Hebrews 6

Overview

  • The author says:
  • Okay, people, let’s move past Jesus 101 already. Time to get to the sophisticated stuff.
  • No need to review the foundational principals of 1) turning away from the belief that your own efforts can save you, 2) placing all your hope of salvation in God, 3) symbolically using water to indicate that your are purified before God, 4) symbolically transferring God’s spirit to one another by the laying on of hands, 5) the understanding that we will all be raised from the dead one day, and 6) that we will have to face eternal consequences for our actions here and now (Lord willing).
  • There’s no way that someone who has turned back to Judaism after having been enlightened (about Jesus), experienced God’s grace, his Holy Spirit, and the gifts God gave us to bring about his kingdom, will ever come back to Christianity by you trying to save them. Not gonna happen.
  • It’s like that person who turned away is now willingly and knowingly rejecting Jesus as the savior. Just like the Jews and Romans did previously when they unknowingly rejected Jesus as their leader and humiliated him by nailing him to the cross, except now these people are fully aware of who Jesus is and are still hoping that Jesus will die and disappear from their lives forever.
  • It’s like we’re all farmland and God is raining down truth on us. When that truth is absorbed and crops bloom, we (the land) are useful to God–we are producing the right results. But when the rain on that farmland produces nothing useful (thorns instead of crops), the farmer isn’t going to let the weeds run rampant. He’s going to cut them all down. He’s going to clean the field by burning up all the unwanted plants. God will purge the bad farmland. You don’t have to worry about trying to do it yourself.
  • But I don’t have to worry about you producing thorns instead of crops, right? I’m convinced you’re on the right track. God is not unfair. He’s watching all your work and sees that you are trying to help his people produce good crops. Keep up the good work. Keep on keeping on. This kind of faith will get you where you need to go.
  • Don’t slack off now. Imitate those you know who keeping trying so hard to bring everyone in alignment with God.
  • Remember that time when Abraham nearly sacrificed his only son Isaac, the son that God had promised to him, and Abe was all, “Why does God want me to kill the son he promised me?” but God stopped him and said, “Whoa, now. I haven’t forgot my promise. All people will be blessed through your descendants, just as I said.”
  • Well God made that promise on his own authority, because there is no greater authority than him, and Abraham patiently waited out the trials and realized that the promise would come true.
  • People enter into binding agreements (like contracts) that are greater than any one person’s promise, so that there’s no subjectivity in administering the result.
  • God entered into a binding agreement with us through a contract based on himself, because 1) he cannot lie, and 2) he is unchanging in his opinion– the two most rock solid pieces needed in any agreement.
  • Take courage that we have been made the promise that we will end up in heaven with God, a promise made to us by God himself, on his own authority.
  • Our future hope is anchored in the most secure place possible–in Jesus who is in heaven already. Jesus has gone before us and is sitting in the holiest place possible, right next to God, acting on our behalf as the greatest high priest ever, in the tradition of Melchizedek.

Historical Context

Six foundational teachings of the early church are laid out in verses 1 and 2 in three pairs: (1) repentance from dead works, and faith toward God (v. 1), (2) instruction about washings, and laying on of hands (v. 2a), and (3) instruction about the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment (v. 2b).1

This list of doctrines relates to issues shared by Judaism and Christianity. These would be doctrines that believing and unbelieving Jews would agree on easily.2

These six elements of instruction have 1) two spiritual qualities: repentance, faith; 2) two symbolic acts: washings and laying on of hands; and 3) two eschatological truths: resurrection and judgment.5

  • Repentance from dead works is a reference to the class of deeds from which the conscience requires to be cleansed, as evidenced by the same description of them in Heb. 9:14.  The works of human righteousness, the works of the flesh, the works of mortal achievement, and even the works of the Law of Moses, must all be included in the “dead works” mentioned here.3
  • The ritual washings (literally baptisms) may relate to either Old Testament cleansing ceremonies or Christian baptism. The plural use of “baptisms” is never used for Christian baptism anywhere else in the New Testament, but always refers to Jewish ceremonial ablutions–this is the most common understanding. However, some scholars think that use of the plural “baptisms” came from the idea that there are two baptisms taught by the Christian religion: baptism by water and by the spirit.6
  • Laying on of hands in Judaism was part of the sacrificial ritual (Lev. 1:4; 3:2; etc.) and commissioning for public office (Num. 27:18; Deut. 34:9; Acts 6:6). In the early church the imparting of the Holy Spirit sometimes accompanied this practice (Acts 8:17-18; etc).1
  • The resurrection of the dead and eternal judgement come from Daniel 7:9-10 and 12:2. In these depictions of the final establishment of God’s kingdom, the dead will be raised to face God, “Some to everlasting life, others to reproach and everlasting disgrace.”

Genesis 22:17

The author of Hebrews is paraphrasing God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 22 (“I will bless you and make your descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore.”) which takes place after Abraham almost sacrificed his son, Isaac. The author is saying that the audience must continue to trust and obey, as they had done in the past, even though it looks as if faithfulness would result in tragedy, just as Abraham must have thought.1

Observations

  • The verb translated “let us press on” (Greek, pherometha) is in the passive voice and so could be translated, “Let us be carried on” (i.e., by God’s Spirit). Spiritual maturity comes as we follow the Holy Spirit who leads and empowers us.1
  • The most difficult portion of this passage is the idea that it is “impossible… to be brought back to repentance.” Some commentators think this is not saying that it is impossible for God to renew a a person a second time; but that it is impossible for other members of the congregation to restore them.3
  • The author implies that in crucifying Jesus once more the crime would be aggravated beyond that of those put him to death initially for 1) they knew not what they did; and, 2) because it would be a rejection of the only possible plan of salvation.6
  • The word rendered “fall away” means properly “to fall in with or meet (someone).” Here it means undoubtedly to “apostatize from,” and implies an entire renunciation of Christianity, or a going back to a state of Judaism, paganism, or sin. The Greek word occurs nowhere else in the New Testament.6
  • The useless land that will eventually be “burned” does not necessarily imply non-believers being burned in hell. In ancient times, as well as today, farmers often burned their fields to removed unwanted vegetation, not to destroy the field itself.The implication may be a purifying judgment, not eternal doom.
  • Our hope is in the unchanging character and promises of God. These are the “two unchangeable things” of v. 18.2
  • The hope that Jesus Christ has planted firmly in heaven should serve as an anchor for our storm-tossed souls. It should keep us from drifting away from God (cf. 2:1). Our anchor rests firmly in the holy of holies in the heavenly temple, in God’s presence.1
  • Hope is a compound emotion made up of an earnest “desire” for an object, and a corresponding “expectation” of obtaining it. The hope of heaven is made up of an earnest “wish” to reach heaven, and a corresponding “reason to believe” that it will be ours.6

Discussion

  • Hebrews 6:4-6 is often used to argue both for and against the idea that once a person is saved they can never lose their salvation. Given the context of the book thus far, what do you think the author is saying to his audience about their ability to forsake God? What do you think personally about your ability to forsake God? Can someone who turns away from God never be brought back to repentance? Is there a connection between this passage and what Jesus says about the “unpardonable sin” in Mark 3:29?
  • What do you think about the list of the six foundation teachings listed in v.1-2? How often have you been taught about these ideas? Is the church still anchored on these basics?
  • The author says we are to place the anchor of our faith in heaven, with Jesus. How do we know that is where our anchor is? How does this change our perspective on life when heaven is where our hope is set?

References

  1. Constable’s commentary
  2. Utley’s commentary
  3. Coffman’s commentary
  4. Gill’s commentary
  5. Cambridge commentary
  6. Barnes’ commentary
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Hebrews 5

Overview

  • The author says:
  • Every high priest is picked from among the people to represent everyone else in front of God so that he can offer up what is needed to rebuild the bridge between mankind and the Almighty.
  • The high priest isn’t haughty because he’s just like the people he was picked out of. He can empathize with people making bad decisions and doing stupid stuff, because he too has weaknesses.
  • That’s why, when the high priest makes sacrifices for the people’s sins, he makes a personal sacrifice for his own sins first.
  • He knows he’s not in the position of high priest because he’s better than everyone else, he’s just there because he was picked to represent.
  • Similarly, Jesus, too, was chosen from among the people.  Remember how God said, “You’re my boy, and today I’m your pop.”
  • It was also written that the ultimate chosen one wouldn’t be from the typical line of priests, but from a unique “order” of priests, one that has only one other person in it—that ancient dude, Melchizedek who was both a priest and a king.
  • When Jesus was here on earth, he too cried out passionately to God, in tears, and begged God for things like escape from death—which he didn’t get initially (as proved by his death on the cross), but he did get eventually (as proved by the resurrection), because he truly submitted himself to God.
  • Even though Jesus was the closest possible relation to God (his son!), he too had to become fully capable of representing our weaknesses by suffering himself.
  • When Jesus had had the full human experience, he could then perfectly represent us before God as a high priest—the kind who is both a king and a priest, like Mel.
  • I’ve got lots of material on this subject of Jesus as high priest, but seriously people, I feel like you’re not getting it because you’re not even trying to understand.
  • You’re Jews, so you know the Old Testament, and you’re Christians, so you know Jesus. By now you should know all of this stuff and how it all connects together. You should be teaching this topic, not being taught about it.
  • Yet we keep going over these basic beliefs. You keep needing to be spoon-fed “baby food” theology. You should be consuming “Big Mac” theology by now.
  • This baby food teaching is for those who just need to know the basics about what it takes to be right with God.
  • Big Mac teaching is what you should be woofing down now, because by now you should be skilled at determining what’s right and wrong for yourselves. You should be mature enough to see what’s good and bad and make the right decisions yourselves.

Historical Context

High Priest

By the original regulation, the Jewish high priest was to be of the family of Aaron (Exodus 29:9), though in later times the office was frequently conferred on others. In the time of the Romans it had become venal, and the Mosaic regulation was disregarded (2 Macc. 4:7; Josephus, Ant. xv. 3. 1). The office was no longer held for life, so that there were several persons at one time given the title of high priest.2

The high priest was at the head of religious affairs, and was the ordinary judge of all that pertained to religion, and even of the general justice of the Hebrew commonwealth. Only the high priest had the privilege of entering the most holy place once a year, on the great day of atonement, to make expiation for the sins of the people (Leviticus 16). He was to be the son of one who had married a virgin, and was to be free from any corporeal defect (Leviticus 21:13).2

The “dress” of the high priest was much more costly and magnificent than that of the regular order of priests (Exodus 39:1-7). He wore a robe of blue, with the borders embroidered with pomegranates in purple and scarlet; an “ephod” made of cotton, with crimson, purple, and blue, and ornamented with gold worn over the robe, without sleeves, and divided below the arm-pits into two parts or halves, of which one was in front covering the breast, and the other behind covering the back. In the ephod was a breastplate. The breastplate was ten inches square, and was made double, so as to answer the purpose of a pouch or bag. It was adorned with twelve precious stones, each one having the name of one of the tribes of Israel.2

Observations

  • “He is able to deal gently with…” is an idea that comes from the Greek word, metriopathein, which means “to show moderate emotions.” The Stoic philosophers held that emotions should be absolutely crushed and that “apathy” was the only fit condition for a philosopher. The Peripatetics on the other hand—the school of Aristotle—held that the philosopher should not aim at apathy, because no man can be absolutely passionless without doing extreme violence to nature; but that he should acquire metriopathy, that is a spirit of “moderated emotion” and self-control. The word metriopathein is found both in Philo’s and Josephus’ First Century writings. In common usage it meant “moderate compassion;” since the Stoics held “pity” to be not only a weakness but a vice. The Stoic notion of apathy would have utterly disqualified any one for true priesthood. Jesus showed emotions such as pity, sorrow, and anger; and he did so and could do so, “without sin.”5
  • There was no succession of priests from Melchizedek and thus no ‘order.’ Jesus, however, was a priest of this kind—not like Aaron and his successors.1
  • We learn from the Dead Sea Scrolls that the Essenes were expecting two Messiahs, one royal and one priestly. Jesus fulfilled both offices. In fact, the author of Hebrews shows that he fulfills all three Old Testament anointed offices: prophet, priest and king.4
  • Melchizedek is alluded to because he is the only person in the Old Testament who is called both priest and king, and who adequately fulfills the theological requirements of this rabbinical argument.4
  • “Prayers and petitions” in Greek are words often used to denote the same thing. The former means petitions which arise from a sense of need, from the Greek word “deomai” which means, “to want, to need;” the latter refers usually to supplication for protection, and is applicable to one who under a sense of guilt flees to an altar with the symbols of supplication in his hand. Suppliants in such cases often carried an olive-branch as an emblem of the peace which they sought.The particular idea in the Greek word used here, hiketēria, is petition for “protection, help,” or “shelter,” and this idea accords well with the design of the passage. The Lord Jesus prayed as one who had “need,” and as one who desired “protection, shelter,” or “help.”2
  • It is notable that God didn’t save Jesus from the cross (death) when he prayed for help, though God did eventually save him from death, after the fact, through the resurrection. Here is seen God’s method of answering prayers in some instances, in which he sends not a lighter load but a stronger heart to bear it.3
  • “Made perfect” here means being made “complete.” This means through suffering Jesus is suited in all respects to redeem people. Sufferings were necessary to the “completeness” or the “finish” of his character.The word “perfect” means “mature” or “fully equipped for the assigned task.” The perfection or maturity of both Jesus and His followers is a central concept in Hebrews.4
  • This section gives four marks of spiritual immaturity: 1) laziness (dullness) toward the Word (v. 11), 2) inability to teach the Word to others (v. 12), 3) a diet of only elementary truths in the Word (vv. 12-13), and 4) lack of skill in applying the Word (v. 14).1
  • It is plain that spiritual maturity is not simply a matter of time. Many who have been Christians many years may be in the condition of these Hebrew Christians. True spiritual growth is the result of prayer, study, meditation, faithfulness, diligence, exercise, and the successful struggle against temptations.3
  • The phrase “to know good and evil” is borrowed from Hebrew (Genesis 2:17, &c), and is used to describe the first dawn of intelligence (Isaiah 7:15-16).5

Discussion

  •  Why was it so difficult for Jewish people to accept the truth that Jesus was the high priest? Do we, today, have any of those same issues? What prevents us, or our culture, from seeing Jesus as the ultimate representative, uniquely qualified to make atonement for our sins?
  • Jesus experienced the full range of human emotions, even dreading, and wishing fervently, not to have to deal with his own death. We often think of our emotions as bad things, or distractions, or being able to mislead us somehow. What does Jesus’ experience with emotions teach us about our own? How should we properly view our emotions?
  • How is suffering related to maturity, both of Jesus and believers?
  • The author of Hebrews thought his audience should be more mature in their faith because of their history with the Old Testament and their tenure in Christianity. He expressly states that he shouldn’t be teaching them, but that they should be teaching others by now. What stage of maturity do you think you are (milk or meat)? What advantages of information do you have that should enable you to teach others? Are you teaching others?  Do you feel capable? What, if anything, are you missing?

References

  1. Constable’s commentary
  2. Barnes’ commentary
  3. Coffman’s commentary
  4. Utley’s commentary
  5. Cambridge commentary
  6. Gill’s commentary

Hebrews 4

Overview

  • The author says:
  • Now that you know there is a rest, a Promised Land, still out there, don’t stop short of getting there.
  • We, just like out ancestors of the exodus, have heard the good news that God is delivering us.
  • But they didn’t get any value from hearing that message because they didn’t combine faith and obedience (follow-through).
  • Yet, we have! And we get to enter God’s rest!
  • Remember the scripture where God said, “I swear I won’t let them get to the end of the journey and enter the Promise Land. No restful reward for you!’”
  • But also remember that God has rested (i.e. reigned as king), and has had a restful reward (i.e. a kingdom of his own) available to his people since the last act of creation.
  • In the beginning of the Bible, it says that, “On the seventh day, God rested from all his work.”
  • Yet in the passage above it says, “No restful reward for you!”
  • It turns out God’s rest, his full reign, has been available since the beginning of time and the people back then were unable to get into it because they just couldn’t keep trusting in God.
  • So God picked a day when people could enter his reign, and he called that day “today.”
  • God established that “day” 500 years after the exodus, when King David wrote that poem that said, “If you can hear God’s voice today, don’t ignore it.”
  • Think about it: If Joshua, who lead the Israelites into the Promise Land, had managed to bring the people fully into God’s rest (i.e. under his reign), then why would God still have to establish a “day” when people can enter it?
  • Well, all this means that God’s perpetual-seventh-day-reign-like rest is still available for his people to enter.
  • And anyone who enters God’s rest can quit working to try and be saved. They can chill under God’s care alongside God.
  • So let’s try really hard to join God in his reign, and make sure that none of us miss out because we stop trusting and following God like our ancestors did.
  • God’s promises to his people (to make them his own and bring them into his reign) are still alive and active.
  • His promises are sharp, like a duel-edge knife that can be used to cut even the smallest, most integrated bits of you in two. He can see through your deepest thoughts and attitudes right into your heart.
  • Nothing can be hidden from God, not one thing in all creation. Like a sacrificial animal cut open, we are all laid bare, vulnerable to be inspected by God, the one who will judge if we have a blemish on our hearts.
  • But we have a high priest, a person who makes atonement for us, who didn’t just pass through the curtain of the temple into the Holy of Holies, but actually passed through the curtain of heaven to the real throne of God–and his name is Jesus, the Son of God, the one in whom we have faith.
  • Our high priest, Jesus, can totally empathize with us and our weaknesses because he, too, was tempted in every way, but yet he managed not to go astray.
  • That should give us the confidence to enter into God’s presence any time we want to receive mercy and grace in our time of need.

Historical Context

Sabbath Rest

The term “Sabbath” (Hebrew Shabbath) means “day of rest”. It derives from the Hebrew verb shavath defined as “repose, or to desist from exertion” (often “cease”). Another noun form of this root, shebeth (“cessation”), is identical to the common word “to sit.”4

Sabbath was the seventh day in the Jewish calendar, and it was differentiated and set apart (sanctified) from the other six days based on the seven day creation account in Genesis 1. The seventh day is assigned a special significance (blessing) by God, based on the fact that it was the day on which God rested. All subsequent commands to keep the Sabbath assume that this sanctity of the seventh day has already been established (here, at creation) by God. Thus, the Israelites are not commanded to sanctify the Sabbath, but to conduct themselves in such a way as not to profane it (Exodus 31:14; Isaiah 56:2).3

The Torah portrays the Sabbath concept both in terms of resting on the seventh day and allowing land to lie fallow during each seventh year. The motivation is described as going beyond a sign and remembrance of Yahweh’s original rest during the creation week and extends to a concern that one’s servants, family, and livestock be able to rest and be refreshed from their work.4

The Torah describes disobedience to the command to keep the Sabbath day holy as punishable by death and failing to observe Sabbath years would be made up for during the captivity that would result from breaking covenant.4

The Old Testament describes the Sabbath as having three purposes: 1) To commemorate God’s creation of the universe, on the seventh day of which God rested from (or ceased) his work; 2) To commemorate the Israelites’ redemption from slavery in ancient Egypt; and 3) As a “taste” the Messianic Age.4

The Day of Atonement was regarded as a “Sabbath of Sabbaths.” It was on this day alone that the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies inside the Tabernacle where the Ark of the Covenant contained the stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments were engraved. The presence of YHWH in Holy of Holies required that the High Priest be first purified by the sacrifice of a bull in a prescribed manner. Entering the Most Holy Place on other days or without fulfilling the ritual requirements would subject the priest to death.4

The rabbis often asserted that God’s Sabbath (i.e., “the Day of Rest”) never ceased because the regular formula of Genesis 1, “there was evening and there was morning, day. . .,” is never mentioned in connection with this seventh day of creation in Gen. 2:2,3.1

In Matthew 11:25-30 Jesus offered all “rest” in him, an obvious “Sabbath” illusion, with the added claim that he is the source of the rest. These verses immediately precede the “Sabbath controversy” of chapter 12. In chapter 12 Jesus boldly identified himself with God, and indeed, as God, by claiming to be greater than David, greater than the priests, and greater than the temple. He claimed to be the Lord of the Sabbath, thus having the authority not only to interpret the Sabbath Law, but even to set it aside altogether. Jesus set himself up as the true rest, the true Sabbath, the true peace of God.3

Observations

  • The theological issue involves the faith (salvation) or lack of faith of the Israelite adults (20 years and up) who participated in the exodus. Did their lack of faith in the spies’ report mean that (1) they were not allowed to enter Canaan or (2) they were not allowed to enter heaven?1
  • Psalm 95:7-11 has been quoted several times in the context of chapters 3 and 4. Each time a different part of the OT passage is emphasized (like a sermon). 1) 3:7-11 emphasizes “do not harden your hearts” of Ps. 95:8; 2) 3:15 emphasizes “when they provoked Me” of Ps. 95:9; 3)  4:3,5 emphasizes “they shall not enter My rest” of Ps. 95:11; 4)  4:7 emphasizes “today” of Ps. 95:7.1
  • Israel who, though entering Canaan, did not in fact enter fully into God’s rest, in the higher and better sense of becoming a holy nation of righteous and devoted worshipers of God, as God had commanded them (Exodus 19:3-6). Instead they continued to rebel against God time and again; they rejected the theocracy, demanded a king like the nations around them, worshiped idols, oppressed the poor, and even sacrificed their children to Molech. Thus, while entering a type of God’s rest, they failed to attain any reality of it.2
  • The author wants to assure his readers that the Jews failure to enter God’s rest was not due to the fact that the rest had not been prepared, because it existed since the day that God finished his work of creation. This is proved by the words, “And God rested” in one place, and the words “my rest” in another. God’s rest is therefore a fact, and it is clearly his purpose that some shall enter into it.2
  • The argument is that a rest remains because it was not entered by the Jews. Therefore, it was not entering Canaan nor keeping the sabbath day, for they did that. Thus, the true rest referred to here can be neither of those things but must be understood as a reference back to the rest of God himself which is still in progress, a rest the Jews could have entered but did not, and likewise a rest that many now have the right to enter but may come short of it.2
  • The original audience may have conclude that they had missed entering into their rest (i.e., their spiritual inheritance) because the Lord had not yet returned. They expected Jesus to return soon after he ascended into heaven (cf. 1 Thess. 4:13-18; 2 Thess. 2:1-12). The writer urged his readers to wait patiently for the Lord to return (10: 36-37). None of the original readers had failed to enter their rest (inheritance) because they had missed the Lord’s return.5
  • The author implies to his audience that there is a rest from the burden of the law of Moses available to them. In Christ they now able to be kept in perfect peace, an ease that was not available to their ancestors.7
  • Some theologians think that the “word of God” used in Hebrews is based on the Egyptian usage of “word” (logos) meaning “reckoning” or “calling into account.” They assert this fits the original author’s overall argument, that there will be a divine reckoning through examination, using the metaphor of a surgeon (p. 227). Therefore, this text is not a description of the revealed word of God, but the discerning judgment of God.1
  • The word “sword” used by the author (Greek, machairan) was originally a small one like a boning knife that was used to cut up meat. In its double-edged form it was a symbol of judges and magistrates in the Roman world. It illustrated the power of those officials to turn both ways to get to the bottom of a case. However it is possible that by the time Hebrews was written machaira (sword) had come to mean a sword of any size, long or short.5
  • The author implies that the word of God can express and distinguish what is “soulish” (natural) and what is spiritual in our motivation and actions. It can do so even when those elements are as close to each other as our joints and marrow. It is even able to expose our thoughts and attitudes (cf. 1 Cor. 4:5). God’s Word can reach to the innermost recesses of our being. We must not think that we can bluff our way out of anything, for there are no secrets hidden from God.5
  • Many Christians think this verse shows that God will judge unbelievers with his piercing word, but in the context it refers to God judging believers to determine their rewards.5
  • In Hebrew thought the “heart” represents the entire person and their inner motivation.1
  • “Everything is uncovered” in the text is a metaphor that literally means “to expose the neck by lifting the chin.” This OT metaphor was a warning to judges; here it refers to meeting God face-to-face on judgment day, who has full knowledge of our motives.1
  • The author, in telling the readers they will be cut by the word of God, may have been making an allusion to to the state in which the sacrifices called burnt offerings were laid on the altar. The animals were stripped of their skins, their breasts were ripped open, their bowels were taken out, and their backbone was cleft. Then they were divided into quarters; so that outwardly and inwardly they were fully exposed to the eye of the priest, in order to a thorough examination (Leviticus 1:5,6); and, being found without blemish, they were laid in their natural order upon the altar and burnt.2
  • The “word of God” is most plainly “what God speaks.” The idea here is, that what “God had said” is suited to detect hypocrisy and to lay open the true nature of the feelings of the soul, so that there can be no escape for the guilty.6
  • Isaiah 49 uses the sharp sword analogy as well. Here Isaiah uses it to describe himself as the tool/weapon God will use to reconcile Israel (his people) back to himself. In Hebrews, the author argues that Jesus is the ideal representative of God (greater than the greatest prophet, Moses), whose words can reconcile all his people.
  • To separate the soul from spirit implies the taking of a life. The idea here is that the word of God is like a sharp sword that inflicts deadly wounds. The sinner “dies” as if an actual sword had pierced his heart.6
  • Jesus’ “ascending into heaven,” or literally passing “through the heavens” contrasts with the first High Priest, Aaron’s merely passing beyond certain enclosures in the tabernacle.2
  • “Let us approach God’s throne” is a phrase that emphasizes the subject’s continual involvement with this activity (such as, “let us continually be approaching”). This is a technical term in the Septuagint (LXX) for a priest approaching God. In Hebrews this term is used of fallen mankind’s ability to approach God as if they too were priests because of Jesus’ sacrifice (cf. 4:16; 7:25; 10:1,22; 11:6). Jesus has truly made his followers a “kingdom of priests” (cf. Exod. 19:5,6; I Pet. 2:5,9; Rev. 1:6).1
  • The high priests of Judaism could only approach God at his earthly throne (the ark of the covenant), in the holy of holies in the temple, once a year. God’s throne of judgment has now become a throne of grace (undeserved help) for us to approach at any time.5

Discussion

  • Do you think Jesus could have sinned? Why or why not?
  • How does the word of God divide the soul and spirit? What does that mean to you? Why would the author say “soul” and “spirit”? What are the differences? Why would they need to be divided? How have you experienced this in your own life?
  • What does the author mean that the word of God is alive and active? What word is he talking about? What implications does that have? How should that effect the way we live?
  • What “rest” do you think is promised to you? What does it look like? Feel like? When is it reached?
  • We often try to please God by trying to do the right thing, or feel guilty that we are not living up to his standards when we inevitably fail. How does the concept of “rest” play into this thinking? How does it make you think differently about your relationship with God and what he expects of you?
  • The author says we can “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence… in our time of need.” Do you feel you can do this freely? What hesitations do you have? How does Jesus give us confidence?

References

  1. Utley’s commentary
  2. Coffman’s commentary
  3. Deffinbaugh’s commentary
  4. Biblical Sabbath
  5. Constables’ commentary
  6. Barnes’ commentary
  7. Gill’s commentary

Hebrews 2

Overview

  • The author says:
  • Listen up, peeps, so that you don’t find yourself drifting away from the truth.
  • Because, if the Law of Moses was delivered by angels and had punishments built in for breaking the law, you can imagine how much important it is to pay attention to the way of salvation given to us now.
  • This way of salvation was announced to us by Jesus, and confirmed by those who knew him firsthand. God added his affirmation of it via signs, wonders, acts of power and the distribution of the Holy Spirit.
  • Besides, angels aren’t even supposed to inherit the world to come.
  • Remember how that old song says, “What is a man that you, God, would even think twice about him? What is lowly, ordinary man that you even care about him? For a little while you made him lower than the angels, but then you’ll elevate him, crown him, and make everything subject to him.”
  • And when it says “everything” it means everything, even though it doesn’t look like it yet.
  • But remember, Jesus is currently elevated and crowned, because for a little while he was made lower than the angels just so he could experience death on behalf of everyone.
  • In his plan to elevate all of his kids, God, through whom everything is made, made the trailblazer to glory (Jesus) fully complete through the experience of suffering.
  • Now the one that can make people holy (Jesus) and those he made holy (us) are family.
  • Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters, because it’s like that other old song says, “After I was saved by God, I shared the story with my brothers and sisters.”
  • Or when Isaiah the prophet said, “When things look bad, I trust in God.” And, “The signs that what I said was true are me and my kids.”
  • Since we are just people, regular ol’ flesh and blood, Jesus became like us so that through his death he could break the power of the jerk who wields the power of death (the devil).
  • Jesus set us free from the fear of dying.
  • Jesus didn’t come to save angels, he came to help the children of Abraham – those with faith.
  • He became 100% human so that he could become the best high priest ever and forever get rid of our sins.
  • Jesus suffered and was tempted so that he would know exactly what you’re going through, and therefore would be awesome at helping you.

Historical Context

Psalms 8:4-6

This Psalm dwells upon the paradox of man’s physical insignificance contrasted with his spiritual importance.6

This Psalm is based theologically on Gen. 1 in which man is given dominion over the earth. Man was created to rule, but his sin turned the world upside-down. Now sickness, suffering, and death are signs that the world that is not subject to man.5

By quoting from Psalms 8, the author of Hebrews is saying that ultimately people, not angels, are destined to be placed over all of creation.6

In this Psalm the term “son of man” is in a parallel relationship with the term “man.” It is a Hebrew idiom for humanity.4

Psalm 22:22

This same Psalm was quoted by Jesus on the cross when he cried out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

Originally written by David at a moment when he felt overrun by his enemies and forsaken by God, but it’s meaning was taken to go beyond those events and imply a Messianic event in which God would ultimately subdue all his enemies.

Isaiah 8:18

Isaiah predicted that Israel would be overrun by Assyria. The sense in Isaiah chapter 8 is, that the prophet had closed his message to the people; he had been directed to seal up the testimony; he had exhorted the nation to repent, but he had done it in vain; and he had now nothing to do but to put his trust in the Lord, and commit the whole cause to him. His only hope was in God; and he calmly and confidently committed his cause to him.3

The writer to the Hebrews implies that just as Isaiah could include his sons among those who were “with him” in trusting God, so Jesus could include his spiritual children among those who, with him, trust in God even in the midst of trials and tribulations.5

The Devil and The Power of Death

The Devil in Greek (diabolos) means “slanderer” (from diabállein, “to slander”)This term is often interchangeable with the name Satan, and is used 32 times in the New Testament. “Slanderer” is also a word used for humans, such as Judas, and gossips.(Revelation 12:9).9

The original Hebrew term satan is a noun from a verb meaning primarily “to obstruct, oppose”, as it is found in Numbers 22:22, 1 Samuel 29:4, Psalms 109:6. Ha-Satan is traditionally translated as “the accuser” or “the adversary”. The definite article ha- (English: “the”) is used to show that this is a title bestowed on a being, versus the name of a being. Thus, this being would be referred to as “the satan”.9

The Devil is considered a prince of a kingdom. To be a prince means he has power to wield over his subjects. The “power of sin” or “power of death” is his power. The Devil introduced sin into the world and through sin death. His desire is to destroy and kill, and his use of temptations increase death in the world.10

According to the Gospel of John, Satan is “the prince of this world” (Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). The word translated “prince” (archon) customarily referred to “the highest official in a city or a region in the Greco-Roman world.” While Jesus and his followers of course believed that God was the ultimate Lord over all creation, they clearly viewed Satan as the functional lord of the earth at the present time.11

Satan is depicted as possessing “all the kingdoms of the world” — to the point where he gives authority to rule these kingdoms to anyone he pleases (Lk 4:5-6). In fact, the various kingdoms of the world can be described as a single kingdom under Satan’s rule (Rev. 11:15, cf. Rev. 13). John goes so far as to claim that the entire world is “under the power of the evil one” (I Jn 5:19) while Paul doesn’t shy away from labeling Satan “the god of this world” (2 Cor 4:4) and “the ruler of the kingdom of the air” (Eph. 2:2).11

Satan does not have the absolute power over death (Job 2:4-6; 1 Cor. 5:5), but he does hold the power of the fear of death, which he holds over all mankind (cf. 1 Cor. 15:54-57). Jesus has abolished death (cf. 2 Tim. 1:10) and he holds the keys of hades and death (cf. Rev. 1:18).4

High Priest

The Jewish high priest was to be a decedent of Aaron, and was at the head of religion among the Jews. He was set apart with solemn ceremonies,  clad in his sacred vestments, and anointed with oil (Exodus 29:5-9; Leviticus 8:2). He was the general judge of all that pertained to religion, and even of the judicial affairs of the Jewish nation (Deuteronomy 17:8-12; 19:17; 21:5; 33:9-10). He alone had the privilege of entering the most holy place once a year, on the Day of Atonement, to make an offering for the sins of the whole people (Leviticus 16:2). When clothed in his proper vestments, and having on the Urim and Thummim (stones), he made known the will of God in regard to future events.3

Observations

  • The word translated “drift away” in Greek means “to flow by, to flow over; and then to go by, to fall, to go away.” It is used to mean to flow near, to flow by – as of a river; to glide away, to escape – as from the mind, that is, to forget; and to glide along – as a thief does by stealth.3
  • There are two objections the audience for Hebrews would have had: First, that Jesus was a man; and secondly, that he suffered and died. They would ask how he, a mortal man, could be superior to the angels? How could he have had the rank which was claimed for him? This the author answers by showing first, that Jesus’ condition as a man was “voluntarily” assumed – “he was made lower than the angels;” and secondly, by showing that as a consequence of his sufferings and death, Jesus was immediately crowned with glory and honor.3
  • The author now shows how the Son is superior to the angels in a very different way – by taking on humanity (the incarnation) in order to save lost men and women, and restore them to the place of dignity and authority for which they were originally created.5
  • “Taste” in Greek does not mean “sample a small amount” (as a typical English reader might infer), but “experience something cognitively or emotionally; come to know something.”1
  • The Greek word translated pioneer is used of a “prince” or leader, the representative head of a family. It also carries nuances of “trailblazer,” one who breaks through to new ground for those who follow him. It is used some thirty-five times in the Greek OT and four times in the New Testament, always of Christ.1
  • The warning of Hebrews 2:1-5 is linked by the phrase ‘for this reason’ with the entire argument of Hebrews 1. Because of the Son’s superiority to angels (1:1-5), the angels’ worship of and service to Him at His coming (1:6-7), His future rule and sharing of joy with His companions (1:8-9), and His future subjugation of His enemies (1:10-14), the readers would do well to heed these teachings.2
  • Verses 5-18 present eight reasons for the incarnation of the Son: 1) to fulfill God’s purpose for man (vv. 5-9a); 2) to taste death for all (v. 9b); 3) to bring many sons to glory (vv. 10-13); 4) to destroy the devil (v. 14); 5) to deliver those in bondage (v. 15); 6) to become a sympathetic high priest for men (vv. 16-17a); 7) to make propitiation for sins (v. 17b): 8) and to provide help for those tested.2
  • The term “perfect” means “to be complete, mature, equipped for the assigned task” (cf. Eph. 4:12). The author of Hebrews uses “perfect” three times to describe Jesus (cf. 2:10; 5:9; 7:28) and three times to describe Jesus’ followers (cf. 10:14; 11:40; 12:23).4
  • “Perfect” can be understood as meaning “to completely prepare.” In this sense, Jesus’ incarnation and sufferings “prepared” him for the work he would accomplish on the cross of Calvary.5
  • “Perfect” is often used to represent the consecration of the High Priest (Leviticus 21:10).8
  • God perfected Jesus by charting his path to glory through suffering. By having experienced suffering Jesus can more perfectly help us as we suffer (v. 18). He was “perfected” in this sense.2
  • The fear of death enslaves unbelievers in that fear of death leads them to behave in ways that please Satan (e.g., selfishly, living for the present, etc.).2
  • Since the sting of death is sin (1 Corinthians 15:55), Christ’s providing the remedy for sin has removed the most dreadful part of the fear of death, which is the fear of punishment afterward. Moreover, death with the resurrection to follow is not death in the former sense. It is the sure and certain hope of the resurrection that robs death of so much of its terror.6
  • “the seed of Abraham” probably refers primarily to believers, the spiritual descendants of Abraham (Gal. 3:29), rather than to Jews, the physical descendants of Abraham (cf. Isa. 41:8-10).2
  • Here the benefits of our Lord’s incarnation, according to the author of Hebrews: 1) Fallen man is restored to his former glory and authority through the incarnation of our Lord (2:5-18). 2) As a result of our Lord’s incarnation, all believers have become a family (2:11-13). 3) Because of the incarnation, Jesus defeated Satan and his colleagues, so that we are no longer paralyzed with the fear of death (2:14-15). 4) Because of the incarnation of our Lord, we have become Abraham’s seed, and thus are assured that we will enjoy the blessings God promised to Abraham (2:16). 5) Because of the incarnation, we now have a merciful and faithful High Priest (2:17-18).5

Discussion

  • The author warns agains neglect as a means of ruining our salvation. This implies that there must be active maintenance of our belief to keep it “alive.” What does this imply? What do we lose to neglect? How do we recognize when we’re drifting away?
  • How does death (or more specifically, the fear of death) effect our thinking about life? What actions do we take to avoid death, based on fear? What actions do we take to “get the most out of life now” based on our fear of death? How might we act differently knowing that Jesus promised us life eternal?
  • The forgiveness which God provided for man is absolutely unique, there being no precedent of any such thing in heaven or upon earth. Where, in all the universe, is there such a thing as the forgiveness of sins, apart from Christ our Lord? No forgiveness was provided for the angels when they sinned; none of the laws of God’s natural creation ever forgave either man or beast; no one ever fell off a cliff and received a reprieve from the law of gravity; no dog ever forgave the quarry; no poisonous serpent ever forgave the victim.6 How does this shape your thinking about grace? What is the difference between grace and justice? How does grace offend our natural sensibilities since we are surrounded by laws (natural and man made) and are born with an innate need for justice?

References

  1. Net Bible Notes
  2. Constable’s commentary
  3. Barnes’ commentary
  4. Utley’s commentary
  5. Deffinbaugh’s commentary
  6. Coffman’s commentary
  7. Cole’s commentary
  8. Cambridge commentary
  9. Devil – Wikipedia
  10. Power of Death
  11. Atonement – ReKnew