot be a different kind of creature than the men whom he represents before God (Heb. 2:14). 2. Another qualification of a priest is that he is "ordained." Unless he has the commission and approval of God, he cannot do the job (Heb. 5:4). 3. An important purpose or objective of a priest is that he works "for men." This means that he works for the benefit of men and that he works, not as man's hired hand, but on behalf of men, doing a job that men are not able to do (Heb. 8:1,2, 9:24, 10:14). 4. That job is "in things pertaining to God." That is, a priest must know what God wants done and the manner in which He wants it done. These are God's things that a priest alone knows, and which no other man could know unless it were revealed to him (Heb. 10:7). 5. One important activity of the priest is to "offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins." The results of the priests work is hopefully that God is pleased with the sacrifice and His wrath is stayed (Heb. 10:10).
There is another priestly task that is not mentioned in this verse and which fits well with Jesus' role as a messenger. According to Malachi 2:7, a priest also brings the law of God, which in its widest sense is the whole counsel of God, including the message of salvation in Jesus the Christ.
g) Hebrews 5:7-9
These verses explain that Jesus fulfilled the role of a priest as described in verses 1-6. From verses 7 and 8 we learn that Jesus provided the required priestly sacrifice. And in verse 9 we see that the sacrifice was acceptable in as much as it accomplished the intended purpose.
The word "learned" can be taken in two ways. It sometimes can mean intellectually acquired knowledge previously unknown before, as in John 7:15 or Acts 23:27. But that cannot apply in this case, for Jesus did not need an education in order to be the Savior. Rather the word "learned" must mean gaining an understanding by means of experience, as in Matthew 11:29 or Philippians 4:11. Then we would have the idea that Jesus learned by taking part in an event that was new for Him, or for anybody else for that matter, which was enduring the wrath of God. Jesus alone went through the equivalent of an eternity in hell, something that no one, not even God Himself, had experienced before.
The idea behind the word "perfect" is "to fulfill" or "come to an appointed end," as in Luke 2:43 ("when ... had fulfilled"), John 19:28 ("might be fulfilled"), or Acts 20:24 ("finish"). Jesus was not imperfect before He went to the cross, as if He needed correction before He could be the perfect High Priest. Rather, His experience as a High Priest brought to an end all the anticipation that filled the Old Testament types and figures in the scriptures.
The word translated "author" is not the same as that found in Hebrews 12:2. It is found only here in the Bible. It conveys the idea of a cause, not just a remote beginning cause but also an immediate continuing cause. The idea of verse 9 is that the law of God demanded a payment for sins and described how the payment could be satisfied (Heb. 9:22). Jesus as the Priest offered Himself as a sacrifice and gift to God, and so fulfilled the law's requirements (Heb. 10:12). Jesus' work was the cause or the reason that God stayed His wrath which was meant for believers (I Thess. 5:9). Not only that, the people whose penalty for sin was removed were also changed by Jesus and made worthy to receive the promised eternal inheritance (Heb. 10:16). Therefore, Jesus continues to be the cause for the new life that believers display (Gal. 2:20).
h) Hebrews 6:4-6,9
Hebrews 6:4-9 does not mean that a person can become saved and then lose his salvation. While the people mentioned in these verses were people who were legitimately part of the Christian congregation and then defected, according to verse 9 they were not people who were ever truly saved. True believers can be expected to endure to the end (Heb. 3:6,14, 6:11), not because they grimly hang on and so are rewarded for their perseverance, but because they are heirs of a promise which is as solid as the word of God (Heb. 6:17-19).
It is easy to make the words "enlightened," "tasted" and "made partakers" mean too much. One thing is for sure, they do not mean that the people mentioned in verses 4-6 were ever saved. A brief review of the Bible's use of these words shows that. The word "enlightened" focuses upon the fact that light shines upon and exposes an object rather than upon the light's effect upon that object (Rev. 18:1). Light displays rather than makes changes (II Tim. 1:10). In fact, John 1:9 states that light "lighteth" every man even though not every man is saved. Light, meaning the word of God, shined upon the people mentioned in Hebrews. It exposed their spiritual need. But there was no response because they were blind and unable to react to it. The word "tasted" can refer to a real experience of some kind (John 2:9), but we cannot on that basis alone insist that the people referred to here were saved. The word translated "made partakers" can refer to some kind outward relationship (Luke 5:7 "partners"), and does not have to necessarily mean that the people mentioned in Hebrews 6 shared the spiritual unity of believers.
We must add that the word "impossible" does not mean that there is no longer any salvation possible for anyone who has come close to the gospel and then fallen away. Rejecting the gospel and turning away from the gospel after making a superficial attempt to identify with the gospel are not examples of the unforgivable sin. The unforgivable sin is committed by someone who believes that Jesus Christ is really a messenger sent from Satan (Mark 3:22,29,30). Such a person has no interest in the gospel, even in an outward way. It is hard to find a person who hates Christ so much that he would have committed that kind of sin.
The idea in Hebrews 6:4-6 is that a man who once identifies by his own efforts in an outward way with the gospel and then turns away from the gospel all together can not be renewed by a reapplication of these human works. The word "impossible" must be matched with Hebrews 11:6 with the conclusion being that it is impossible for a man to be renewed without faith, by means of his own efforts to come to repentance and salvation. What is needed is the grace of God.
i) Hebrews 7:1-3
Who is Melchizedek? What do we know about this shadowy figure of the Old Testament? Not much at all, really. The words used to describe him, "without father, without mother, without descent, .... made like unto" are each used only once in the Bible, in this verse. There is no Biblical information that modifies the clear, simple understanding of these words. Certainly we cannot incorporate the secular use of these Greek words to help us arrive at a trustworthy conclusion about their meaning.
The words "neither" and "nor" in verse 3 are both translations of the same word. They are used in the Bible to convey a very strong negative statement, as in Matthew 5:34-36 and James 5:12. Therefore, we can think that Hebrews 7:3 means just what it says by the words "neither beginning of day, nor end of life." That is, Melchizedek is an eternal person, just like the Son of God. All together, if we use only the Bible as our guide, we come to the conclusion that Melchizedek has all the characteristics of Jesus Christ. The reason is that he was a pre-incarnate manifestation of Jesus Christ. No wonder there is no historical account of this king of Salem for He was not an earthly king. There is really only one King of Righteousness and King of Peace, the Lord Jesus Christ (Psalm 72:1,2,11, 14, Isa. 9:6).
The main characteristic of Melchizedek's priesthood is that it is an eternal priesthood. It is not eternal in the sense that He had to continually repeat the same rituals age after age as the generations of Levitical priests had to. It is eternal in the sense that Melchizedek was the only priest of his order, and both He and the effect of His service were eternally effective (Heb. 6:20 "for ever," 7:17 "for ever," 24 "unchangeable," 25 "he ever liveth," 28 "evermore"). This adds to the assurance that our understanding of Melchizedek's identity is correct for there is only one King who abides forever, the Lord Himself (Psalm 10:16).
The comparison in chapter 7 is not between one earthly priesthood and another better earthly one, but between the earthly priesthood and the service of God Himself as priest in Jesus Christ. There never was another third kind of priesthood, after the order of Melchizedek, to which Jesus is compared. Melchizedek is identical to the one true Priest who "ever liveth" to make intercession for us (Heb. 7:25).
This view of Melchizedek is resisted by many Bible teachers, and for some strange reason, often vehemently. There is a strong insistence that Melchizedek had to be a real human, as if perhaps God would otherwise be playing games or deceiving Abraham in some way. It is not necessary to answer the objections to this view. Our responsibility is to test any conclusions and opinions by the Bible itself, and be willing to modify them only as the Biblical data determines that we should.
j) Hebrews 7:12
We can understand this verse by recognizing its connection to the conditional statement in verse 11. That is, verse 12 is also a conditional verse and we must mentally add the word "if" to the logic. Verse 12 is a theoretical idea that has no real counterpart. It is suggested to help make a point.
We can think of verse 12 in this way. Even though the law had much to say about Aaron's priesthood, the point of it all was that the priesthood was ineffective and only a picture of another effective priesthood (Heb. 7:18,19). The law pointed out in many ways that the true priesthood was not Aaron's but Melchizedek's (Heb. 7:21). For example, the law introduced Melchizedek's preexistent priesthood in Genesis long before it instituted the earthly priesthood of Aaron in Exodus. Also, we see that Melchizedek blessed Abraham and took tithes from him, while Aaron, in Abraham, paid tithes to Melchizedek. Not only that, the earthly rituals had to be repeated because they never fulfilled the need for true atonement. According to Hebrews 7:19 the law of the earthly priests (identified with the phrases "Levitical priesthood" in verse 11 and "a carnal priesthood" in verse 16, and thus with the outward physical ceremonial rituals) was spiritually useless in itself as a device to make men perfect before God. Something else was needed. The message of the law was that Melchizedek's priesthood was the only real priesthood that would help men, that would make them perfect before God.
Incidentally, it might seem odd to call the book of Genesis the law, inasmuch as it is almost entirely a book of history. But Genesis is part of the law, not only because it was written by Moses, but also because the laws were explanations of God's plan and the historical pictures performed the same role.
Now, to follow the logic of verses 11 and 12, if perfection were by means of the Levitical priesthood, then the law of God had to be changed. In other words, if the priesthood were to be changed from Melchizedek's to Aaron's, then the law would have to be changed because the law declared that Melchizedek was the true priest.
Therefore, the words "another should arise after the order of Melchizedek," in verse 11, do not mean that the priesthood of Melchizedek was a second attempt to design an effective priesthood invented only after the Levitical priesthood failed. Rather, the idea is that God had designed and promised Melchizedek's priesthood first before creation. It was the only true priesthood that was effective. And the idea of verse 11 is that if the picture of the true priesthood described in the law was effective then there was no need for the promise of the first priesthood, Melchizedek's priesthood, to be fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
Verses 13 and 14 prove that the law's version of a Levitical priesthood was not the true priesthood because the true priesthood was out of the tribe of Judah, of which the law did not say anything, rather than the tribe of Levi, of which the law of earthly priests spoke. The point is that the true Priest was a non-Levitical law priest, if you will, like the priesthood of Melchizedek (verse 15). Not limited by the laws of earthly priests, the true priest was different. The true Priest was a priest forever and He provided endless benefit (verses 16, 23-25).
k) Hebrews: Covenant, Testament, Promise
The gospel of salvation is such a big deal that the Bible uses many different words to describe it. Three of them are the words covenant, testament and promise. We shall see that while the words in English are different, the idea they convey is the same.
To begin with, we must observe that the three words, covenant, testament and promise are equivalents. The words testament and covenant are translations of the same Greek word. The English words are interchangeable without danger of confusing their meaning. Additionally, even though the word promise is a translation of a different word than the one for testament or covenant, according to Hebrews 9 it refers to the same concept. Hebrews 9:15 states that the content of the promise is "eternal inheritance." In the words of Hebrews 6:17, the promise is intended for God's heirs. Hebrews 9:16,17 explains 9:15 by means of an illustration of a will, but uses the word "testament." The reason is that the testament also is intended for God's heirs. This ties the word "promise" to the word "testament." That is, both the promise and the testament describe what God intends to give to His heirs.
These three words refer to the gospel with all of its myriad dimensions. It is understandable that more than one word was used to try to grasp the gospel's full intent. Unfortunately the different words are sometimes misunderstood to refer to different ideas. However, they all can be thought of as synonyms of the word "gospel." Let us briefly develop the ideas these words represent and clarify some of the things that the book of Hebrews says about them.
We know from the Bible that the plan of God for His universe was designed and sealed long before it came to be a reality (Eph. 1:4,5, II Tim. 1:9, Titus 1:2). In the simplest terms, God's plan was a promise. Beginning from the time that God made His plan through thousands of years up to the time the Jesus Christ came, God's plan was an unfulfilled promise. In a way, this is the reason for the existence of the scriptures that we call the Old Testament, which explain God's promise and its eventual fulfillment. God wanted to declare to the world what He would do before it would come to pass. Incidentally, we should note that sometimes the word promise is in a plural form, "promises," to mean that the one promise of salvation was given "at sundry times and in divers manners ... by the prophets." That is, the same promise was repeated in different ways to God's people.
The deliberate delay in the fulfillment of God's promise accomplished many purposes. For one thing, this arrangement shows God to be God. He alone knows all things before they come to pass, not because He can see into the future, but because He alone knows the full intentions of His mind and heart. He alone knows His will, which always comes to pass. In other words, by deliberately and confidently declaring His promises before they are fulfilled, God glorifies Himself as the only Sovereign God (Isaiah 42:8,9). For another thing, this arrangement stops the foolish mouths of sinners. Men cannot attribute, after the event, any wonderful work of God to their own gods because God tells ahead of time whatever He plans to do (Isaiah 48:4-8). Finally, it is a comfort and encouragement to His own children that He shares His plans with them (Amos 3:7, I Thess. 4:13-18). God's people walk by faith, believing He can fulfill His revealed word, confident that He will work out all things for their benefit (Rom. 15:4-6, I Pet. 1:9-13).
We learn from the Bible that once God made His plan, nothing could happen after creation that would change His commitment to it. In other words, God's plan was not just a promise, but a promise that was binding upon God. That is, it was a covenant or testament. God made a pledge by which He obligated or indebted Himself to the terms of His own plan. The commitment of God to His plan is seen both in the fact that He confirmed it by an oath and in the fact that it required a death to fulfill it.
Hebrews 6:13 states that "because He could swear by no greater, He sware by Himself." We must not conclude from this phrase that God looked for another trustworthy person to attest that His promise was certain, as if there might be someone else who had a greater integrity to whom we could appeal to confirm God's word, but that He could not find anyone and so had to give up the search. Rather it is a statement that there never was anyone else who was trustworthy enough to guarantee what He said was true and sure.
In Hebrews 6:18 we read "by two immutable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us." The two immutable things are mentioned in verse 17. One is "the immutability of his counsel," the commitment God made in promising eternal life, a promise which came out of His own personal counsel and was declared through His prophets. The other is God's "oath" which declares God's self obligated indebtedness to His own promise. It is interesting that the Old Testament passage chosen to illustrate God's oath is the account of the time when He provided a substitute sacrifice of a ram in place of Isaac. Thus the oath focuses upon the fact that God intended to provide Himself as the payment for sins as He planned. And the oath therefore showed that the covenant was the gospel. The view that the covenant is the gospel is reinforced by the word "refuge" in Hebrews 6:18, which reminds us that the most important term in the covenant is protection from the wrath of God upon sinners (Heb. 6:8).
God's self-obligation to His covenant was motivated by His great love for His people. That love is displayed in God's desire to console and encourage His people by His oath. In a sense, His oath was unnecessary in as much as God is absolutely trustworthy and anything that He decides is certain. His word of promise should be enough for them. Yet He swore by Himself to console His people and relieve any of their doubts (Heb.6:19).
God's oath is every believer's consolation because by an oath God is telling them that their hope of redemption is based upon the integrity of His own character, whom they know to be faithful (Heb. 10:23). God's plan of salvation depends upon the wisdom and power of His word (Heb. 4:12, 11:3), and His willingness to keep it. God's oath reveals Him to be the Master, totally and exclusive sovereign over all things, including His plan of salvation (Isa. 45:22,23). God's people can rest upon His promises, patiently enduring what they must now because they will obtain the inheritance they so highly prize. The reason is that they have God's word on it.
God's self-obligatory covenant is a one sided promise. It is not an agreement between God and man. This is obvious from the fact that when God designed the terms of His plan, no one else existed. It is totally up to God to plan and provide Himself as a savior or there would be no salvation. The promise was God's idea. God set the rules for salvation and forever abides by them. He never violates His own rules. The terms of the covenant are eternal perfect rules which glorify Himself. If God is willing, He can help sinners. The amazing wonder is that He is willing, and does save and at great personal expense. He is a creator who can do what He wants with His creation (Isa. 45:9-18, Rom. 9:18-21), and His covenant decisions reveal His heart. God is committed to carrying out the terms of a plan that will result in eternal blessings for His people. He has shown, by an oath, that He is obligated to fulfill that plan (Isa. 45:19-25).
Not only did God make a promise and commit Himself to it, God's plan was a never changing commitment to what He wanted to do for and to His chosen ones. To prove this, the book of Hebrews illustrates the gospel promise or covenant by a will to show that the terms of the covenant are an arrangement that are similar to the terms of a last will and testament, in which a promised inheritance is given to a beneficiary upon the death of the person who makes the terms of the will (Heb. 9:15-17). God declares that the plan of salvation includes the provision that Jesus Christ would die on the cross in order to secure His intended blessings for His people. It is that death which commits God to the covenant.
Once the maker of the will or testament dies, what he has declared in it is fixed. In a human case, when the maker of the will is dead, he is not able to come back to change the provisions of the will. In God's case, though Jesus died and rose again from he dead, the covenant is still fixed because the provisions of the will that allow God to give eternal life to His people have been met.
We should add that God's testament is not conditional upon any action of men, nor does it have any loopholes which allow Him to back out of it later on. God is a wise planner and does not have to change His testament to fit new information, or amend it to take care of a situation that He overlooked. Not only that, once God makes a promise, because He is as good as His word and always accomplishes what He says, it is as if the moment He declared His plan it was an immediate fulfilled reality. That is the sense in which we must understand the verses that state Jesus Christ shed His blood before the foundation of the world (I Pet. 1:19,20, Rev. 13:8). This does not mean that Jesus actually died before creation, but that once God decided upon His plan, it was an unalterable covenant or testament which in the fullness of time would eventually be fulfilled.
The concept of the promise, or the covenant, as a last will and testament helps us see how God's promised salvation blessings were available to the heirs who lived before Jesus died in history. Believers before the cross looked forward to the promise of Christ's shed blood, a fact not yet accomplished in their time but as sure as God Himself (Heb. 10:23).
The concept of a will also helps us understand the sovereign election of God in His gospel plan. As God's will, it is His prerogative to name His heirs, those who receive the blessings upon His death. The Bible is clear that God, in His wisdom, predestinated only certain ones to receive eternal life (John 6:65, 10:26-28, 17:6, Acts 13:48, Rom. 9:10-18). Even apart from the fact that men are dead in sin and incapable of participating in the drafting of the terms of the testament, God alone drafts the will because He is the Creator who owns all the blessings. They are His to give to whom He names as heirs in His will. None of His creatures have a right to any of them, especially since they are sinful, rebellious creatures.
At this point it would be good to make sure that we are thinking correctly about some words that are used in Hebrews to describe the promised gospel covenant, or testament, and its relationship to the pictures of it in the Levitical law.
The word "old" in Hebrews 8:13 refers to the physical rituals (Heb. 8:9). It is linked to the phrase "covenant I made with their fathers." The word "old" refers to the period of time that God's plan of salvation was historically unfulfilled. In the same way, the word "first" (Heb. 8:7, 9:1) does not refer to the original promise made before the beginning of time, but to the pictures that existed before the fulfillment of that promise.
God's promise is as good as His word. It was as good as fulfilled once He made it (e.g. Rom. 4:17,21, Heb. 11:11,13,18,19). Still we are not saved by an unfulfilled promise, but by the actual death of Jesus Christ (Heb. 9:14). The main point of the word "new" is that a death has occurred (Heb. 9:15). The phrase "new Testament" means that the testament maker has died (Heb. 9:16). Once this happened, the testament is in full force (Heb. 9:17). The "old" Testament refers to the gospel plan which God made before the foundation of the world. However, it is only the explanation of that plan in figures (Heb. 9:8,9) which were waiting until the time of Christ to be fulfilled (Heb. 9:10). The "new" Testament refers to the same gospel plan, but discusses its fulfillment in Jesus Christ.
Therefore, the word "new" does not mean "different," as if God had introduced something that never existed before. Rather, "new" means something new has happened, namely, the death of Jesus Christ has finally happened in history. That had never happened before. The original covenant made before the foundations of the world has now come in its fullest expression in Jesus Christ. According to Hebrews 8:10-13, the evidence of the fulfillment of the covenant of God is the change in the lives of His people, which we might add, was also true of the lives of true believers who lived before the Lord came to earth. One other thing that the word "new" means is that in God's economy, after the testament was fulfilled, "many" (Heb. 2:10, 9:28. 11:12) were saved compared to the few who were saved before the cross.
The term "better" is not so much a word of comparison of two things that are similar yet of different value, but a word that compares different things. Hebrews uses the word to refer to heavenly things in contrast to earthly things. In Hebrews 6:9, it refers to salvation. In Hebrews 7:22-26, it refers to an effective salvation obtained by a heavenly priest. In Hebrews 8:5,6 it refers to the true spiritual promise rather than the pattern of that promise. In Hebrews 9:23, it refers to the real sacrifice that provides salvation. And in both Hebrews 10:34 and 11:16 the word "better" refers to heavenly blessings. The words "better covenant" are not comparing the value of the Levities' priesthood with Jesus' priesthood in the sense that Jesus' priesthood was essentially the same kind of priesthood but just a better version. Instead, the words "better covenant" refer to the real eternal plan of grace designed and sealed in heaven before the foundation of the world, which is fulfilled in Jesus, in contrast to the unfulfilled promise of that plan pictured by the Levitical priesthood.
The word "better" is used because it is better for God's people to have the promise become a reality in its heavenly intended way. God's plan was not a forever elusively unfulfilled promise. The promised reality, which alone could save, had to come eventually. And when it came in Jesus Christ it was a better situation for God's chosen ones than living with only the pattern of the unfulfilled promise. Even though as an unfulfilled promise there is no doubt about the integrity of the promise. It is always better to finally receive the blessings that have been promised than to wait for them. The promised salvation was secure the moment that it was planned. So the believers who lived before the cross looked forward as the believers who lived after the cross look back to its fulfillment. Nevertheless, for all believers, its fulfillment is a joy and relief.
We ought to add that the word "better" does not imply that the Levities' priesthood had no value at all. Both priest hoods had value in the particular purpose for which they were designed. The old earthly priesthood taught the nature of the true priesthood and the new spiritual priesthood fulfilled the expectation of that true priesthood. The law had value as a pattern that taught about another priesthood, but did not in itself have the power to save. Jesus' priesthood was better because it was different in that instead of being only an ineffective picture of salvation, it brought the reality of salvation. God's people have in Jesus a better hope because in Him the penalty for their sins was paid.
The word "faultless" in Hebrews 8:7 is clarified in verse 8. The law that described in shadowy pictures the true salvation of God had fault in the sense that there was fault with "them." The word "them" refers to those people of "the house of Israel" and "the house of Judah" who lived before the cross and wanted to obey the physical rituals in order to obtain righteousness. The law could not (Rom. 3:20) and was not intended to (Gal. 3:21) provide salvation. The law was not faulty in the sense that it had any defects or mistakes. It was a perfect inerrant explanation of the promised salvation. The word "fault" could only be applied to it if we mean by that word that the law did not provide the promised salvation itself. The "fault" in the sense of sin or error is with the people who tried to obey the law to be saved.
l) Hebrews chapters 8 - 10:18
The flow of thought from verse to verse in these chapters is not easy to understand. However, as always we must not be sloppy or lazy in our study of the scriptures. We must make an effort to arrive at as precise and accurate an understanding of the Bible as we are able. Let us see how these verses are put together.
Hebrews 8:1-6 states that Jesus Christ's ministry is better than the earthly Levitical one because it is a heavenly one.
Verses one and two state the fact that we have a High Priest that is a minister of a heavenly priesthood made by God. Verse 3 highlights one of the jobs listed in Hebrews 5:1 which defines the role of a priest, namely "to offer gifts and sacrifices." Verse 4 and 5 use that job description to show that what verses 1 and 2 teach is true. The idea is that since the earthly priests are offering sacrifices, exactly as the law tells them to, and since Jesus does not offer earthly sacrifices in that way, we must conclude that Jesus' ministry is not an earthly ministry according to the Levitical law. According to Verse 6, this means that Jesus' ministry is a better one than the earthly one.
Hebrews 8:7-13 states that Jesus Christ's ministry is effective and that the ineffective earthly one will not continue.
If the earthly ministry did the job, there would be no reason to look for another one (verse 7). Because God promised a new covenant, that is, because God promised to fulfill the earthly covenant, we must conclude that the earthly ministry was inadequate (verse 8). When the ministry that God promised finally came, the ministry which would truly take away sins (verses 8-12), then the earthly ministry was put aside (verse 13). The old earthly and new spiritual covenants are not two competing priest hoods. The earthly priesthood was an example or shadow of the new spiritual and effective priesthood. The earthly one pictured the spiritual priesthood which could change peoples' hearts and remove the memory of their sin from the mind of the Judge. The spiritual one is the fulfillment of that promise. When the fulfillment has come, the pictures are no longer needed.
Hebrews 9:1-10 explains the lack of spiritual value of the earthly priesthood.
Verses 1-5 explain that the rituals of the earthly priesthood were ordained by God Himself. Verses 6 and 7 also explain that the rituals had to be repeated, some continually, some yearly. Verse 7 adds that the high priest went into the holiest place once a year after shedding the blood of an animal for both himself and the people. Now, according to verse 8, the repetition of the bloody sacrifices showed that the way to the true holy place, Heaven, was not yet made. In fact, the holy place in which the priest went was only a picture of the true holy place, and the carnal sacrifices could not make him perfect. His ministry could not atone for the errors of him or the people. It could only show, in a figure, the atonement to come.
Hebrews 9:11-14 explains the high spiritual value of the new priesthood of Jesus Christ.
Verses 11 and 12 explain that Jesus Christ ministered in a heavenly tabernacle and offered a single sacrifice, Himself, obtaining the redemption that the picture of the redemption could not. In other words, His sacrifice was not repeated because it was effective. Verses 13 and 14 explain that if the repetitious earthly sacrifices had some outward value (such as maintaining an outward relationship with God and pointing to the need for a better sacrifice), then His single personal sacrifice had tremendous spiritual value, for those who received the promised redemption can serve the Living God as they ought.
Hebrews 9:15-28 explains that the new priesthood required the sacrifice of the priest himself.
Verses 15-17 present the promise of God in terms of a will. From this point of view, the promise is an inheritance and the fulfillment of that inheritance requires the death of the one who made the will. As long as the one who made the will is alive the inheritance cannot benefit the heirs, but the death of the testator makes the promised inheritance effective. The distribution of the testators' possessions cannot be made until he dies, so these verses emphasize the necessity of a death for the fulfillment of the promise or covenant to purify men from sin.
According to verses 18 through 22, the earthly rituals pictured the need for the shedding of blood. The instruments, the tabernacle and the people were sprinkled with blood as the promise of God was spoken. This emphasized the principle that unless blood was shed, there would be no remission of sins. That is why even the earthly rituals included blood, although the heavenly service required a better sacrifice than they provided (verse 23). We know then that Christ's sacrifice was better because, according to verse 24, He did not go into the earthly tabernacle, but into a heavenly one, and because, according to verses 25-28, He offered the sacrifice of Himself only once. When Christ returns, it will not be to offer Himself for sin, for He did that once.
Hebrews 10:1-4 points out that the repetitive rituals of the old priesthood were never intended to take away sin in the first place.
Verse one states that the old priesthood was only a picture of the promise and not the fulfillment of the future things that are promised. Verse 2 shows that the repetition of the rituals was proof of their lack of power to take away sin. The yearly rituals were not sufficient to do the job. They did not make anyone perfect. Instead, according to verse 3, the repetition of the rituals demonstrated the fact that God's promise to remove sin was still unfulfilled and reminded everyone that the peoples' sins remained. Verse 4, then, concludes that the rituals were never meant to have any spiritual value.
Hebrews 10:5-17 states that what the old priesthood was not intended to do, God Himself came to do, namely to offer a sacrifice to take away sin from the people.
These verses provide Old Testament testimony, that is, scriptural proof, that the earthly priesthood was never expected to take away sin. The priesthood of Jesus was always anticipated as the perfect priesthood that would do the required job not done before. God always had only one plan to effectively take away the sin of His people. The priesthood of Christ alone would take away sin from His people (verses 14-16) and from God's memory (verse 17).
m) Hebrews 8:13
Although this verse states that the old pictures of salvation in Jesus Christ would "vanish away" once the new fulfillment of those pictures has come, the Old Testament scriptures still have a place in eternity (Psalm 119:89). We must not think of what is written in the law and the prophets as being voided or destroyed when Jesus Christ came but rather as continuing in Him inasmuch as they are descriptions of the plan that He acts out or executes. That is what Jesus meant when He said He came to fulfill the law and the prophets (Matt. 5:17).
Clearly the direct statements of the gospel in the Old Testament continue in Jesus. When we look at Jesus we are seeing these explicit gospel statements of the law and the prophets. For example, Psalm 2:7 finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ' resurrection as Acts 13:33 states. Similarly, Acts 9:32-35 and I Peter 2:24 show that Isaiah 53 is fulfilled and continues in Jesus.
Also in Jesus Christ the moral law continues forever. For one thing, Jesus' payment for the transgressions of the law by His people showed that the moral law was ever binding and its demands had to be satisfied. For another thing, the objective of the gospel is that the believers would be able to live according to God's will as the moral law describes (Eph. 2:10, Titus 3:8).
Not only that, in Jesus Christ the ceremonial and civil laws also continue. For example, the ceremonial law of the Passover describes the spiritual salvation in which God's wrath passes over all who are covered by the blood of Christ, and in Christ the Passover is still with us (I Cor. 5:7). Jesus is ever the lamb, ever the high priest. Similarly, God's people still refrain from eating unclean things as the civil law demands. It is not that they refrain from eating certain physical foods, but that they obey the heart of the law since it is really a picture that warns God's people to avoid false gospels (Matt. 16:6-12). The outward forms described in the Old Testament scriptures "vanish away," they are no longer observed, but they continue in a spiritual way in the lives of Jesus and His people.
n) Hebrews 9:27,28
Verses 27 and 28 are usually applied in a general way to all men as a warning of what is to come. This is certainly appropriate, but we must not forget that it is presented in this chapter to support a specific point about the work of Jesus Christ. The main idea of the context is that Jesus did not sacrifice Himself often in imitation of the earthly priests who offered their sacrifices every year. Instead, He sacrificed Himself only once. In verse 27, the principle is stated that all men die once and then face judgment. The conclusion is that, according to verse 28, Christ's single death must have been equivalent to the single deaths of all those people whose sins He bore. The "many" died when Christ died once, for He bore the sins of them all at the same time. Jesus did not die for one person and then die again for the next person and so forth. Jesus died once, satisfying all that God's judgment required in that one death.
The words "without sin" does not mean that Jesus will appear at the end of time as a sinless person, although it is true that He will be sinless when He returns because He always was. Rather, the idea is that Jesus will appear again without dealing with sin. He did that the first time He was on earth. As the chapter stresses, the High Priest only sacrifices once. Therefore, the next time He appears, He will not offer a sacrifice for sin. The believers who look for Him to come again do not expect Him to offer a sacrifice. They trust that His one sacrifice was sufficient. Instead they await the completion of their salvation which coincides with His return.
o) Hebrews 10:4
The word translated "not possible" implies more than the fact that the animal sacrifices were not sufficient or adequate to cancel the liability that the people had before the law, due to their sinful thoughts and behavior. The idea is that animal sacrifices are not the right kind of sacrifice. That is, animal sacrifices were never intended to take away sins because their death would not provide the proper payment any more than the destruction of the trees, herbs or rocks would. Human beings alone were given the moral accountability to obey their Maker. Sin is personal rebellion by humans that requires a human to make restitution to the Creator, to whom they owe obedience.
p) Hebrews 11:1
The word "substance" is a translation of a word found only a few times in the Bible. The Greek word, usually translated "confidence" or "confident," is composed of a prefix which means "under" and a root which means "to stand." The picture is of someone who willingly stands under something because he expects it to protect him. So we can say the words "faith is the substance of things hoped for," mean that faith is demonstrated by a person's reaction to a "hope," that is, by his willingness to trust his future to the content of an unfulfilled promise of God. One big part of that hope is that believers stand under the Lord Jesus Christ, expecting Him to protect them from the wrath of God, which will descend upon unsaved sinners at the end of time.
Ultimately, all that a believer has as a foundation for his faith is the word of his God. Is the promise in the Bible a good enough reason to abandon himself into God's present care and future destiny? That depends upon what a person thinks about God who has made the promise and how much that person values the promise. According to this verse, a person with faith in God has demonstrated his faith by entrusting his eternal future to God's plan and power. Faith, true faith, means that although a man may not have all the information necessary to make the right moves, he can entrust his life to Him who does (Heb. 11:8,10)
The word translated "evidence" is found only here and in II Timothy 3:16 as "reproof." A similar word is found often in the Bible as "convicted" or "convinced" (John 8:9,46, James 2:9), "reprove" (John 16:8), "rebuke" (I Tim. 5:20, Titus 1:13, 2:15) or similar words of condemnation. Although these examples seem rather negative, the idea behind the word is really neutral, neither negative nor positive. The word "evidence" can be thought of as a "conclusion," which in the case of these examples is a conclusion reached by comparing a person's observed behavior to God's standard.
With this in mind, we can say that the words "faith is the ... evidence of things not seen" mean that true faith is not a blind faith in faith. Instead, true faith is a conclusion. True faith is not a leap in the dark, but rather it is believing what is believable, based upon what God has revealed. Faith is an informed conclusion, even though the data that is used to come to that conclusion may not be physical or complete. In other words, a person who has faith says, "Based upon what little I do know, it is reasonable to trust in God who knows all." For example, even though no humans witnessed and documented the creation of the universe, a person who has faith is convinced that what God says about it (Heb. 11:3) makes the most sense. As another example, a person who has faith is honest about himself and admits that God's gospel plan is the only reasonable way to deal with his sin, that is, the gospel plan is reasonable if he is not prejudiced against God by a rebellious heart.
The fundamental basis of faith is a genuine respect and love for the person who is trusted. We have faith in someone who has the ability and wisdom to help and whom we know wants the very best for us. Faith is the response of a person's heart who wants to please God who has loved him first. To put it in another way, can we please God if He knows that we do not trust Him or His word, that we must see it to believe it (Heb. 11:6)? No! Faith says "I know God's character, that He can be trusted to give the very best to His people. Because God is who He is, a believer can say, "If God said it, I expect that it is just as real as if it were a completed fact, no matter what the situation is now (Heb. 11:18,19). I am quite willing to patiently wait for God to work it out, and am not bothered by the delay (Heb. 11:9). I am holding out for the best and value God's promises above everything else, joyful to be one of God's children (Heb. 11:13,16,25-27, 12:2). I think enough of God that I conclude His promises must be wonderful and I am willing to make an effort to be sure to obtain them (Heb. 11:27,29,31,33)."
q) Hebrews 11:16
This is a very strong verse. To catch its significance we can look at its converse. That is, based upon Hebrews 11:16, we can say that if a man has a material dimension to his hope, if his desire is not exclusively for a heavenly country, then God is ashamed of him! An example of such a man is Esau who, for his material desire, was rejected (Heb. 12:16,17). The shame of an earthly interest, expectation and joy is the shame of a man under the judgment of God. Just as the list of heroes of faith in Hebrews 11 is meant to encourages us to persist in our Christian life despite the difficulties that face us, the list is also meant to warn us that God's wrath is reserved for any one who does not forsake an earthly reward, as well as value and seek the heavenly promises.
God's blessings are not an option, in the sense they are one choice among others, like goods in a department store. The consequences of neglecting the message of God and thinking that the promises of which He speaks are not worth pursuing are frightening (Heb. 10:29-30, 12:28,29).
r) Hebrews 12:6
The word "chasteneth" and its derivatives in this chapter come from a word that is also translated as "was learned" (Acts 7:22), "taught" (Acts 22:3), "may learn" (I Tim. 1:20), "instructing" (II Tim. 2:25) and "teaching" (Titus 2:12). The experience that is alluded to by the word "chasten" in Hebrews 12 is something grievous, some kind of trauma that is meant to steer the person who is subjected to it toward a more holy life (Heb. 12:10,11). The idea is, then, that chastisement in a believer's life (and according to Hebrews 12:7,8 chastisement applies only to believers) is something that God allows to come upon a believer as a result of the hatred of unbelievers, or the natural outworking of the curse in the world, or something that God initiates because He knows that there is something that a believer needs to learn. A believer is schooled by God in this way. A believer reacts properly to the chastening of the Lord as he recognizes his sins and the areas of his life that need work. A believer is thankful for God's fatherly hand upon him in this way.
Sometimes the chastisement is precipitated in a believer's life from his own foolishness. Sometimes God allows the natural consequences of a believer's sin to work its way out in his life and bring him to his senses. A believer is spanked by God in this way. But for whatever reason chastisement comes, the issue is the same. Through chastisement, a believer is spiritually educated and corrected. He is turned, by means of the present rebuke of the Lord, away from a greater condemnation to come (I Cor. 11:32) and toward a God who loves him, understands him and is with him in all situations (Heb. 4:15, 13:5)
We ought to add that not all suffering is chastisement. Sometimes God brings His child through hard times in order to display in his life the victorious power of the cross and the resurrected life within him. A difficult experience for a believer always results in spiritual growth and the peaceable fruit of righteousness. Additionally, we must keep in mind that not all chastisement is physical. It can take many forms, sometimes entering into a believer's life as an inner struggle with a doctrine or an attitude. Finally, we must recognize that it is not possible to decide from observing the reverses in another person's life what chastisement is needed. For chastisement is a personal thing between God and an individual believer, even though a believer may be one of many people who happen to be sharing a common difficult experience.
s) Hebrews 13:8
The words "the same" mean that God has the same motivation, objective and purpose at all times. His character is always the same, a constant. His desire for His own glorification and for the spiritual benefit of his people is always the same.
It is important to properly understand this verse because it is easy to come to wrong conclusions, based upon the fact that God uses different outward earthly devices in different times to work out His spiritual objectives. For example, we must not think that when God ordained the Levitical priesthood He changed or modified His original plan for reconciliation between men and Himself. The Levitical priesthood was not an additional way to find grace and restoration with God. Nor does the fulfillment of the Levitical priesthood in Jesus Christ mean that people today become saved in a different way than the people of national Israel who observed the Levitical laws. Although God introduced certain devices, such as the Old Testament laws, to teach and illustrate His salvation plan, that did not mean that His plans had changed.
Similarly, we must not think that God is bound by His outward devices, in the sense that He cannot ordain them and then later cancel them. God's purposes are always the same even though the devices of the past may no longer be in effect. Once God ordained the Levitical priesthood, He was not stuck with it, in a manner of speaking. It was not a device that He was obligated to maintain or to reinstate in the future. Jesus had put it aside and declared that men no longer have to observe the earthly rituals. Therefore, believers today are not required to go to Jerusalem today to offer sacrifices at the temple, nor will those rituals ever be observed by believers in an age to come.
God may, for His own wise reasons, begin an earthly device and then later cancel it. We cannot automatically think that an earthly institution or ritual or phenomenon is still for us today or that it is a vital ingredient in our salvation, even though we read about it in the pages of the Bible. We must decide what hold a commandment, experience or phenomenon in the Bible has upon us today by learning what all parts of the Bible say about it.
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