Final Revelation

Jesus prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem. "But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies," He averred, "then recognize that her desolation is at hand" (Luke 21:20). As for the Temple and its buildings, center of worship under the Old Covenant, the Lord also spoke of their destruction: "As for these things which you are looking at," He instructed His followers, "the days will come in which there will not be one stone left upon another which will not be thrown down" (Luke 21:6). All things connected with the system of worship and sacrifice under the Old Testament — the Temple, the sacrifices, the priesthood, the records, the nation — were going to be cast down; the new wine of the New Covenant was not going to be poured into the wineskin of the Old.

But Israel according to the flesh was attached to her physical accoutrements. Understandable; physical things for a physical people. The concern of God, however, was for the Hebrew Christians who would have to witness the destruction of the physical trappings of Judaism. Many of them were still zealous for the things of the Law, keeping its rituals and observing Jewish customs. The danger was that when the physical was violently torn down, these believers would not have enough faith and understanding to maintain their fellowship with the Lord Jesus, and to be able to move forward with a better understanding of the gospel. Hence, sometime before the 67 AD invasion of Jerusalem began by the Roman legions, and before the Temple burnt in August of 70 AD, the letter of Hebrews was written. Its purpose was to prepare the Hebrew Christians for the destruction of those physical remnants of the system of Moses, and for moving their focus upward, where necessary, to the spiritual elements of Christ in glory and His reign in a spiritual tabernacle.

"The last days" is the final segment of earth’s existence. The words delivered through the Son are what govern God’s people during this final segment, and nothing is to added to or taken away from that "faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). Through the "voice" of Jesus — that which is now written in the pages of the New Testament — "He has made known to us the mystery of His will" (Ephesians 1:9). That "which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men" has been revealed, as the Son has given the information "revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit" (Ephesians 3:5). What a blessing to live in "these last days"!

Creator and Inheritor

The epistles often open in sweeping statements about the Lordship of Jesus and His nature in relation to the overall communication of who God is. The apostle John, in his documentary on Jesus’ life on earth, used the same technique in painting the huge picture about the Lord, stating that "the Word" was God and was the Creator. These sweeping concepts are spiritual in nature, and require that man’s thought processes be upgraded to be able to begin to apprehend them. To prepare man, God had to work carefully, destroying the earth once because of man’s rebellion, molding the special line of Abraham’s descendants in Egypt, and finally bringing them into the Promised Land. Hence the revelation began slowly, with God’s walking with Adam in the Garden, and upward through His appearances and speaking with Abraham, in His giving of the Law to Moses, to His various modes of speaking through the prophets such as Isaiah. The final revelation, then, would come through the Son of God. Those who came before were preliminary messengers; the Son would be universally recognized as the One who would be authorized to speak in behalf of the Father, and pronouncements given through Him would be final.

The temple and the physical trappings of the Law were replaced with the spiritual temple and the spiritual trappings of Jesus the Christ. The Hebrew Christian was to recognize that this transition had taken place, and turn his attention to that which was given through Moses to that which was given through Christ. "New wine," said Jesus, cannot be put "into old wineskins" (Luke 5:37). The authority of Jesus therefore had to be so firmly established that the Law of Moses would not be considered as competition to the pronouncements of the Son of God. Moses was not the Creator, Moses was not the Sustainer, and Moses was not the Inheritor. Jesus, the Son, was and is. When Moses — representing the Law — and Elijah — representing the Prophets — appeared with Jesus in glorified form at the Mount of Transfiguration, the voice from heaven spoke in regard to Jesus in juxtaposition to the other two: "This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him" (Matthew 17:5). The Son has spoken; who will listen?

The Express Image

"I am the Lord," stated the Almighty through His prophet, "that is My name; I will not give My glory to another" (Isaiah 42:8). Zealous is He, and strong, destroying His enemies, and triumphing over every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of Him. "I will not," said He, "give My praise to graven images." He protects His glory, and He receives the praise due Him.

But how shall this glory be revealed to mankind, that they might offer Him the worship and praise He deserves? "The time is coming," was the oracle, "to gather all nations [Gentiles] and tongues. And they shall come and see My glory" (Isaiah 66:18). "Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed," were words of Isaiah, prophesied to be part of the message of John the Immerser in preparation for the coming of the Messiah, "and all flesh will see it together; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken" (Isaiah 40:5). Jew and Gentile alike would be able to perceive the glory of God in connection with the coming Christ!

God loves man, and God wants fellowship with Him. The rules of the spiritual universe require, however, that God can only be seen by the eye of faith in those who dwell in physical bodies. Hence the revelation found in the Bible is the means by which this picture of God is communicated, and communicated ultimately only to the inner person of those who have properly been immersed into Christ. This revelation is so that the redeemed of mankind might come to know God, and to be known by Him. "The world," said Paul, "through its wisdom did not come to know God"; it requires the preaching of the gospel of glory to accomplish that (I Corinthians 1:21). And the heart of God is illustrated in the prayer of the Son: "And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent" (John 17:3). Jesus in glory is the exact impress of the Father; do what you have to do in order to see that glory!

The Exalted Jesus

The exaltation of Jesus to the heavenly throne was preached from the beginning of the church. His crucifixion was proclaimed also, but the gospel did not stop at His crucifixion or even His bodily resurrection. "The God of our Fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross," was the proclamation of Peter to the Jewish high council. "He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand," was the emphasis of the message, "as a Prince and a Savior" (Acts 5:29,30). There are many aspects of Jesus accomplished at His exaltation to heaven:

1) He was established as the High Priest of the New Order
2) He was anointed as King and took the heavenly throne
3) He was declared to be Jehovah (Yahweh) God by His ascension
4) He was recognized as the great Prophet who speaks from heaven
5) He was raised to the power position at right hand of the Father where He is the Savior
6) He was not only the testator of the New Will, but He was raised to eternal life to be the Mediator of the New Covenant, the Executor of the will
7) He was put in place as the Chief Cornerstone, resurrected from the dead to be positioned as the key stone in a spiritual temple

The writer of Hebrews was conscious of these aspects connected with the risen Christ, and perhaps more than any other writer of the New Testament, brings these things to the attention of the saints, upon whom the ends of the ages has come. "God," he said, "in these last days has spoken to us in His Son" – the Prophet who speaks from heaven. This Son is "the radiance of the Father’s glory and the exact representation of His nature" — He is Jehovah God, a point which will be established in more detail. The writer’s introduction is brief, but sweeping. He also includes:

The conjoining of the offices of High Priest and Christ in one man enthusiastically was prophesied by Zechariah. Aware that the kings were of the line of Judah and that the priests were descended from Levi, and that these two lines could not cross in the physical realm, the prophet wrote of the Coming One, "He will be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace will be between the two offices" (Zechariah 6:13). The fulfillment of this was the exaltation of Jesus, "when He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high."

Jesus above Angels

Both Stephen and Paul maintained that the Law of Moses was "ordained by angels" (Acts 7:53; Galatians 3:19). This would indicate that the voice which thundered from Sinai was that of God speaking through an angel, perhaps an archangel. It would also indicate that the continuing revelations from Sinai on were given through angels. This Law, then, had governed Israel for nearly 1500 years, and its dictates and customs had been ingrained in the Jewish people, both those in Jerusalem and those scattered throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. Those dictates and customs would not be given up easily; in fact, it would require the destruction of any semblance of the nation or people in order for the old ways to make way for the new. God would have to, in the words of Jesus, expressed in a thinly veiled parable, destroy "those murderers, and set their city on fire" (Matthew 22:7). The Hebrew Christians were to be prepared for that destruction, and the superiority of Christianity over Judaism would have to be established in their minds. Hence the superiority of Jesus over the angels would be the first point in the exposition, delineating the superiority of that which came through Jesus — the church and new covenant — over that which came through angels — the Law.

Angels could not possibly make claims to that which Jesus possessed. The angels who tried were banished to the realms of darkness, and will burn in the fires of hell forever. The good angels recognize their role and position, being "ministering spirits sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation" (Hebrews 1:14). Jesus, then, is clearly superior to angels, and that which was delivered through Him is therefore far superior to that which was delivered through angels. It is then "to the testament of Jesus" that we turn for instruction and salvation!

What’s in a Name?

The argumentation in the book of Hebrews is pretty complex. When a point is being made in this epistle, several logical sub-points and reasonings from Old Testament scriptures are usually involved. In this way the case for the point is complete, buttressed with several legs of syllogism, convincing the Jewish mind that the spiritual covenant of Christ is far superior to the physical covenant of Moses. The Law of Moses came through the agency of angels; the objective of the writer is to establish that a new type of law came through Jesus. "For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable," was one of his points, "how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?" (Hebrews 2:2,3). The One who was seated with the Majesty on His throne is the One who has "become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they" (Hebrews 1:4). What’s in this name?

Christ possessed the name before the foundation of the world. Of the Rock, the angel of the Lord who delivered Israel from the Egyptians, and who followed them in the wilderness, it was written: "…obey His voice … since My name is in Him" (Exodus 23:21). For purposes of revelation it was necessary that He take human form, die, be buried, and be raised from the dead. In the process He was to be worshiped by angels, and declared to be God’s Son. He is clearly far superior to the angels, and that which is now spoken by the Son is to be heeded!

Begotten Son

The book of Hebrews moves its readers from an earthly, physical focus to being able to see the importance of the spiritual, heavenly realm. The centerpiece of this revelation is, of course, Jesus — crucified, but risen and glorified. "God," was the initial attention-getter, "has spoken to us in His Son." As the exact image of the immortal, invisible God, Jesus is the one whose voice and whose countenance beckons man upward. The trials and temptations of earth are placed in their proper perspective while the redeemed fixes his spiritual gaze on the wonders of the enthroned Christ. While angels, described as "majestic" beings, are "greater in power and might" than the most potent of men, none can compare with the magnificence of the glorified Christ. "For to which of the angels did He ever say, ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You’?"

The expressions resurrection and raised up typically mean "only bodily resurrected" to the modern mind. Scripturally, however, that terminology generally means "the accession of Jesus to the heavenly throne," and definitely so as the apostle Paul so used it in connection with Jesus’ being "begotten." It is therefore clear that "begotten" is a reference to Jesus’ being brought forth from the dead and becoming the living Savior from the power position at the right hand on the heavenly throne of David. Jesus Christ, then, is "the first-born from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth" (Revelation 1:5). Thus, the scripture, "I will be a Father to Him, and He shall be a Son to Me" was fulfilled when Jesus acceded to the throne, and as possessing that position "all the angels of God worship Him."

The Anointed One

The writer of Hebrews wants to make His case for the superiority of Jesus over the angels indisputable, and in the process teach more about the Christ of glory. The Sonship of Jesus was established in His ascension to glory; thus He was defined as "the only begotten from the Father" (John 1:14). His coming to earth in human form was anticipated by the Old Testament scriptures, but even in this lowly state the angels were not to forget who was encased in flesh. "Clouds and thick darkness surround Him," was the psalmist’s description of the Lord’s habitation (Psalm 97:2). This impenetrable canopy is there to prevent the glory of the Lord from vaporizing the material universe. But the psalmist predicts the Lord’s passing through this covering to have His presence manifested on the earth, describing this appearing of the Lord in such glowing terms as "the mountains melted like wax at the presence of the Lord" (Psalm 97:5). "The Word became flesh," and in this fashion the earth maintained its physical form while the great God made His presence known. The writer of Hebrews picks up on this, noting these events in this terminology: "And again, when He brings the first-born into the world, He says, ‘And let all the angels of God worship Him.’ " (Hebrews 1:6). The writer quotes from the Greek version of the Old Testament, referencing Psalm 97:7. Jesus on earth was worthy of worship by the angels, and they were to minister to Him. The angels knew it; it was revealed to man through the process culminating in the Lord’s ascension.

The writer of Hebrews is a deep thinker, inspired, of course, by the Holy Spirit. It is important that the reader follow his logic through carefully, paying attention as to how the writer plays off of certain key words. In this way the hidden truths of Jesus, carefully placed in the prophetic writings of the Old Testament, are brought to light. The spotlight of the spiritual is thus focused on Jesus the Anointed One, seated on the heavenly throne, at the right hand of the Majesty on high!

Scepter of Righteousness

The scepter is the symbol of kingly authority. In general, it is a highly ornamented stick, maybe two and one-half feet long, and the one who held it was recognized as the sovereign. Hence, at court functions or at times or diplomatic importance, the king was certain to be in possession of his scepter (the root of scepter meaning "to lean on"). In a wealthy kingdom, the scepter would be bejeweled and ornately carved as that which befitted a king of such an outstanding earthly kingdom.

So what about King Jesus? What sort of throne and scepter would the Christ, the Anointed One of God, have?

The continued spiritual manifestation that Jesus is King is His scepter. That His scepter is one of righteousness establishes that His kingdom is a kingdom of righteousness. The saints, then, are cautioned to maintain their faith regardless of their circumstances, and to press on in righteousness. The apostle Peter, in fact, calls Christianity "the way of righteousness" (II Peter 2:21). "Let us," then, in the words of the apostle Paul, "lay aside the deeds of darkness," and "let us behave properly as in the day" (Romans 13:12,13).

The Eternal God

Angels are created beings, but the great God always was. "I am who I am," is the name. Where did He come from? The answer is: "I am." He is, He was, and He is to come. Nothing can be added to that, and nothing can be subtracted. The eternal God exists outside of time, and the time-dependant logic of man cannot really comprehend that concept.

Angels, by contrast, have been created by the Almighty, timeless God. He "makes His angels," stated the word of God. The angels, created by Jesus, are lesser beings than Jesus, and that which came through them is inferior to that which was spoken by the Son.

Of the eternal Son, the writer Hebrews adverts, quoting the Old Testament psalm: "You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of Your hands; they will perish, but You remain; and they will all become old as a garment, and as a mantle You will roll them up; as a garment they will all be changed. But You are the same, and Your years will not come to an end" (Hebrews 1:9-12).

No angel, including Satan and those who fell with him, can make the claim of being eternal and of being the Creator and eternal King. "To which of the angels has He ever said," is the rhetorical question, " ‘Sit at My right hand, until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet’?" (Hebrews 1:13). No angel can successfully challenge the authority and power of King Jesus. Another rhetorical question: "Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?" (Hebrews 1:13). Yes, He made His angels these spirits; He made them ministers, like "flames of fire," for the service of those sons of glory who will need their assistance in the spiritual warfare connected with the name of the First-born.

Pay Attention!

"In these last days," God "has spoken to us in His Son." Of the various Biblical ages the earth has passed through, the Christian era is the last. The apostle Paul thus referred to Christians as those "upon whom the ends of the ages have come" (I Corinthians 10:11). The Old Testament prophets, as they looked to the cessation of the Mosaic covenant, the end of physical Israel as the people of God, and the destruction of the temple, saw that collection of happenings as "the end," and the coming Christian age as "the last days." The apostle Peter, therefore, quoting Joel, is noted as referring to the events connected with the beginning of the church on the Day of Pentecost, 30 AD, as "the last days" (Acts 2:17). All the message of God for the church, not surprisingly, is therefore funneled through the Son. The Lord Jesus Himself, during the days of the time on earth, affirmed of the days of the New Covenant, "Truly, truly, I say to you, and hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear shall live" (John 5:25). Those who are "dead in their sins and transgressions" who heed the gospel of salvation are those who hear the voice of the Son of God.

A theme constant in scripture is the general tendency of man — even of those of God’s special favor — to get comfortable in God’s blessings and let his spiritual priorities slide. The record of Israel in the Old Testament demonstrates this truth clearly, and the messages to the churches of the New Testament are also exhibitions of the same point. The writer Hebrews made a major effort to exalt Jesus to the proper high position in the minds of his readers in order to drive his points home: 1) Pay attention to what we have heard! 2) Do not neglect the word spoken through Jesus!

So Great a Salvation

What a great salvation it was in the night in which Israel was delivered from Egypt! The people had groaned under the weight of their slavery in what God Himself called "the iron furnace," and Pharaoh was looking for ways to destroy the males and integrate the females into the nation along the Nile. But, after nine plagues which reduced most of Egypt to a little more than rubble, with a mighty outstretched arm God brought the children of Jacob out during the night of the Passover. Over a succession of days, the Israelites were able to cross the Red Sea, watch the destruction of their overlords as they drowned in the Sea, and receive the Ten Commandments and a Covenant under Moses. Their freedom was so great that they couldn’t handle it at first, and needed a generation to be trained up for the responsibilities of citizenship in this new freedom. It was a great salvation!

What kind of gratitude is exhibited by a family who inherits a wonderful mansion but trashes it because they don’t really care? What kind of character is demonstrated by an individual who takes possession of a beautiful estate but allows its fences to fall into disrepair, whose animals are not fed, whose grounds are not kept, and whose crops are not harvested? These are exhibitions of neglect in the physical realm. "How shall we escape," was the pondering of the writer, "if we neglect so great a salvation?" The warning came to the Hebrew Christians to encourage them to maintain and strengthen their faith in Christ in the face of the upcoming destruction of the Jewish system. The message is clear to Christians of all time: no matter what the circumstances, do not neglect your salvation!


The Lord prepares His people ahead of time. The Lord put Israel through the "iron furnace" of slavery to the Egyptians in anticipation of the hardships of the desert. In addition, He sent ten plagues upon the land of the Nile to show His superiority over the gods worshiped by the Egyptians and to ready Israel for worshiping and serving the true God under the terms of the Law of Moses. Not all Israel took advantage of God’s initiatory steps, but His providences were perfect preparation, and any Israelite who failed to be in readiness for the giving of the Law on Sinai failed by his own choice and/or inaction.

Thus the Jews were prepared for the coming of the New Covenant as well. God had worked on a broad scale — scattering Israel, developing the reading of the Law in the synagogues, and driving the worship of graven images out of His people. But the All Wise had also worked on Israel on a personal basis; He had sent Jesus into their midst, establishing that He was the Son of God and that He was bringing the message of salvation.

The apostles were placed in the position of being the only ones initially who could bear witness to not only Jesus’ resurrection from the dead but also to His exalted position as King and High Priest. Both of these teachings, and the doctrines derived from them, would be challenged by the skeptics and those who were just plain opposed. Hence the apostles of Christ needed to have the backing of God — being able to perform the confirming signs and wonders, as Paul commented in his second letter to the Corinthian brethren: "The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles" (II Corinthians 12:12).

Signs and Wonders

Fakes and false teachers have always abounded as the god of confusion has tried to distract people from the word of God’s truth. Over the millennia, the great God has had to use miracles, signs, and wonders to convince men of His successively developing revelation, and the false teachers immediately show up to obfuscate the issues. When God spoke to the patriarchs, even though He implemented some signs, their use was limited because there were not many people to convince concerning His revelation at that point. But when Israel has to be persuaded to follow Moses, and the Egyptians have to be shown that their gods are not gods at all, then the mighty wonders of God had to take place in the land of Ham. But the false magicians were on the scene: "Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses," was Paul’s inspired input (II Timothy 3:8). The truth-seekers would be able to tell the difference; the shallow masses would be confused but would not think much about it. The verification of Jesus’ resurrection would require signs and wonders also; the performers of lying wonders would hit the scene almost immediately.

God has been (and definitely continues to be) in charge of the forward movement of the gospel. Thus the message of the great salvation found in Jesus Christ spread throughout the world in the first century AD. "After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will" (Hebrews 2:3,4).

The Son of Man

The Law was given through the agency of angels; the great salvation came through Jesus Christ. Hence, for the Hebrew readers of this epistle, it was necessary that the underlying theme of Christ’s superiority over the angels be re-emphasized, that it be clear that the new covenant system which came through Christ is much superior to the law system which came through angels via Moses. But what did Jesus have to go through in order to be the exalted One by which the new covenant would come? "He humbled Himself," adverted the apostle Paul, "by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God highly exalted Him" (Philippians 2:8,9). The writer of Hebrews concurred.

The writer of Hebrews uses quotes from the Old Testament to convince to those of Jewish background in his audience that the things connected with Jesus are the important and eternal topics to note. The quotation from Psalm eight centers about the Son of Man, and is used by the New Testament writer to show that Jesus took human form, but was then exalted to glory where all things are to be subjected to Him. Follow the logic!

Tasting Death

How human was Jesus? While the incarnation is recognized as a fundamental cornerstone of Christianity, the questions concerning Jesus’ humanity are more fundamental and far-reaching than most of the "theologians" and commentators recognize. The writer of Hebrews weaves many of the significant aspects of Christ’s taking human form into the early portion of his epistle, and each of these is worthy of consideration as they are paraded before the eyes of the reader.

The discussion of Christ’s humanity arises from the statement, "For He did not subject to angels the world to come." What did Christ do or what did Christ experience that demonstrated His superiority over the angels, and that would therefore warrant subjecting to Christ the world to come? The writer, careful to buttress his points with Old Testament quotations for the benefit of his intended Hebrew Christian audience, noted from the Psalms that "the Son of Man" was made "for a little while lower than the angels." "He emptied Himself," in the words of Paul, "taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men" (Philippians 2:7). Because of what Jesus went through in taking human form, He was "highly exalted" and will eventually have all things subjected to Him.

"By the grace of God," he had stated. It was from the goodness of God that the eternal plan was set in motion for Jesus to become a man — the Son of Man — and pass through the agony of death to deliver the captive sons of men. He had to taste death; He had to experience it to find out what it was like, so that the spiritually attuned would know that the compassionate Savior understands their condition. And because Jesus tasted death, the brethren comprehend that He got nothing earthly out of His time on earth, that His purpose in coming was to demonstrate the love of God for the lost of men, and provide a means by which they might be delivered from the consequences of their sin and folly.

Crowned with Glory and Honor

The book of Hebrews is a tight weave, and the threads of thought must be followed all the way through the book. While talking about the necessity of Christ’s passing through death for men, the writer also talks about Christ’s ascension to the throne. Once again, the writer is beginning from Psalm eight, first keying in on "You have made Him for a little while lower than the angels," then going on to comment on "You have crowned Him with glory and honor." "But we do see Him," is his annotation, "who has been made for a little while lower than the angels [that is, Jesus took human form], namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone" (Hebrews 2:9).

The goal of bringing many sons to glory could only be accomplished through Jesus. He "tasted death for everyone." He suffered that He might be an encouragement to the brethren who suffer. He was glorified, that He might offer the purifying blood for the sons of glory, and that He might open the way for those who would follow Him. "Therefore we have been buried with Him through immersion into death," concurred the apostle Paul, "in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:4). Jesus was indeed crowned with glory and honor from the Father, and He awaits the time when the sons of glory share that with Him. He will, said Paul, "transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory" (Philippians 3:21). Come, Lord Jesus!

Jesus and His Brethren

Man is indeed a fallen creature. And the honest souls among the sons of men recognize how fallen they are, and how unworthy they are to be in the presence of the glory of God. As members of the fallen race obey the gospel, they are raised from the waters to walk in newness of life and through the indwelling Spirit have fellowship with the Father. Now increasingly conscious of the glory and majesty of the Almighty, they can also become increasingly conscious of their own unworthiness, and their confidence to be in the presence of the great God can wane. In the wisdom of God, then, Jesus is established as living amongst the brethren unashamedly. "The Word became flesh," observed John, "and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). The writer of Hebrews will establish that He continues to dwell among His brethren after He laid His fleshly garment aside and adorned the robes of glory!

The saint who struggles can lift up his head and be encouraged. No matter what his family background, or what sin situation he has come out from, he can know assuredly that Jesus is not ashamed of him. The great Lord of all has raised him from the spiritually dead and seated him with Him in the heavenly places, and has no qualms about having His name associated with the said saint. Those who are sanctified are indeed from the same Father as Jesus, and are to see themselves as Jesus sees them. May each saint heed the scriptures in this matter, and govern himself accordingly!

Rendering Death Powerless

How willing is Jesus to associate publicly with His brethren, those of the church? As the writer of Hebrews analyzes the issues related to that question, he illustrates the great care that God has for each Christian, and how much He desires the rescue of the lost from the race of fallen men. God Himself is awesome in every respect, and far above man the creature. "It is He who sits above the vault of the earth," commented Isaiah, "and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers" (Isaiah 40:22). The absolute humility of God is exhibited in Jesus’ laying aside His glory, dropping to man’s level, "made for a little while lower than the angels." But this was only for "a little while." He was indeed crowned with glory and honor at His ascension, and appointed over the works of the Father’s hands — specifically over those who have been created in Christ Jesus. But He had to suffer and die to make this possible.

The Lord Christ is truly awesome in might and love, and worthy of the saints’ highest praise and deepest gratitude! He stepped in to wage war against Satan and won. But in winning the war for mankind against the devil and death, He Himself had to participate in death and dying; and that participation should cause everyone that has been born again to pause and reflect about the greatness of Christ’s love for him. His earnest desire to bring every possible son to glory is manifest, and every saint should willingly lay down his life in service to the great Savior.

Freedom from Slavery

Fear of death paralyzes mankind. It causes them to compromise, to give up, to give in, and to run in directions counter to what inwardly they would like to do. And fear of death is the root of the other fears, so that from that one basic dread emanate the phobias that haunt men and women in general. With the passing of the carefree days of childhood, the adult population gets slowly crushed by their fears, and the fear-mongers of the world play on those, orchestrate them through the media, and thus stampeding the public into giving up their earthly freedoms and crushing the populace into the hopelessness of serfdom.

But their spiritual slavery is even worse. Having committed sin by choice, each individual has allowed corruption to enter his heart, has therefore become a slave to sin, and is held captive by Satan. And the devil is a ruthless taskmaster, driving his prisoners deeper into the darkness, fanning the flames of their fears, and binding them tighter under his cruel oppression. "Through fear of death," wrote Hebrews’ author, the sons of men "were subject to slavery all their lives."

Jesus has accomplished His initial part of His mission. Passing through death, He was resurrected from the dead and has entered into glory as the High Priest of our confession, where He at the right hand of the Majesty is in the power position to save. Satan and death truly have been rendered powerless. Those who become Christians have had a "part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power" (Revelation 20:6). They are no longer slaves; they are free!

The Descendant of Abraham

Christ was made for a little while lower than the angels. He took human form, and indeed, "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf" (II Corinthians 5:21). In the process of sharing in flesh and blood, the plan was for Him — even though He had never personally sinned — to share in the sins of mankind by taking them on Himself. But even though He descended to the lower parts of the earth, the gates of Hades could not withstand the thrust of His resurrection. In rising from the dead He conquered death, and those who were held captive by its power were set free! "It was for freedom that Christ set us free," said the apostle Paul, "therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery" (Galatians 5:1). Fear of death no longer holds Christians in its sway, nor do any of the lesser fears. Those who are truly born from above are specially blessed.

God looks with favor upon the descendant of Abraham, those who "of the faith of our father Abraham" (Romans 4:12). These are also described, in even stronger terms, as the children of Christ, "the children whom God has given Me." Those who are outside Christ have no such relationship, and therefore no such blessing. "We have," said Paul again, "obtained our introduction by faith into this grace [favor] in which we stand" (Romans 5:2). There is no grace for those who are lost; this grace is only for those who are in Christ. They are the ones for whom God will "cut some slack," who will have opportunity to make mistakes while they grow, who will have the second chances while they are learning the responsibilities of freedom in Christ. The Father smiles with favor upon His special children, who are being led by their older brother, Jesus. "Assuredly, He gives help to the descendant of Abraham."

Like His Brethren

One of the great questions — indeed, one of the great debate topics of all time — is this: How human was Jesus? Most who claim in any way at all to be followers of Christ give lip service to the idea that in the incarnation Jesus was one hundred per cent human. But when the implications of the incarnation start creeping into their minds, then they start to shy away from saying that Jesus was one hundred per cent human in the way that the rest of us are one hundred per cent human. At the base of Catholicism, for example, all are sinners, inheriting Adam’s sin from conception, and "Mary, the mother of God," is supposed to pray for "us sinners" at the hour of death. But Mary and Jesus are exceptions, Mary having supposedly been conceived in the "immaculate conception," wherein she did not inherit Adam’s sin, and therefore Jesus did not inherit Adam’s sin. They are different. In the Calvinistic base of Protestantism, all are born "totally depraved." They have a "sinful nature" from conception, and have to have a "born again" experience apart from their choice to be able to understand one word of the Bible or to be able to perform any good work. In this system of thought, Jesus again is an exception, not being "totally depraved" but being the Son of God. But what says the scripture?

The implications of Jesus’ incarnation are indeed huge. First, the members of the human race have no excuse for sinning in the first place, and are justly condemned to an eternity in the lake of fire for the commission of sin. Secondly, disciples of Jesus are expected to lay aside the old self that was being corrupted in the lusts of deceit, and to put on the new self, which has been created in the likeness of the risen Christ. They are expected to walk in the steps of Him who committed no sin and who kept entrusting Himself to God. To accomplish this, they indeed need some help. Thus God has provided through Christ the Helper, the indwelling Holy Spirit, the same Spirit who lived in Christ’s fleshly body. And they also receive help from a merciful and faithful High Priest. More to come on this subject!

Propitiation for Sins

Overcoming weakness and sin is a process. "If by the Spirit," asseverated Paul, "you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live" (Romans 8:13). When he used the verb form "putting," he made it clear that the laying aside of the old self and putting on the new self is a process wherein the individual must be actively involved in renewing his mind while at the same time the Holy Spirit assists him in winning victories! But, before an individual can be indwelt by the Spirit, he must first be cleansed to be a fit habitation for the Spirit of God. "You have been bought with a price," noted Paul. "Your body," then, is the flow of logic, "is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you" (I Corinthians 6:20,19). And that price was the blood of Jesus.

In this way the blood of Jesus was offered to purchase a possession for God. As the individual desires to be a part of this purchase, He is buried with Christ in immersion, wherein he participates in the death of Christ, and therefore he participates in the sacrifice. In coming up out of the water, the individual shares in the resurrection and ascension of Christ; here he partaker of the benefits of Christ’s being his high priest and the propitiation for his sins. He now is a purchased possession of God, and a fit dwelling place for God’s Holy Spirit.

Aid for the Tempted

Once corruption has entered the human heart, no amount of human goodness can root it out. Only in being forgiven by God through the sacrifice of Christ, and in being given a new heart, can the individual be set free from that spiritual rot in the center of his soul. But God is to be praised greatly for His love of lost man. He set in motion a system of sacrifices in the Old Testament so that when Christ died on the cross for the sins of the world, it would make sense to the inquiring mind. He also set in motion a priesthood in Israel so that when Christ is pictured as a high priest making propitiation for the sins of all mankind, there is also a logical progression that the thinker can follow. He can therefore believe that Christ, having "made purification of sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high." In this way, faith is generated in the good and honest heart by the word of God.

Jesus not only came as "an offering for sin," as the apostle Paul phrased it, He also came "in the likeness of sinful flesh" (Romans 8:3). Jesus won the battles with temptation, and He won those battles by deliberate decision and an iron will. "The flesh," is another observation by Paul, "sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh" (Galatians 5:17). Jesus’ Spirit won every contest, and Jesus is therefore qualified to provide leadership to His brethren in overcoming temptation. The saints now know this, and through the intercessory aid of their high priest, are "to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth." The brethren therefore "die to sin and live to righteousness"! (I Peter 2:21-24).

Consider Jesus

The world has produced its philosophers and statesmen, its generals and its athletes. But these are dust, blown away and scattered in comparison to the great men of faith of the Bible. What, really, is a Julius Caesar compared to Daniel? A William the Conqueror compared to Moses the deliverer? Or Alexander of Macedonia to David the king? Those highly regarded by earth are meager, gaunted, specters of men in contrast to the giants of the faith who strode God’s pathways and marched triumphantly into the hall of God’s approval. But all of these stand aside and bow in reverence before the Great One, Jesus Christ Himself. Christ is the One who died for the sins of the world; Christ is the One who permanently rose again from the dead; Christ is the One who made propitiation for the sins of the people; and Christ, "since He Himself was tempted in that which He suffered, is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted."

There are a lot of things to consider concerning Jesus. The writer of Hebrews would like us to think about His Apostleship, the One who would speak for the Father — exalted far above the angels by whom came the Law to Moses. And the writer would like us to contemplate His being the High Priest of our confession. We, as holy brethren, are ready and willing to charge into such a positive challenge!

Superior to Moses and Joshua

Christ is superior to the angels, by whom the Law came to Israel. But the writer to these brethren of Judea, desiring to show the greatness of the covenant which came through Christ, must also show the superiority of Jesus to the combination of Moses and Joshua, these two worthies by whom Israel left Egypt and entered the promised land. Those of Israelite background were especially used to the idea that Moses was the earthly originator of their system, and the originator of the new system would have to be favorably compared to him. "We are disciples of Moses," stated the Pharisees before whom the man who was healed of his blindness by Jesus was tried. "We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man [Jesus], we do not know where He is from" (John 9:28,29). Thus the writer of the Hebrew epistle opens this section with the words, "Consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession."

Jesus, demonstrated to be the faithful Son of God, has been appointed as the Apostle and High Priest of our confession. Moses demonstrated himself to be a faithful servant in God’s house, but even he was not able to enter the promised land because he failed to treat God as holy before the people at one point. Christ, on the other hand, was faithful in all respects, and through death He was able to render the devil powerless, and therefore able to deliver the descendant of Abraham from fear of death. Clearly we should follow Him!

The House of God

The house of God is one of the major themes of the Bible. Part of the tension in the drama of the Old Testament is connected with the development of a house for God. First we see the tabernacle of Moses’ time — built, dedicated, and carried through the wilderness. We see it as the temporary house of God, housing the ark of the covenant at Shiloh until the slackness of Eli the high priest allowed the ark to be captured by the Philistines. After the Philistines sent the ark back to Israel, it was parked at the edge of the country until David made a special tent for it and brought in into Jerusalem; in the meantime the rest of the tabernacle lay incomplete in Shiloh. Finally the temple of Solomon was built in Jerusalem, but it too was laid waste by the Babylonians because of Judah’s idolatry, and a much more modest construction was accomplished by the returnees from the Babylonian captivity. "However," stated Stephen in the speech leading to his martyrdom, "the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands; as the prophet says: ‘Heaven is My throne, and earth the footstool of My feet; what kind of house will you build for Me?’ " (Acts 7:48,49). The house for God is going to have to be built by God, using spiritual construction materials.

"What kind of house will you build for Me?" God had asked. Man can’t build one, so God has taken it upon Himself to fashion His dwelling place. For the elements of construction, He has used the most the most valuable materials in the universe — Christians! The great and costly stones of Solomon’s day: nothing by comparison. The cedars of Lebanon, floated in great log rafts in the sea, and drug up the mountainside to Jerusalem’s summit: worthless when contrasted with those rescued by Jesus’ taking on flesh, dying for their sins, and His rising from the dead and interceding for them as high priest. The massive quantities of gold, silver, and bronze used in the temple: zero in value when paralleled with the saints. We are the house, and Christ is the Son over the house!

Faithful in the House

Biblically defined faith in the heart of those who are called is what God is looking for. When the centurion, for example, explained that he knew that Jesus did not have to be physically present to heal his servant, the Lord responded, "I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such great faith" (Luke 7:9). Later, wondering out loud about the events to come upon this planet, He asked this question, "However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find the faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8). According to James, it is faith that is tested by life’s circumstances (James 1:2,3), and Peter similarly notes that faith, like gold, has to stand the test of fire. This faith, he said, is "more precious than gold which is perishable" (I Peter 1:7). Be certain, then, that this faith is what God is looking for.

Those "many sons" who are to be brought to glory are therefore sons of faith. This faith, however, is to be a tested faith, and faith that endures through trials and tribulations of all kinds. "We are," stated the author, Jesus’ "house, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end." Israel did not succeed in passing through the forty years of testing in the wilderness; the hope is that the Christian will endure his trials, maintaining his faith through whatever difficulties and temptations which come his way. "The word of God," it is said, is "able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12). When this seed — the word of God — is sown in what Jesus called an honest and good heart, then it brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty (Luke 8:15). So let us bring forth the proof of our faith!

Just as the Holy Spirit Says

"All Scripture," stated the apostle Paul, "is inspired by God" (II Timothy 3:16). The apostle was talking directly about the Old Testament writings, but since Peter called Paul’s writings "scripture," it is pretty clear that the principle applies to the New Testament writings as well. "But know this first of all," stated Peter, "that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God" (II Peter 1:20,21). This proposition was universally accepted by those of New Testament times. When the early church was facing its first opposition in the arrest of Peter and John, their prayer referenced Psalm two in these words: "O Lord … You … by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David, said …" (Acts 4:24,25). When the writer of Hebrews quotes, then, from the Old Testament in one of his many quotes, it is not surprising if he introduces his point with these words, "Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says…" (Hebrews 3:7).

The message is clear; Christians today need to heed the voice of the Holy Spirit as revealed in the scriptures. They need to press forward in their faith regardless of the things that are coming on the earth, to have faith that the same Almighty God is working in their behalf and opening the way for them to rescue others from the fires of eternal damnation.

Encouraging One Another

The destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians in 586 BC was paralleled by the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. And the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD because of the Jews’ rejection of the Messiah will be paralleled by the destruction the world at Jesus’ second coming because of the world’s rejection of the Messiah. "Wherever the corpse is," stated the Lord Jesus Christ in reference to the rotting remains of 70 AD Judaism, "there the vultures will gather" (Matthew 24:28). The Lord also spoke in regard to "the day that the Son of Man is revealed." As He described the cessation of earth, He likewise stated, "Where the body is, there also will the vultures gather" (Luke 17:30,37). The writings and warnings, then, of the Hebrews epistle are up-to-date and relevant for the saints of God today. "Men," said Jesus, will be "fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world" (Luke 21:26).

The Christians of the first century were being warned. Through them the saints of the twenty-first century are being warned, inasmuch as the parallels of the times are obvious to the discerning mind. During the time of "the green tree," the brethren need to encourage one another to ingest the scriptures, to develop the habit of praying diligently, to have the word memorized, to be involved in seeking and saving the lost. There needs to be a lot of applause for progress made, for small victories won, for overcoming of bad habits and their replacement by new ones which are productive and spiritual. The words are good: Encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called "Today"!

Firm to the End

A strong start must be completed by a ferocious finish. "Well begun" may be "half done," but half-way is still really no way! A person’s immersion into Christ is his commencement, but not his graduation. The New Testament writings are loaded with exhortations to the brethren to continue in their faith, steadfast until the end of earthly sojourns. The warnings about the wiles of Satan are there, as well as information on the encouragements of Christ, the strengthening of the saint by the Holy Spirit, and the upward call of God. The battle for the soul is evidently a fierce one, and the saints are exhorted daily to make their decisions to serve God. "Be faithful until death," is the recorded exhortation of Jesus Himself from the courts of glory, "and I will give you the crown of life" (Revelation 2:10).

God is very interested in the spiritual success of His children of faith. But the rules of the game require that each person’s faith be tested, and that testing can be quite challenging. If any of the brethren desire to "give up" rather than persevere through the testing, this weakening of the mind results in a plunge into sin. And the repeated plunge into sin hardens the heart, and each plunge is deeper and harder to recover from. Hebrews’ writer presses his point with urgency: "While it is still called ‘Today,’ " he states poignantly. As long as it is still called "Today," Jesus has not come in judgment, and the hearer has opportunity to straighten things out. "Hold fast," he exhorts, "while it is said, ‘Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts, as when they provoked Me.’ " (Hebrews 3:15). None of us wants to give the Almighty any cause for provocation!

Disobedience and Disbelief

The pressure that would be coming upon the Hebrew Christians would be severe. Their individual faiths would be challenged in the times that were coming upon the region around Judea in what Jesus called "a great tribulation," the worst that ever was or ever would be (Matthew 24:21). Even under the face of such pressure, the Father did not want the brethren to lose their faith; rather it was His desire that their lamps burn brighter under the testing that was going on. He therefore inspired the writer of the letter to the Hebrew Christians with its exhortations and warnings, pushing and pulling the brethren to higher spiritual ground, focusing upward on Christ in glory and seeing with spiritual eyes the true tabernacle of God.

Hence it is that the writer draws from the effects of Israel’s disobedience in refusing to go up at once and take the promised land. Their lack of faith in the wilderness is a continuing theme throughout the Old Testament writings, and Hebrews’ author uses one of those out of Psalm 95 to set the foundation for his exhortation. "Today," was the quotation, "if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts, as when they provoked Me."

The scripture ties "unbelief" and "disobedience" together; in fact, the root meaning of the word translated disobedient means a flat refusal to believe to the point of rebellious disobedience. The Almighty was justly angry because He had given them more than enough reasons to believe that He was capable of bringing them into the land of Canaan. How much more, then, has He given to us who are to believe in Jesus Christ; the exodus from Egypt was very small in comparison to Jesus’ exodus from Hades. And just as "unbelief" and "disobedience" are coupled together, so also "belief" and "obedience" are inextricably joined. The Christian therefore believes that Jesus is raised from the dead and seated at the right hand of power, he believes that God is able to accomplish what He has promised, and the Christian thusly hastens to obey!

The Word and Faith

What God did in having Jesus die on the cross and in having Him raised from the dead was far more significant than what God did in delivering Israel from Egypt. The Father was justly angry when, after spending four hundred years in preparing the people to remove the Canaanites from the land and to settle in a land "flowing with milk and honey," that those people would refuse to go and take it for a possession. How much more angry would He justly be with a people who had recognized the power of Jesus’ deliverance, initially obeyed the gospel, and then who refused to go forward in faith simply because they encountered persecution or other challenges! The Hebrew Christians are therefore being exhorted to maintain their faith through the coming changes as the Romans would begin to put an end to the major portion of the Jewish population and destroy the trappings of Israel’s system of worship.

Spiritual preparation is not something that can be done three days before the moment of testing arrives; it is ongoing, every day, "while it is still called ‘Today.’ " Today’s Christian therefore needs to learn from the exhortation given to the first century brethren. He must begin his preparation for trials and challenges by uniting his faith and the word of God. Scriptures must be memorized, Biblically based prayers must be prayed, the word of God must be read and studied, and the gospel must be repeatedly taken to the lost. These mental and spiritual habits prepare the saint for the most challenging of times, and make it possible for him to maintain his faith and continue to move forward with God’s help. A promise still remains of entering His rest, and the desire is that no one come short of it!

God’s Rest

God said, as recorded by the psalmist, "As I swore in My wrath, they shall not enter My rest." This rest of God must be important to Him, since His emphasis was that this rest was particularly what those who provoked His anger were not entering into. "And to whom did He swear that they should not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient?" The children of Israel, the writer noted, "were not able to enter [that rest] because of unbelief." The concern of the Holy Spirit, as expressed by the writer, is that "any one" of the Christians might come short of that rest; the concern is so strong it couched in terms of "let us fear." A saint would come short of that rest if he lacked persevering faith, if he somehow did not persist through the trials and testings of his faith. "For we who have believed [had faith] enter that rest," was the encouragement, "just as He has said, ‘As I swore in My wrath, they shall not enter My rest,’ although His works were finished from the foundation of the world" (Hebrews 4:3). What, then, is that rest? The writer brings forth a series of scriptural syllogisms for the reader to understand.

The writer is trying impress upon his audience — and the Holy Spirit is trying to impress on us — the importance of passing through all obstacles to enter the rest of God. For every generation of Christian that rest is future, and must be the forward focus of every faithful follower of Christ. "There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God" (Hebrews 4:9).

Due Diligence

To enter the "rest" of God is an eminently desirable goal. The alternative, of course, is the lake of fire where there is no rest, just weeping and gnashing of teeth. Hebrews’ author took his readers on a syllogistic tour, beginning with God’s resting from His works on the seventh day of Creation, but step-by-step establishing that there is a future day of rest that each must strive to enter into. The pleading continues right up to this present moment: "Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts." A hardened, callous heart is one in which faith cannot dwell. "The word of faith which we are preaching," said Paul, is the word which is "in your heart" (Romans 10:8). That’s why the warning is so serious. "Take care," was the admonition, "lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." That hardening will drive word of faith out of the heart, and cause the individual to fall away from the living God!

The scripture lists the examples of faith in the both the Old and New Testaments, and notes the spiritual success and rewards attendant with those victories. But the word of God also records examples of those who failed in their faith, and also attests to the consequences of such disbelief. The writer of this epistle records the loss of those in the wilderness, and three times references the quote: "Do not harden your hearts!" The exhortation instead is exercising "due diligence," daily maintaining the faith and moving forward to accomplish the will of God, victoriously entering the rest of God!

The Word of God

There are those who hang around the church of the living God who show false fronts and possess a fake faith. Those who are true Christians, however, are recognized as such by the Omniscient One, as is noted on the seal of the firm foundation of God: "The Lord knows those who are His" (II Timothy 2:19). But the loving Father is "not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance" (II Peter 3:9). Hence those who are fakes and playing the false faith game are given the opportunity to change, to acquire the obedient faith which will justify them before Jesus the Judge. The repeated appeal is, "Today — hear His voice!" That which thundered from Sinai was written in stone, recorded on scrolls, and finally distributed through the printed page. The voice of the Lord today is "heard" by reading that which has been written in the Bible. That it now consists of black or red letters on white pages does not in any way destroy its significance or content. Jesus said, "The words I have spoken to you are spirit and are life" (John 6:63).

The Hebrews’ writer is concerned that the Jewish Christians’ motives were questionable. The times that were coming would give them the maximum test, and he did not want anyone to "come short" of a successful finish. Hence it was necessary that each of the brethren get the thoughts and intentions of his heart in line with the word and will of God.

When a saint preaches or teaches the way of salvation as it is delineated in the holy writ, he is often accused of judging others. If he has accurately handled the word of truth, he is not judging at all. It is the word of God which is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart; it is perfectly designed to expose those who do not love the truth but who actually take pleasure in wickedness. Deluding influences come down the pike all the time, and those whose heart condition is flawed will eventually follow one of those rather than holding fast to the way of righteousness. Because the word is living and active, and all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we all will have our final dealings, when the word is accurately presented, the one who makes the presentation is not judging; he is simply watching to see which way the judgment of God will fall!

Hold Fast to Our Confession

It would be eternally fatal for a follower of Christ to falter before the finish. The differences between heaven and hell are so great it is really impossible for the mind to fathom; hence the claimant to the grace of Christ must consider carefully the warnings from the word of God. But there is a natural tendency to underrate the severity of an upcoming challenge and thus be somewhat unprepared for the rigors of the onslaught. Since the physical trappings of Israelite worship and service were about ready to disappear in the midst of a Roman-originated holocaust, the writer of this epistle therefore keeps striking the chord of warning about being spiritually prepared.

The exordium is still valid today. As attacks on the Bible as the word of God increase, and as God more and more is regarded as a delusion, saints are going to have to look more deeply at the hole card of their belief system. Do believers really have "a great high priest who has passed through the heavens"? Is He really "the Son of God"? Seeing how the foreshadows of these things were deliberately set in motion in the Old Testament, and seeing how the physical transitions to the spiritual lets the saint know there is a transcendent Mind at work, operating at a scope and scale far beyond human capability. Yes, the Bible is true, Jesus is on the throne, and the brethren can "hold fast our confession!"

One Who Sympathizes

Jesus, according to Hebrews’ author, "was made for a little while lower than the angels." The writer went to quite some length, by scriptural standards, to establish that Jesus was indeed made "like His brethren in all things." One of the reasons for this emphasis was to establish just how human Jesus was during the days of His earthly sojourn. One of God’s challenges is communicating to man just how much He really loves him, and a key ingredient in that communication was for Jesus to take human form. The Lord "emptied Himself," averred the apostle Paul, "taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men" (Philippians 2:7). This absolute humility and selflessness on Jesus’ part was the only way the Almighty could break down the barriers of suspicion that exist in the heart of man, and set the stage for the acceptance of Jesus’ intercession on behalf of the fallen creature. "But God demonstrates His own love toward us," was Paul’s affirmation, "in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).

How exciting it is to have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, yet One who has been subjected to the weaknesses of living in a fleshly body, One who therefore understands the challenges of those whom He calls "His brethren"! In this way not only has the Almighty made provision for the maximum exhibition of compassion for the still stumbling child of God, but He has also provided the maximum motivation in sending Christ as a positive example. The saint knows he has an sympathetic intercessor when he needs One, and also knows that following in the footsteps of the sinless Christ is likewise "doable."

Grace and Mercy

God is not the "mean ogre in the sky." He is kindly and compassionate, earnestly desiring fellowship with those who have become interested in God’s spiritual things. In fact, He is so interested in fellowshipping with the redeemed that He made significant efforts to take man — downward looking, earthly focused — and produce in him, through the gospel, a desire for fellowship with the Father. To accomplish this fellowship, God "spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways," but really to bring the message of His love and compassion, "in these last days has spoken to us in His Son" (Hebrews 1:1,2). What an honor! Actually to have God’s exalted Son leave heaven and come to earth to speak with us! And how awesome a plan it was to have the stage of earth’s history set and the development of the Jews and their synagogues accomplished so that when Jesus did arrive on earth, it was believable that He was the Son of God. "We have," then, "a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God" (Hebrews 4:14).

The Father is not the "mean ogre in the sky." He really is interested in each individual created in Christ Jesus, and earnestly desires the successful completion of each one’s faith journey. In His benevolence and desire for spiritual fellowship, He has provided the twin blessings of mercy and grace at His throne. The person who has been immersed into Christ, and who is willing to begin to walk faithfully before his God is magnificently welcomed at that throne, and then encouraged to bring others into that heavenly fellowship.

The Humble High Priest

"We have," said Hebrews’ author, "a High Priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses." It is impossible to over-emphasize the significance of that statement! The demonstration of Jesus’ humanity before the eyes of man is a linchpin in communicating to the saints that they may confidently approach the everlasting and holy God. In preparation for this demonstration, the Father set in motion the priests of the Old Testament tabernacle, the priests of the order of Aaron. Because these priests stood as intercessors between the Israelites and God, their humanity was exhibited to the congregation of Israel so that the Hebrews would feel comfortable in bringing their sin offerings to the altar of the Almighty, then presented by those intercessors.

Beset by weakness, constricted to offer only sacrifices ordained by God, and called into the priesthood by the choice of God, the high priest entered an office of designed humility. This designed humility made him approachable by the average Israelite, and trained him to be gentle in his dealings with the commonly ignorant and misguided. But more than these, the humble high priesthood of the order of Aaron was designed to set the stage for the humble and approachable high priesthood of Jesus Christ, sacrifice and intercessor for all men.

No Self-glorification

Aaron was called into the high priesthood of Israel because of his association with Moses, not because of his personal strengths. If there ever was a high priest beset by weakness, it was Aaron. While Moses was up on Sinai receiving the Commandments on stone, Aaron caved in to the pressure of the people and let them worship a golden calf. He lacked leadership ability; of the situation it was written: "Aaron had let them get out of control" (Exodus 32:25). Clearly, then, Aaron did not maneuver himself into a position of leadership and grab the high priesthood. "And no one takes the honor to himself," was the plan set in motion by the hand and wisdom of God, "but receives it when he is called by God, even as Aaron was" (Hebrews 5:4). From that point on the high priests were of the lineage of Aaron through Eleazar as designated by God, and when Eli’s household went bad in the days of Samuel, the Almighty was able to arrange for the priesthood to switch over to the sons of Zadok. The individual had to be "called" to be the legitimate high priest in Israel.

"Christ did not glorify Himself," is the perspective of the writer in this context. The Father is the One who said to the Son, "Today I have begotten You." In the same way, the Father is the One who issued the command: "You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek." Christ earned this designation by being faithful as a Son, carrying out the will of the Father in coming to earth and suffering for mankind. He demonstrated His capacity to be a merciful intercessor on behalf of the struggling saints by being the sacrifice before becoming High Priest. Those who would charge Jesus with self-glorification are not objectively considering the up-front price He paid before receiving the honors at the Father’s right hand!

Although He Was a Son

Sons of the influential often are spoiled. They often have special privileges allowing them to escape from the challenging or dirty work into which their "lessers" have to plunge. But it was not so with the Son of God. Leaving the glories of heaven, the Greatest of the Great descended to the meet the lowest of the low. He "emptied Himself," averred the apostle Paul, and was "made like His brethren in all things." Jesus’ coming to earth was not a plush "cake walk"; instead it was a thorn-encrusted, boulder-strewn path, walked by the "Man of sorrows." "Surely," said the prophet, "our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted" (Isaiah 53:4,5). This great King was not only coming to call the noble and wealthy of the earth to repentance in a face-to-face meeting, but He was also descending to show compassion to the raped and beaten slave girl on her turf and lift her to the status of "royal priesthood."

Jesus’ status as the Son of God did not give Him an easy pass through earthly existence. Rather, the opposite was true. Experiencing the most extreme of physical, mental, and spiritual anguish, our Lord was fitted to be the sacrifice for the sins of the world, but was subsequently resurrected out of Hades and seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high because of His personal holiness. "Although He was a Son," the writer commented, "He learned obedience from the things which He suffered" (Hebrews 5:8). What an awesome elder brother Christians have! He was willing to forego His rank and privilege to show His lesser brothers the way to live and love, to suffer and sacrifice, and thus to be regenerated, resurrected, and rewarded. Magnificent!!!

The Source of Salvation

Hallelujah! Jesus is risen indeed! It was tense for Jesus as He approached the time of His crucifixion. With sweat like drops of blood falling on the ground, He cried out in prayer, "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from Me"(Luke 22:42). Since this petition was not granted, His next earnest desire was that He be brought safely forth out of death, that He be resurrected from the dead. This supplication was granted; and on the first day of the week, the tomb was empty, and the resurrected Christ began to be seen by designated witnesses. Hallelujah! Jesus is risen indeed! Having completed His suffering for mankind and having identified with those who are beset by the weaknesses of the flesh, Christ arose, ascended to heaven, and began His greatest work for the descendants of Abraham.

The great works of Christ are accomplished in His ministry on the throne, including His intercessory work as high priest of our confession. "Concerning Him we have much to say," affirmed the author, "and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing" (Hebrews 5:11). A fleshly-minded people is going to have trouble comprehending a spiritual high priest, the sprinkling of spiritual blood, and a spiritual temple. But that is one of the purposes of this book, to raise Christian’s thinking from the earthly and physical to the lofty and spiritual. Christ in glory is the source of eternal salvation!

Ought to be Teachers

Jesus expects His disciples to experience spiritual growth. "Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ," was Peter’s exhortation (II Peter 3:18). "Grow up in all aspects into Him," was one of Paul’s contributions (Ephesians 4:15). It is apparent that spiritual growth is not automatic, but that each follower of Christ has to be a willing participant in his own progress.

One of the areas of spiritual growth that is absolutely essential is in the realm of increasing knowledge. Christians are "disciples"; that is, they are learners from the beginning. And they continue to learn, even as their great example, the Son of God, "learned obedience" right up through His death on the cross. The Bible, then, as God’s instruction manual and teaching tool for man, is designed for all levels of comprehension. To those interested in getting relief from the crushing weight of sin, the scripture presents the basic gospel of Christ, offering redemption through the blood shed on the cross and operative through the individual’s immersion into Christ. But the word of God is designed to move those disciples upward in their comprehension, painting not only the picture of Christ’s sacrifice but also His intercessory offering as high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

Every saint needs to keep learning. The wonders of God’s character, the rewards of serving Him, and the things that cause our hearts to burn within us are revealed on the pages of His written word. But they have to be brought out by teachers. The Ethiopian eunuch, when asked by Philip whether he understood the scriptures he was reading, answered with the words of countless truth-seekers around the world: "How could I, unless someone guides me?" (Acts 8:31). They needed teachers in the first century capable of communicating the oracles of God so that the hearers could understand about Jesus’ high priesthood according to the order of Melchizedek; the situation remains the same today!

Moving from Milk to Meat

In the physical realm, there would be great concern in a family if a child could not develop sufficiently to move from milk to more solid substance. Doctors would be called, reference materials would be scoured, and petitions would be raised to the Most High for His assistance. But how much concern is there in the spiritual realm for a child of God who refuses to move off the milk of the word? While it is apparent that the child in the physical realm will die if his condition does not improve, and that would be rightly regarded as a time of sadness for the family, at least the child would go to be in the presence of God for all eternity, and that would be a blessing. But in the spiritual realm, if the newly born-again child does not begin to grow, that child will die a spiritual death, endure the second death in the lake of fire, and be eternally separated from the Father. This, of course, would be a great tragedy.

The word of God teaches men about God, revealing His character, His love, His sacrifices, and His rewards. The word of God also teaches men about Satan and the forces of darkness, exposing his character, his hatred, his agenda, and his end. But the word of God also teaches men about men, illustrating their characters, their choices, their workings, and their judgments. The mature in the word can use these lessons to discern what is going on in the world around them, sizing up the situations in front of them as to whether they are good or evil. It is critical that those who are still on milk honestly recognize their level of growth, and pay close attention to those who have their senses trained to discern good and evil. Move, move, move — from the milk to the meat!

Press on to Perfection

The Hebrew Christians, noted the writer, had become "dull of hearing." He wanted to discuss the great things about the high priesthood according to the order of Melchizedek, but he was conscious that their interest level and spiritual maturity was not sufficient. He wanted not only to bring out the sufferings of Christ, but also the glories to follow. And because that discussion requires a shift from the physical realm to the spiritual realm, the writer was willing to spend some time to move his readers from a focus on milk to a focus on meat. Thus the points of distinction between the Aaronic priesthood and that of the order of Melchizedek were put on hold until a shift in thinking could be accomplished.

The writer wants to move from the basics to a discussion of the high priesthood of Christ according to the order of Melchizedek. But he has to mention the "elementary teaching about the Christ" as a foundation for his discussion. Having mentioned them, however, he wants to "press on to maturity." "And this we shall do," he says, "if God permits" (Hebrews 6:3). Permission must have been granted, because we have been given this letter as one of the 66 books of the inspired writ!

Repentance from Dead Works

"Leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ," said Hebrews’ writer, "let us press on to perfection." That pressing on needs to be done in order for there to be a proper discussion about the high priesthood of the order of Melchizedek and its attendant covenant relationships. But some brakes have to be put on the train of this pilgrimage to give us time to go back over each of the elementary teachings. All the writer has to do is to mention them to his readers, knowing that they have been taught these things in their pasts. But the modern reader may need to be brought up to speed on these, so we begin with some comments on the first listed: repentance from dead works.

The Jew needed to understand (and every modern needs to make his own application of the principle) that his attempt to be pleasing to God was not based on his participation in the outer rituals prescribed by law. Just because he assembled in the synagogue on the Sabbath, just because he was there in Jerusalem on feast days, just because he ritually washed his hands, just because he looked outwardly righteous … none of these guaranteed he had a lick of faith. His thinking under these conditions would be: I’m holy because I do all the holy things that this holy people does, and we as a group are God’s. Those are the "dead works" of the Law, and that thinking is what the Jew needed to repent of. Draw your own conclusions about today!

Faith toward God

"What shall we say," Paul asked his Jewish/Christian brethren in Rome, "that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found?" (Romans 4:1). Since Abraham was in existence more than 500 years before the Law of Moses, it couldn’t have been law-keeping that he found! What Abraham discovered was that by having the faith that God required, God considered him righteous. The Law "was added," in the words of the apostle Paul, for the physical descendants of Abraham, to provide a framework for the faith of Christ that was to come. "The Law," averred Paul, "has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor" (Galatians 3:24,25). That the writer of Hebrews is conscious of these points, and is moving his Hebrew hearers from the physical system of Law to the spiritual system of faith, is therefore evident in his terminology: in regard to the elementary teachings about Christ he says that he is not "laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God" (Hebrews 6:1). By tying the two — repentance from dead works, and faith toward God — together, the writer is connecting the turning from the Law of Moses to the faith of Christ.

The person of Jewish background, therefore, was to turn from the Law of Moses to the faith of Christ; that is, he was to "repent from dead works," and to learn what it meant to have "faith toward God." The works of the Law were called dead works because they were the individual’s attempt to justify himself before God. The works of faith are alive because they flow from the disciple’s riveted attention on pleasing the Christ of glory. We have received, in the words of Paul, "the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ" (II Corinthians 4:6). Because also, in the words of Paul, "not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself" (Romans 14:7), those of us of like precious faith are bound together in one body, and therefore have a set of instructions as to how we are to function and flow together. All this forms the elemental teaching about the Christ, as the writer of Hebrews phrased it, in the realm of "faith toward God."

Instructions about Washings

No housewife would think that she could dip her clothes in blood and they would come out clean. Blood stains, in fact, are some of the more difficult to get out of clothing, and blood is not regarded as a cleansing agent. Thus God, the perfect communicator, has gone to great lengths to have the cleansing properties normally associated with water also associated with blood. Moses, when he inaugurated the first covenant with Israel, "took the blood of the calves and the goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and the people" (Hebrews 9:19). By interconnecting the blood and water, the people could comprehend that as water was for cleansing, so was the blood. For Israel, then, "according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood" (Hebrews 9:22).

One of the sectors of "the elementary teaching about the Christ" is "instruction about washings." These baptismoi included not only the ceremonial washings of the Jews but also their carry over into the immersions of John and into the name of Jesus Christ. The Hebrew Christians were expected to know about these basic doctrines, and to be able to teach them to others. The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews therefore does not want to get stuck at this basic level, but wants to move on into the teaching concerning the high priesthood of Jesus Christ, priest according to the order of Melchizedek. May we likewise be able to expound on the doctrines of washing, but may we also be able to move on to maturity in the deeper doctrines of the Christ!

The Laying-on of Hands

The laying-on-of-hands as an ordination or conferring of office or authority began with Moses and Joshua. "Now Joshua the son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom," notes the Deuteronomic account, "for Moses had laid his hands on him" (Deuteronomy 34:9). The Lord is the One who started the process, saying to Moses, "Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him; and have him stand before Eleazar the priest and before all the congregation; and commission him in their sight. And you shall put some of your authority on him, in order that all the congregation of the sons of Israel may obey him" (Numbers 27:18-20). While there was a laying-on-of-hands in Israel for the setting aside of the tribe of Levi as a wave offering, and similarly for certain sacrifices, the use of this ceremony as a means of conferring recognition and authority lay dormant until the time of the church of the first century AD.

The teaching about the laying-on-of-hands was one of the elementary teachings about the Christ. The early Christians understood the laying-on-of-hands — even though there is a lot of confusion floating around in modern times — and the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews did not have to go into detail. Let’s make sure we understand, be able to teach this doctrine, and then move onward!

The Resurrection of the Dead

"How do some among you," the apostle Paul queried, "say that there is no resurrection of the dead?" (I Corinthians 15:12). People, then as now, often have gaps in their reasoning processes that need to be corrected or clarified. Those who were stating that there is no resurrection from the dead had overlooked something of major significance. "But if there is no resurrection from the dead," the apostle pointed out to his readers, "not even Christ has been raised" (I Corinthians 15:13). Oops! They hadn’t thought of that. "If Christ has not been raised," he superadded, "your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins" (I Corinthians 15:17). It is not surprising, therefore, that one of the elementary teachings about the Christ that would be included by the author of Hebrews would be "the resurrection of the dead" (Hebrews 6:2).

"The resurrection of the dead" is one of the elementary doctrines of the Christ. It is the "one hope" to which each true saint of God presses. Thus the apostle Paul reasons that if the resurrection of Christ did not take place, neither will ours in the future. "If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied," because our efforts in order to attain to the resurrection were all wasted. But — praise God! — "Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep" (I Corinthians 15:20).

Eternal Judgment

Sooner or later, each man must meet his Maker. "We shall all stand before the judgment seat of God," affirmed the apostle Paul, adding, "So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God" (Romans 14:10,12). Mankind as a whole is not interested in such an accounting, having run the calculation that they shall fall short in meeting the standards of God. Their record, therefore, is one of shutting their ears to any recounting of such accountability, or of shutting the mouths of the messengers who are sent to remind them that one day they will answer. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem," cried out Jesus Himself, "who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her" (Matthew 23:37). "Yet they did not obey or incline their ear," was the statement of one of those prophets, "but walked in their own counsels and in the stubbornness of their evil heart, and went backward and not forward" (Jeremiah 7:24). But the message of eternal judgment must be delivered anyway!

Yes, Virginia, there is eternal judgment. "God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead" (Acts 17:30,31).

Falling from Foundations

The writer of Hebrews wants to move his hearers from milk to meat; he wants to talk about the high priesthood of Jesus according to the order of Melchizedek. But he is restrained from doing so because of some other comments he has to make first. The writer knows that the destruction of Jerusalem is imminent and he knows that the physical trappings of worship under the terms of the Old Covenant are about to be torn down. But he is concerned about the ability of these first century Christians to maintain their faith in Christ in the face of the loss of their Jewish heritage. So he references the elementary foundations about the Christ as a touchstone for his next comments, concerned that the brethren press forward instead of falling away.

Falling away is not something we recommend, but it can be done. The eternal consequences are so intensely serious that anyone who would so choose has been blinded by the combination of his own desires and Satan’s wiles. That is why the foundations of the elementary teaching about the Christ are so important; they help the follower of Jesus keep his focus so that he doesn’t drift into destruction or be hustled into Hades.

Great Blessings for Saints

Saints have tremendous spiritual blessings in the heavenly places. However, because those blessings are not directly physical, many lose sight of them and plunge into oblivion. In order for a person to keep doing those things which are beneficial to him, he continually has to stress to himself the benefits of what it is he is doing. If he fails to stress those benefits, he will quit those positive habits and drift back into a slothful or destructive lifestyle. Thus the writer of Hebrews, in warning the brethren against falling away in chapter six, lists some of the great blessings for the saints, describing them in terms of past possessions of those who once were participants.

The age to come is awesome beyond comprehension, and for a saint to turn his back on that reward is the utmost in folly. But the powers, principles, bounty, and blessings for the saint in the spiritual realm in this age are tremendous. If this "taste" does not satisfy, then that individual is not spiritually minded, and will fall into the setting where he can no longer repent.

Fruit for God

Jesus Christ has accomplished great things for His people. Not only has He rescued them from the cauldron of a fiery eternity, but He also has sent His Spirit into their hearts and established eternal fellowship for them with the Father. To accomplish this, of course, He had to undergo crucifixion, separation, and finally achieve exaltation. The result: the brethren "have been enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come" (Hebrews 6:4,5). Upon receipt of such pristine heavenly blessings, who could possibly turn their backs and return to the slime of the world? But some do.

The warning is so severe because the cost is so dear. Hebrews’ writer is conscious of the persecution coming upon the brethren, and is pleading with them to develop and maintain the proper spiritual attitudes and habits so that they will successfully pass the test rather than falling away. He then writes these hopeful words: "But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and the things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way" (Hebrews 6:9). May each of us decide to place ourselves on the blessing side of God’s harvest rather than on the cursed side. No thistles and thorns here; only the waves of wind sweeping through golden fields, showing the bounty of God’s spiritual harvest!

Things That Accompany Salvation

The Almighty pictures Himself as a pretty exacting Master. When He, in parabolic form, entrusted His coinage to His servants, He expected them to "do business until I come back" (Luke 19:13). Where the Lord entrusts, He anticipates a return; where He plants, He looks for a harvest. But He requires even more than that. "You know that I am an exacting man," is His picture, "taking up what I did not lay down, and reaping what I did not sow" (Luke 19:21). The brethren in Christ, then, should be creatively looking for ways that they can be fruitful, sowing and bringing in a harvest of righteousness.

Salvation is not "once saved, always saved." The things that accompany salvation are the works of love and discipline of faith and the strength that comes through patience. These are exhibited in the continuing ministering that the saints do for one another and for the lost. Minister on, then, brethren, minister on!

The Patience of Abraham

It is encouraging for pilgrims to know that someone has successfully made the trek ahead of them. The deepening grooves of the Oregon Trail across the dry American West were assurance to later emigrants that the way was known and that Oregon City was a real destination. But it was up to trail-blazers like Jedediah Smith to figure out a watered route across the wastes of what is now Wyoming, to know where to cross the Snake River in Idaho, and to find the best overland passage over the dry hills to the refreshing waters of the Boise River. Such it is in the realm of faith, and such a trail-blazer was Abraham, father of the faithful in Christ Jesus.

"Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness." Through his faith and patience, Abraham continued to walk forward, being "fully assured," affirmed the apostle Paul, "that what God had promised, God was able to perform" (Romans 4:21). That same "full assurance of hope" stands as a beckoning promise to each saint today, and God’s goal is that each one continue to press forward in joy, bringing good news to a hostile world!

Interposing with an Oath

The custom of giving an oath or swearing had a good beginning, but, like all things touched by human hands, it deteriorated. God Himself started the process with Abraham’s family, as He emphasized in His reiteration of the covenant with Isaac, "I will establish the oath which I swore to your father Abraham" (Genesis 26:3). To Israel under the Law the Almighty had given specific instructions about oaths, but it had become so perverted by people that Jesus finally had to say, "Make no oath at all" (Matthew 5:34). But with God there is no perversion, and His backing His statements with an oath is very significant. In giving the promise to Abraham, "He swore by Himself, saying, ‘Blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you."

"The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.’ " (Psalm 110:4). God has had an unchanging purpose: to bring together a people and a Priest, under the terms of an eternal or unchanging covenant. The people are the spiritual descendants of Abraham, the ones who receive the strong encouragement from the oaths connected with the promises of God. The Priest is one Jesus of Nazareth, risen from the dead, ascended to the position of power and intercession on the throne. Because of this, we can believe in "the full assurance of hope until the end." Thus the saint moves forward, truly knowing that "God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28).

Anchor of the Soul

There is such a thing as a "vain hope." There was a news clip recently about a university co-ed who was missing. Her mother said that she knew in her heart that her daughter was still alive; two weeks later the body was found. The mother was buoying herself up with a "vain hope," that is, her hopes were empty or without substance.

How do we as Christians know that our spiritual hopes are not "vain?" We know in our hearts that Jesus is going to give us the resurrection of the righteous at His second coming? Or is this our trying to buoy ourselves up with an empty promise? "God, desiring even more to show the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, in order that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have strong encouragement." God gave two oaths — one making a promise to produce a people, and one producing a priest for those people — that those people might have certainty about their resurrections from the dead.

"Christ Jesus is He who died," was Paul’s commentary, "yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us" (Romans 8:34). God earnestly desired to have "us" as a people and interceded with an oath. God knew that such a people would need an intercessor, and promised such a high priest with an oath. Then He guaranteed such a people’s resurrection by raising the high priest from the dead! Are you one of those people?

Who Is Melchizedek?

The plans of the Almighty are tremendous in scope and awesome to contemplate. Because of the hard-headedness of mankind, God had to introduce the Law of Moses to Israel. "Why the Law then?" the apostle Paul had asked the Galatians. Answer: "It was added because of transgressions" (Galatians 3:19). Except for the fleshly-mindedness of man, God could have sent Jesus into the world in Genesis three; as it was, in accordance with what God had anticipated, the Father had to work for four thousand years to prepare the world for the coming of the Son. And to do even that, the Lord God had to bring into existence a special people — Israel — and give them their own covenant with their own priesthood. The challenge would be to convince that people that their priesthood and their covenant was only temporary; that is, it would be replaced by a superior system through Christ. Hence, centuries before the giving of the Law through Moses, the All Wise had instituted a priesthood of the order of Melchizedek and had made a special covenant involving Abraham.

The writer of the Hebrew epistle had wanted to write about Melchizedek in what we moderns have broken down into chapter five; he had, however taken two chapters to excoriate the Hebrew Christians about their lack of spirituality before he could dive into the depths of his topic. After referencing the promises to Abraham interspersed with exhortation for the brethren to be steadfast because of the hope of the resurrection, the writer is able to tie things together and get back to Melchizedek: "This hope," says he, "we have as an anchor for the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek" (Hebrews 6:19,20).

Who could this Melchizedek be? No father, no mother, no genealogy (some have tried to say that he had parents, a day of birth and a day of death, but these were just not recorded): he appeared for a time, and was gone. He was the king (or prince, prince being equivalent of the king since a replacement process will soon be under way) of righteousness, and also prince of peace. The conclusion is that this is a Christophany, that is, one of the pre-appearances of Christ prior to His being born in Bethlehem. Who else could have those names and abide "a priest perpetually"?

He Lives On

What a spectacle it must have been! Abraham returning as the triumphant possessor of the spoils of Sodom and Gomorrah was regarded as a "mighty prince" or king. To meet him in the vale was the king of Sodom, and making his surprise appearance was the king of Salem (a small village that apparently became Jerusalem). Three kings met in what came to be known as the Valley of Shaveh, the Kings’ Valley. The lesser of these was the king of Sodom, begging Abraham for the people to come back under his control. There was Abraham, the victor in the swift and strategic skirmish. And there was Melchizedek, priest of God Most High.

"Now observe how great this man was," stated the writer in regard to Melchizedek. Abraham is held forth as the great example of faith and the one chosen out of all the earth of his day to bear the standard for God. Yet Melchizedek was greater; greater than Abraham, and greater than his descendants, the Levitical priests. "And in this case [Levitical priests] mortal men receive tithes, but in that case [Melchizedek’s receiving a tenth from Abraham] one receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives on" (Hebrews 7:8). Melchizedek was not a mortal man! He really was without father, without mother, having neither beginning of days nor end of life. His priesthood could only be established by Jesus’ taking the form of Melchizedek, and setting in motion a priesthood based on immortality. The Aaronic priests died; He lives on!

Change of Priesthood

Melchizedek appeared for a little while, blessed Abraham, and was gone. Melchizedek occupied only three verses of scripture in Genesis, and one verse in Psalms. The Jew therefore overlooked the role of Melchizedek and focused in on the priesthood of the order of Aaron, that order occupying such a large portion of Old Testament scriptures. The Hebrew Christian, imbued also with the Old Testament scriptures, would need instruction on the significance of the priesthood of the order of Melchizedek. Since the trappings of the Law, including the Aaronic priesthood, were about to be destroyed, the writer of Hebrews, under inspiration of the Spirit, sets forth the superiority of the system in place under Christ as contrasted to that which came through Moses. The Law was ordained through angels; Jesus is superior to angels. Moses and Joshua delivered Israel from bondage in Egypt and brought them into the promised land; Jesus is superior to Moses and Joshua. Now the priesthood of Christ is to be established as superior to the priesthood of the descendants of Levi.

Law is based on the priesthood. The next conclusion: "For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also" (Hebrews 7:12). What a bombshell tossed into the middle of Hebrew thinking! The writer makes the unarguable point that there is coming a change in the priesthood. He follows that with a similarly unarguable point that there is therefore a change of law. These points are based upon and buttressed with the Old Testament scriptures of the Jews; what real objection could anyone of that background have? The system, then, of "the Law of Moses" was indeed to replaced by the system of "the Faith of Christ."

An Indestructible Life

"The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind," are the opening words of Psalm 110:4. This statement has divine determination written all over it! And divine determination cannot be stopped by any physical or spiritual force or obstacle. What was contemplated by this oath, of course, was that Jesus would be high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. But how did the writer draw the conclusion that the person contemplated by the prophecy concerning the priest of the order of Melchizedek would be Jesus? He drew on the parallel construction between two prophecies, as indicated in the connection he made in chapter five: "You are My Son, today I have begotten You," was the quotation from Psalm two, and "You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek," was his second quotation. And the two quotes were connected by the words, "just as He also says." Thus the Son was also the priest forever.

"When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high," was an introductory statement in this epistle. Jesus’ arising was all the way to heaven itself, and the indestructible life is the life He lives in glory. His priesthood is a priesthood forever in heaven, and that is where He ascended to make the purification of sins. Therefore the writer notes: "For it is witnessed of Him, ‘You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.’ " (Hebrews 7:17).

Change in Law

"On the basis of the priesthood the people received the Law," the scribe of this epistle had noted. Moses, descendant of Levi, was the priest through whom the Law was given to Israel. While the high priest, Aaron, only had access to the back room of the tabernacle once a year on the Day of Atonement, Moses had access any time he was called. In regard to the top of the ark of the covenant, which sat in the inner room, God gave these instructions to him who had been rescued from the Nile: "And there will I meet with you; and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel" (Exodus 25:22).

Jesus, then, is the priest on whom the new covenant is based. As God spoke to Moses, just so the Father spoke to the Son. "For I did not speak on My own initiative," said Jesus during the days of His flesh, "but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me commandment, what to say, and what to speak" (John 12:49). After Jesus ascended, the Holy Spirit disclosed to the apostles and New Testament prophets the words of Jesus. "He shall glorify Me," affirmed the Lord concerning the Spirit, "for He shall take of Mine, and shall disclose it to you" (John 16:14). And to clarify that all things were coming from the Father, Jesus added, "All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said, that He takes of Mine, and will disclose it to you" (John 16:15).

How comforting it is to know that the covenant of Moses was designed to "fade away" and to be replaced by a better covenant, with a better hope and better promises! How exciting it is to know that Christ on the throne has the unfading glory of God shining in His face, and has established an unfading covenant! How much security is offered through Him who thusly entered "within the veil," giving us "an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast!"

A Better Hope

"So then," stated the apostle Paul, "the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good" (Romans 7:12). If the Law is holy and the commandment is good, why does it need to be "set aside" as the writer of the letter to the Hebrews is affirming? The answer lies in the relationship of man to his sin rather than in the holiness of the Law. The intention of God from the beginning was to declare a man righteous on the basis of his faith, as Paul quoted Habakkuk: "The righteous shall live by faith" (Romans 1:17). The challenge is to get man to understand what God-ordained faith is, and for him to learn to live by that faith. Hence it was necessary to bring man along in stages, from Abel to Abraham to Moses, and from "the Law of Moses" to "the faith of Christ."

The Law was incomplete in terms of its ability to provide sacrifices for forgiveness of sins and an intercessory priesthood. While the Law was "righteous and holy and good," it did not have the capacity to rescue the lost sinner and transform him into the character of Christ. Jesus, however, came in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin to provide the necessary sacrifice on behalf of the fallen race. Having "tasted death for everyone," He rose to the position of power at the right hand, "delivering those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives," and becoming "a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God" (Hebrews 2:15,17).

A Better Covenant

God can do anything He wants at any time. He has, however, placed certain limits on Himself because of character issues; for example, He is patient, and therefore is not going to do anything rash or froward. He is also the great Teacher, laying careful foundations for the points and principles He wants to inculcate. Hence the system of the Law of Moses was instituted in Israel prior to bringing in the system of the faith of Christ, because the foreshadows and teachings of the Law were necessary in understanding the faith. But, to ensure that there be no confusion among the thoughtful, the elements of the faith were positioned hundreds of years before the Law in the promises to Abraham and prophecies of Christ and His priesthood. At the right time, then, the Law was set aside in order that the "better hope" might be brought in.

Having carefully laid the foundation, the writer is now able to use the words "better covenant" to describe what has come through the high priesthood of Jesus Christ. The Jewish mind would be somewhat shell-shocked by this statement, considering the history of what God had to do with Israel to get them to implement their side of the covenant that came through Moses. But the word of the oath declared Jesus to be high priest of the order of Melchizedek forever whereas there was no oath in the case of Moses or any of the priests descended from Aaron. From the Jews’ own scriptures the case for the better covenant was being presented. These Jewish Christians, therefore, could begin to fix their attention on the spiritual high priesthood of Jesus Christ, intercessor at the right hand of the Majesty on high, and not be concerned about the upcoming destruction of the temple, priesthood, and sacrifices implemented through Moses. And the rest of us can be uplifted spiritually as we profit by the instruction, seeing Jesus as our high priest and basis of the best covenant!

Able to Save Forever!

God spent a lot of time from Adam through Moses to Christ to establish a pattern that would make sense to a spiritually interested mind. The patriarchs, from Adam to Moses, could offer sacrifices to God, although there was the development of a general priesthood — Melchizedek, and others such as Jethro, priest of Midian and father-in-law of Moses. But with the giving of the law of Moses, in Israel only priests of the order of Aaron could offer sacrifices and burn incense. The priesthood had been narrowed down, and the types of offerings had been squeezed down and specifically defined. Thus the next logical step in the progression was one sacrifice and one priesthood. Hence our Lord Jesus Christ entered the earthly scene at the right time, was offered as the sacrifice, and ascended to glory to be declared the high priest.

One of the most destructive doctrines floating around is the idea of "Jesus’ finished work on the cross." This doctrine, taken from Jesus’ words, "It is finished," as He gave up His Spirit, purports that all that was necessary was the sacrifice of Christ. Once that sacrifice was offered, according to this teaching, the sovereign will of God was accomplished; and once the individual is "saved" by accepting this death for him, he cannot be lost because the blood of the Lamb has been applied to him. Such teaching ignores the tremendous body of New Testament doctrine concerning the High Priesthood of Christ. It must be re-emphasized: the sacrifice of Christ would have had no effect whatsoever if there were no priest to present the blood of the offering. The work of Jesus therefore was not finished on the cross; His work as High Priest did not begin until He ascended where His first action was making "purification of sins" (Hebrews 1:3). Furthermore, the key point of the passage of Hebrews which we are examining here is that Jesus "is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him"; that is, that His intercessory work continues again and again in behalf of those who appeal to God for forgiveness in Christ. Because He is not prevented by death from continuing, He can continue to intercede for the saint who needs Him!

Separated from Sinners

God has had a plan through the ages, and that plan is centered about producing a special people through Christ. "For whom He foreknew," asseverated the apostle Paul, "He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren" (Romans 8:29). This foreknowledge of who would be these special people fit in with a predetermined plan, that they would become conformed to the image of Jesus during the years of their earthly sojourn. "Whom He predestined," superadded the apostle, "these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified" (Romans 8:30). These called, justified, and glorified ones are "those who draw near to God" through Jesus Christ, and have His intercessory ministry operating on their behalf. "This will be written for the generation to come," prophesied the psalmist, "That a people yet to be created may praise the Lord" (Psalm 102:18). The saints of Jesus Christ are that people!

Christ, the great High Priest, is separated from sinners; He has no fellowship with them. It follows, therefore, that those who have fellowship with Christ are not sinners. In fact, they are "sons, priests, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens" in Christ Jesus! This is the prophesied generation.

The Main Thing Is

Christians have connections in high places! Consider in some small detail what has been done for them: they were sinners, now they are saints; formerly they were mere men, now they are sons of God; they were defiled and separated from God, now they are holy and innocent in fellowship with God; they were denied access to the courts of heaven, now they have a powerful intercessor Who invites them to come boldly to the throne of grace. How have these astounding and remarkable transformations been accomplished? Answer: through Him who loved us and delivered Himself up for us.

Once again, the principle God uses over and over is to use the physical to get to the spiritual. "The Law," says the writer, "appoints men as high priests who are weak." These physical priests operated through physical sacrifices in a physical sanctuary. But the Son, appointed with the word of the oath, is a spiritual Priest, offering spiritual sacrifices in a spiritual sanctuary. This is our High Priest: the Apostle from heaven, the Son, the Lord, the great King, indeed the immortal, invisible God. What better intercessor could a suffering saint possibly have!

Shadow to Substance

Forgiveness of sins cannot be seen. The indwelling Spirit cannot be seen. The intercessory work of Christ cannot be seen, at least with the physical eye. Hence it was necessary for God, in His spiritual economy, to build faith inside of willing men by beginning with the physical realm to get to where He could communicate effectively about the spiritual realm. The Bible, therefore, is truly an amazing book. Communicating the hand of God as He worked with man, the word of God shows His progressive development in moving mankind’s understanding upward. In giving the Law to Israel, God instituted the tabernacle, its sacrifices, and its priesthood. That picture, intricately carried out and intricately recorded, makes it possible for the one who follows Christ to comprehend what has happened in the spiritual realm, and to know what the main point of the book of Hebrews is: We have a High Priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister in the true tabernacle.

The blood of 1500 bulls, the blood of 1500 goats, and the confession of sins over the head of 1500 scapegoats were a shadow of the good things to come. The somber rituals on the Day of Atonement year by year were magnificent types of the offerings of Christ Himself in heaven. These are "things which are a mere shadow of what is to come," averred Paul, "but the substance is Christ" (Colossians 2:17). What a blessing it is to be the people of substance, anticipated by the prophetic utterances of the Old Testament! "This will be written for the generation to come; that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord" (Psalm 102:18).

Mediator of a Better Covenant

The author of Hebrews writes that those Old Testament priests became such without an oath. But of Jesus it was written: "The Lord has sworn, and will not change His mind — You are a priest forever." The Old Covenant was based on the priesthood of Moses, priest without that oath. "Jesus," then, with the oath, "has become the guarantee of a better covenant" (Hebrews 7:22). The Lord, during the days of His flesh, anticipated the establishment of this new covenant, issuing this statement in connection with His giving of the Lord’s Supper: "This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood" (Luke 22:20). Out with the Old; in with the New!

"For if that first covenant had been faultless," remarked the writer, "there would have been no occasion sought for a second" (Hebrews 8:7). The fault in the first covenant — the Law of Moses — required the establishment of a better covenant — the faith of Christ. "Therefore, holy brethren," we are reminded, "partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession." Those Levitical priests who served on earth offered gifts and sacrifices according to the Law, a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. "For it was fitting," it is again pointed out to us, "that we should have such a high priest … exalted above the heavens." Our High Priest is at the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens, ministering in the true tabernacle. "Let us therefore draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:16).

Effecting a New Covenant

"So then, the Law is holy," affirmed the apostle Paul, "and the commandment is holy and righteous and good" (Romans 7:12). But that covenant — the Law of Moses — is regarded in this fashion by the writer of Hebrews: "For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second" (Hebrews 8:7). If the commandment — or covenant — is holy and righteous and good, where could the problem be? The Law was a good tool; the only problem was that it was not the right tool for the job of fixing mankind. The language of the writer of Hebrews is instructive: "For finding fault with them, He says …" (Hebrews 8:8). The "them" is where the problem is, and fixing "them" is going to require the faith of Christ rather than the Law of Moses.

The language of the Father is interesting: "I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt." The Almighty demonstrated His power over the gods worshiped by the Egyptians, extricated Israel from slavery, and gently led them by the hand into a land of freedom and promise. Were they appreciative? No! Were they desirous of the responsibilities of freedom? No! So it will remain for "a people yet to come," a people produced by a new covenant not like the one given through Moses, to be the kind of nation who could continue in His covenant, and a group of which it could be said by the Father, "I care for them!"

Written on the Heart

People are going to do what they want to do. God created Adam and Eve and gave them a choice in the Garden of Eden, to eat or not to eat. They ate the forbidden fruit by their own free will; they did what they wanted to do, and started the earth into its downward spiral.

As their descendants multiplied on the earth, their character was in general no better than their first ancestors. Brutal, treacherous, destroying with the tongue and with the club, their self-willed bent made it necessary for God to destroy "the earth that was," and begin again with Noah and his descendants. These proved no better than the previous group, their collective downward spin only being slowed by a much slower population growth, a harsher climate, and a split into different language groups at the Tower of Babel. Even the Law of Moses did not prevent Israel from following the same cycle as the rest of the world; people are going to do what they want to do. The challenge facing the All Wise, then, was this: how to get them to want to do what is pleasing to God. Only "a better covenant, enacted on better promises" would be able to accomplish this almost impossible feat.

How exciting it is for those of a good and honest heart that God has made a way for them to fulfill the requirement of the Law! How awesome it is for them to participate in the removal of the corrupted heart in immersion, and to be able to walk in newness of life with a circumcision "which is of the heart — by the Spirit, not by the letter [of the Law]" (Romans 2:29)! How wonderful it is to share in "the better covenant"!

Knowing the Lord

"This is eternal life," said the Lord Jesus Christ, "that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent" (John 17:3). Getting people to know God is a major purpose of the scriptures, and the motivation for God’s sending Jesus into the world. "For since in the wisdom of God," instructed the apostle Paul, "the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe" (I Corinthians 1:21). The only way to know God is through Jesus Christ.

The barrier to knowing God is sin. Adam died when he ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden; he who once was privileged to have God walk with him the afternoon now was separated; he who once was privileged to know God was now estranged. And thus it has been. As children move into adulthood, they lose their innocence and no longer know the eternal Father. God, through Christ and His covenant, has made provision for all of mankind to be restored to fellowship and "know" Him again!

Though once alienated from God by their own rebellion, both Jew and Gentile are welcomed in the presence of the great King. Jesus Christ is the saints’ high priest, "who offered up Himself once for all" (Hebrews 7:27). Christ indeed "has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises" (Hebrews 8:6).

Obsolete Trappings

From its inception, the Law of Moses was designed to be destroyed, and to be replaced by a superior system. Thus the temple buildings, the priesthood of Aaron, the sacrifices, and the feasts were at some point going to be eliminated, and the elements of the better system were to be erected on the foundation of the earlier prototype. Hence the prophecy of the coming of "a better covenant, enacted on better promises."

It is worth recalling here that the nation Israel should never have come into existence in the first place. Abraham and Sarah should never have been able to produce Isaac, but by God’s hand and purpose Isaac was born within a year after the Lord appeared to Abraham with that great promise. The nation should have perished in the famine of Joseph’s day, but the All Wise was able to have the patriarchs preserved in Egypt. The people should have lost their identity through four hundred years in Africa, but by God’s intervention the Egyptians wouldn’t intermingle with shepherds. With an outstretched arm, the Almighty brought them out of Egypt and established them in the land of promise. He gave them the priesthood and the Law. He gave them prophets and the word. He gave them the tabernacle and then the temple. Although over their 1500 years of history, most of the nation was carved off and disappeared because of their lapse into idolatry, God preserved a remnant so that when Christ should come there was a people He could work among to establish that He was the Son of God, and there was a base for the church to begin.

The center for Israel was the temple. From the time that David made Jerusalem his capital, God was working to centralize Old Covenant worship at that location. "It will come about," the Father had prophesied through Moses, "that the place in which the Lord your God shall chose for His name to dwell, there you shall bring all that I command you" (Deuteronomy 12:11). Following the erection of the temple under the leadership of Solomon, the high places of worship and service were successively eliminated, and by New Testament times, the Jews in practice would worship nowhere else. Jesus’ statement, therefore, to the Samaritan woman was a blockbuster: "An hour is coming when neither in this mountain [Gerizim, where the Samaritans had their temple], nor in Jerusalem, shall you worship the Father" (John 4:21). The Lord knew that the New Covenant was going to eliminate the Old.

Jesus had prophesied the destruction of the temple, giving the Jews one generation to understand that He was the Messiah. The New Testament writings do not record the temple’s destruction; it was not a matter of importance for most Christians. The only reference to the destruction of the temple is this quotation in Hebrews, a reference preparing the Jewish Christians for what was to happen in the immediate future. "A better covenant, enacted on better promises," was executed by the Mediator, the High Priest "who has obtained a more excellent ministry," carried out in a heavenly temple, a better building, "the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man."

A Look at the O.T. Temple

The average Jewish Christian would never have had opportunity to look inside the temple building. The only people allowed in were the priests, and even then those were chosen by lot to offer incense on each particular day. Now the temple [or tabernacle — the terms are used interchangeably because they had the same basic floor plan] was "a symbol for the present time" (Hebrews 9:9). In other words, it was a foreshadow or type of Christianity. Hence, because most of the Hebrews would have been only vaguely familiar with the temple pattern, it was necessary for the writer to give a modest description of the tabernacle of Moses’ day in order to communicate the points he has in mind.

The outer room or tabernacle was a foreshadow of the church. Christians, each of whom is a priest under the terms of the new covenant, participate in the Lord’s Supper every first day of the week, foreshadowed by the table of shewbread in the tabernacle. Christians offer their prayers, foreshadowed by the altar of incense, and Christians operate by the light of the word of God, foreshadowed by the lampstand.

Physical to Spiritual

Physical sacrifices are inadequate to cover the sins of the soul. However, although lacking the power to be effective in the spiritual realm, the physical trappings of the Old Testament tabernacle were necessary to communicate some important spiritual points. These elements of the Old Testament tabernacle (and later the temple) "serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things." Hence "Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, ‘See,’ He says, ‘that you make all things according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain.’ " (Hebrews 8:5). Each aspect of the tabernacle was pointing to the spiritual truths of the new covenant, and thus it was necessary that the details not be altered in its construction. The outer portion of the tabernacle, "the holy place," foreshadowed the church, the "table and sacred bread" as a type of the Lord’s Supper, and the lampstand as a foreshadow of the word of God, the only light allowed in the tabernacle. "Behind the second veil, there was a tabernacle called the Holy of Holies," which typified heaven itself.

With the clear picture of the Old Testament tabernacle in front of them, the readers of the Hebrew epistle would then be able to better comprehend the actions of Jesus. Sacrificed on Calvary, foreshadowed by the altar which sat in front of the tabernacle, He would ascend to heaven, foreshadowed by the inner room of the tabernacle. Heaven, being spiritual, is difficult to picture. The earthly tabernacle, being more readily understood, served as a necessary unit in God’s communication process, moving the interested from a physical to a spiritual perspective.

Symbol for the Present Time

Typology is one of the major ways God communicates spiritual truths, and establishes that He is the author of the scriptures. An honest contemplation of the tabernacle and its design, given 1500 years before the sacrifice of Christ, and its foreshadowing His sacrifice, His High Priesthood, His church, and His heaven will cause the thoughtful to recognize that only a divine, transcendent power could have planned and executed on such a scale. And for something physical to be designed to communicate something grander in the spiritual realm establishes clearly the existence of a spiritual God who is desirous of moving man from the physical to the spiritual in his understanding and focus. A type, then, generally is a physical foreshadow in the Old Testament record which represents the antitype, the real thing in the New Testament record. The abundance of such types, recorded by the Holy Spirit, is part of proof positive that God is the author of the scriptures.

The Old Testament tabernacle, its priesthood, its sacrifices, and its appurtenances were "a symbol of the present time." They were necessary physical representations of the spiritual realm, but because they were not of the spiritual realm, they were not effective in solving spiritual problems. The ministrations of our High Priest in the spiritual holy of holies are effective, and those who have come under the terms of the new covenant are a greatly blessed people!

A Time of Reformation

"The Law," affirmed Hebrews’ author, "appoints men as high priests who are weak." By contrast, "the word of the oath," which effected a new covenant, "appoints a Son, made perfect forever" (Hebrews 7:28). From Adam to Moses men were governed only by their consciences, which governance proved ineffective in producing a holy people. The Law of Moses, instituted in Israel, likewise proved unable to produce a people who could be holy and keep the statutes and ordinances. There was no remedy for the soiled consciences of those from Adam to Moses, and there was no remedy for a guilty conscience under the Law either. In Israel, for instance, "into the second [tabernacle] only the high priest enters, once a year, not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the sins of the people committed in ignorance" (Hebrews 9:7). The first thing the high priest had to do was to offer was "blood for himself." But this blood and related "gifts and sacrifices" could not "make him who performed the service perfect in conscience"; it would take the offering a High Priest, "made perfect forever," to make anyone who performs service to God "perfect in conscience."

Jesus Christ, Son of God, High Priest of the order of Melchizedek, brought this "time of reformation" through His ascension to glory. For the first time in earth’s history, there will be a people of clean conscience. For the first time in earth’s history, there will be a people who are no longer earthy and whose focus is no longer on the physical; this time there is created a truly spiritual people who worship in Spirit and truth!

Good Things to Come

The earthly tabernacle, said Hebrews’ author, "is a symbol for the present time."The typology involved is staggering to contemplate: a building designed 1500 years before Christianity came into existence foreshadowed all the great things of the church such as prayer, the Lord’s Supper, the guiding light of the Word of God, the sacrifice of Christ, and the laver of immersion. But the concept of the tabernacle and its replacement — the temple — was not limited to its being just a foreshadow. The whole plan was to move man from a physical focus to a spiritual perspective, that man would move upward as he came to understand the differences between the Old and New Covenants. The honest individual, contemplating this physical-to-spiritual panorama, will recognize that it could only have been conceived and constructed by a transcendent God, and he will fall on his face and confess that Jesus certainly is Lord.

Jesus only entered heaven one time; there were not multiple ascensions following His appearing to Mary Magdalene following His resurrection. "He entered the holy place once for all," is the terminology of the word. This one time entrance and one time offering of His spiritual blood purchased eternal redemption, and it is a redemption open to everyone. This grand and expansive concept should result in every Christian’s thoughtful, grateful, and joyful desire to please Him!

A Clean Conscience

"If that first covenant had been faultless," commented Hebrews’ author, "there would have been no place sought for a second." The altar and temple in Jerusalem were the physical center of the old covenant, and the place where any ritualistic cleansing of Israel would occur. But those sacrifices and ritualistic cleansings could not touch the inner man; they were external rites relating "only to food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until a time of reformation." The dietary laws, the purification requirements, the ablutions were all on the outside, and could not even make the high priest "perfect in conscience," much less anyone else. But Jesus, as a heavenly high priest of the order of Melchizedek, entered into the true holy place with His own spiritual blood, and with that "sprinkled blood," He cleansed heaven itself and purchased for all who would obey the gospel "eternal redemption." This is eternal because it was a one-time offering, and it was sufficient to obtain eternal life for any individual — Jew or Greek — who would be faithful to the covenant.

There is no earthly remedy for a guilty conscience. The mental hospitals are overflowing with those whose unhandled guilty consciences caused them to check out of reality; the drug companies are profiting from the pharmaceuticals proffered to those who want to swallow a pill rather than face Christ; and the psychology/psychiatric industry is busy passing the blame onto others rather than the patient, attempting to shuffle off the guilty conscience instead of offering the only solution found in Christ Jesus. It is necessary, therefore, that the entire weight of the word of God be placed on these words: "How much more shall the blood of Christ …" Thousands of sacrifices, hundreds of fulfilled prophecies, and some of the most striking typology of the scriptures are designed to communicate this point: the blood of Christ can cleanse the conscience of even the most depraved sinner!!!

The Blood of Christ

Blood is not the first thing that comes to the fuller’s mind when it comes to a cleansing agent for clothes. Blood stains, in fact, are some of the most difficult to remove from clothing. The All Wise, then, the perfect communicator, went to great lengths to associate water and blood so that the cleansing properties normally associated with water then became attached to blood. When someone in Israel died in his tent, for example, a "clean person" was to take ashes from the red heifer and mix it with flowing water. "And a clean person," stated the word of the Lord, "shall take hyssop and dip it in the water, and sprinkle it on the tent and on all the furnishings and on the persons who were there" (Numbers 19:18). To ritually cleanse a house after the removal of something "leprous," the priest was instructed: "Then he shall take the cedar wood and the hyssop and the scarlet string, with the live bird, and dip them in the blood of the slain bird, as well in the running water, and sprinkle the house seven times" (Leviticus 14:51). The red colors — the blood, the red heifer, the cedar wood, the scarlet string, and the hyssop (presumably red colored) — used in the cleansing ritual, used in conjunction with sprinkled water, impressed upon Israel the cleansing properties of blood and associated it with cleansing normally affixed to water.

The blood and the water were intimately connected through the Old Testament foreshadows and cleansing rituals. Even at Christ’s death on the cross, at the piercing of His side, it is noted, "there came out blood and water" (John 19:34). Thus, in acquiring the clean conscience — that great cleansing which never could occur through the physical offerings of the Old Covenant — blood and water are once again intimately connected. "Immersion now saves you," says the inspired Peter, "not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience — through the resurrection of Jesus Christ" (I Peter 3:21). The water of immersion puts the repentant believer into cleansing by the blood offered by Christ in His resurrection, "that you may obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood" (I Peter 1:2). But since it was "through the eternal Spirit" that Christ offered Himself, there are three factors: the blood, the water, and the Spirit. When a person is immersed into Christ in water, he is forgiven through the blood, and he receives the gift of the Holy Spirit. "For there are three that bear witness, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood; and the three are in agreement" (I John 5:8).

Serving God

The Old Testament priest, as he approached the temple, had to be cleansed with water from the laver, or he would die. He could not serve God as a priest according to his own dictates; he had to serve God under the terms which God ordained. When Nadab and Abihu, sons of Aaron, offered "strange fire before the Lord" in the burning of incense, the Lord burnt them with fire from heaven. If a priest was to serve God, he had to serve him according to the terms which God dictated. Only the priests could serve God; the people could worship on feast days, but only the priests could minister at the altars. When King Uzziah, for example, "became strong, his heart was so proud that he acted corruptly, and he was unfaithful to the Lord his God; for he entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense" (II Chronicles 26:16). But because he was not permitted to serve the Lord as were the priests, he was smitten with leprosy by the offended Almighty. Only the priests could serve God, and they could only serve according to the instructions they were given in the Law of the Lord.

The goal of each sincere person will be truly to serve God. Knowing that an unclean conscience makes it just as impossible for him to do that as it was for Uzziah to offer incense, he will do whatever the Lord has stated in order to acquire that clean conscience. And, honestly, in the sight of God, he will continue to maintain that clean conscience, that his offerings might be acceptable in the courts of heaven. Otherwise, they are dead works performed by a soul on the way to hell.

Redemption for Transgressions

What about the eternity of those Old Testament saints? What about men like Moses, David, and Daniel who did not have Jesus as their intercessory High Priest? Were they lost forever, did God have some provision for them?

The character of God in regard to rescuing men is illustrated in verses such as II Peter 3:9: God is "not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance." It is clear, then, that He is not a "mean ogre in heaven," looking to send as many to hell as possible. He earnestly desires that the maximum number of souls spend eternity with Him. The apostle Paul thus labors to establish that God is fair and just rather than changeable and arbitrary. After demonstrating that Christians are justified through their faith in the redemptive works of Christ , the apostle comments on the condition of those who passed on to their reward prior to the inauguration of the new covenant. "In the forbearance of God," Paul stated of God’s ability to withhold His wrath from the Old Testament saints, "He passed over the sins previously committed" (Romans 3:25). What enabled Him to "pass over"?

The old covenant did not have provisions who could redeem even those who were under its terms. How much superior, then, is the new covenant, what has the power to redeem those under its terms as well as to reach back and cover those who lived previously. The "called," therefore — Greek or Jew, old or new — receive the great reward of the inheritance promised to those who are joint heirs with Christ. What person who has participated in this great and costly redemption could fail to praise the Lord?

Division of the Covenants

"Be diligent," Paul instructed Timothy, "to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth" (Ii Timothy 2:15). This handling accurately is based upon the principle of knowing where to divide the Bible into its appropriate parts. Implicit in the passage is that, as a swordsman must be trained so that he can handle his blade effectively, even so the one who claims to wield the sword of the Spirit must be trained so that he can properly distinguish the covenants of the scripture and know how to apply the teachings of each one. There are, said Paul, those who want "to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions" (I Timothy 1:7). Let us be diligent, then, in understanding the most foundational division of covenants in the word of God.

"Rightly dividing the word of truth" requires, as its first step, an understanding that Jesus lived and died under the terms of the Old Testament Law of Moses. His death put an end to the Law and its customs, and through Christ’s ascension, He has become the Mediator — the Executor — of a much more powerful New Covenant. The terms of this new covenant should occupy the focus of the brethren’s attention.

Blood of the First Covenant

The deception of Satan is great. And Satan’s ministers, who masquerade as "ministers of righteousness," are very good at preying on people’s ignorance in order to continue to promote their deception. Take the Mormons, for example. A Mormon will often be found carrying his "Bible," which in its thickness not only contains contents which are labeled "Old Testament" and "New Testament," but additions called The Book of Mormon (often termed "another testament of Jesus Christ") and Doctrine and Covenants. The titles and terms on these bring up an interesting question: Did Jesus die twice? It is an important scriptural principle that in order for there to be a covenant or testament, something or someone has to die. Joseph Smith, Jr., regarded as author of The Book of Mormon, died in a hail of bullets, but no one — especially Joseph Smith —would have claimed that his blood was necessary for "another testament" or "covenants," since those other documents were supposedly in place before Joseph’s death (and Joseph was planning on living longer anyway). Did Jesus die twice, then? No, He did not, and these other claims are obviously bogus. Conclusively, then, there are only two covenants of general application: the Law of Moses, based upon the blood of sacrificed animals, and the faith of Christ, based upon the blood of Christ Himself.

The first covenant was inaugurated with blood. The book of the Law was sprinkled with blood. The tabernacle and its implements were sprinkled. Even the people themselves! These physical actions, carried out by Moses in the sight of the people, and recorded for posterity, were a necessary bridge in God’s communication to man. By having the images of Moses, the peace and burnt offerings, the sprinkled blood and the people, the participant in the new covenant is able to see much more clearly how the blood of Christ can cleanse a person who has had a guilty conscience, and set him free to serve God!

Cleansed with Blood

"Slow of heart to believe," said Jesus of the two men on the road to Emmaus. "Dull of hearing," was the expression that Hebrews’ author used to describe his readership.And these are expressions for the good guys! "Stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears" is the stronger expression Stephen used to expose the nature of the Jewish High Council. The human race has a hard time learning God’s principles because their hearing is blocked by other interests. Therefore it takes God a long time with lots of repetition to get His message through.

Consider this concept: "All things are cleansed with blood." It took God 1500 years of blood sacrifices in Israel to get this point firmly rooted in Israel’s mind. And the writer of Hebrews labored mightily to bring this point to significant saliency: "Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness."

Man, dull of hearing, has had a hard time making the connection that the shedding of blood is necessary for his forgiveness. God, however, moves the believer to the next point in his understanding: Christ offered spiritual blood in heaven for the cleansing of his conscience. The All Wise, however, elevates the thinking of the increasingly spiritual man to the next level, that heaven itself was purified through this spiritual blood of Christ. The principle is persistent and powerful — "All things are cleansed with blood." Even heaven!

Consummation of the Ages

The epistle to the Hebrews has this opening point: "When [Jesus] had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high" (Hebrews 1:3). The writer then takes about nine chapters (according to the way we have divided the letter into sections) to properly develop his theme as to what this purification for sins is, and how it takes place. The earthly tabernacle and its offerings serve as "a copy and shadow of the heavenly things." Moses was therefore instructed to "make all things according to the pattern" which he saw on Mount Sinai, since the details of the earthly were to be used to communicate the happenings in the spiritual realm.

As important as was the day of Jesus’ crucifixion, it was not the "consummation of the ages," nor was the day of His bodily resurrection from the dead. When He entered glory, THIS WAS THE DAY! "Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us" (Romans 8:34).

The Second Coming

The first appearance of Christ is described in these words, that Christ "entered heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us" (Hebrews 9:24). This – the consummation of the ages — is when Christ came on the clouds the first time, when He came up to the Ancient of Days to receive His kingdom (Daniel 7:13,14). Building upon some earlier statements of Jesus, as His ascension the angels informed the apostles (who had just seen a cloud receive Him out of their sight), "This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11). Thus it is written of His second coming, "Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him" (Revelation 1:7).

As the children of Israel eagerly awaited the reappearance of their high priest, so the modern children of faith, of the current "Israel of God," eagerly await the reappearance of Christ and the completion of His work in the true tabernacle of God. And if they are not eagerly awaiting His return, they need to make the spiritual adjustments necessary so that this eagerness is real. So, come Lord Jesus!

Shortfall of the Shadow

"Christ," says Hebrews’ writer, "entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption." Again, he writes, "now once at the consummation of the ages, He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself." The message is clear and emphasized: the one-time offering of Jesus — being both the sacrifice and the priest to offer the sacrifice — is sufficient to forgive sins committed under the covenant of Moses as well as those committed by the people of the New Covenant.

What about those Old Testament offerings? Wasn’t there forgiveness when the offerings were presented at the Lord’s altar? The writer of Hebrews has anticipated those questions, and has laid the groundwork for an appropriate response.

Christ is the substance and is therefore capable of removing the sins of those who would obey His gospel. Thus the Christian era is the era of substance. Israel according to the flesh, its tabernacle, its sacrifices, and its land were all the era of "shadow." The shadow has been set aside, and the substantive gospel of Christ is conquering Judaism and paganism in the hearts of all honest men. Welcome to the real world!

A Body Prepared

"With what shall I come to the Lord?" asked the prophet. "Does the Lord delight in thousands of rams?" he further queried. How about sacrificing his first-born son, "the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?" (Micah 6:6,7). The man who desires to walk humbly with his God knows that God has to provide the Lamb as the sacrifice. Thus there was a plan prepared before the foundation of the world that Jesus, as the seed of woman, would come to crush the serpent’s head and rescue those who otherwise would be trapped in Hades.

This astounding quotation from the pen of David summarizes a huge portion of the plan of God. "A body," said the Lord Jesus through the mouth of David, "You have prepared for Me." For this to be accomplished, an appropriate virgin of the lineage of David had to be available, and of sufficient spirituality to rear the Holy Offspring. A perfectly placed surrogate dad in Joseph had to be on hand, of the lineage of David and heir to the throne, but also spiritual enough to provide proper guidance. The body had to be that of a male, and of no "appearance that we should be attracted to Him." But it had to be sturdy enough to withstand the rigors experienced by an itinerant preacher and able to endure the lashings preceding the cross. It was a disciplined body, finishing strong to its dying breath, executing the will of the Father flawlessly. Praise God!

The Father’s Will

A testament is a directive, indicating what is to be done with a person’s possessions following his passing from this earth. Testament, of Latin origin, has an Anglo-Saxon equivalent, will. Used in that context, the mind glances over the thrust of the word. But when put in terms such as "will power" or "strong-willed," the picture of a will takes on added significance, indicating the driving force behind the words written on a piece of paper. And such are the thought processes underlying the quotation from Psalm 40, as the author of Hebrews engages in an extensive commentary and application of the scripture to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

Some have the mistaken impression that Jesus paid the price for man’s sins by going to hell or Hades for him. Jesus, however, did not "descend to hell," as the man-made creeds are often rendered; He went to Paradise, which was the good portion of the general area described as Sheol in the Old Testament writings and Hades in the New. The price He paid for the sins of mankind was all paid in His body. "He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross," adverted Peter (I Peter 2:24). "A body You have prepared for Me," was the affirmation of Hebrews’ author in His quotation. The offering of the body of Christ implemented the will which offered full forgiveness of sins.

One Offering for All Time

It was in the Garden of Gethsemane that Jesus issued His famous plea. "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will" (Matthew 26:39). This will is the New Covenant, brought into existence through the offering of the body of Christ on the cross, and by the blood of Christ sprinkled in heaven itself. "I have come," were the words of Christ recorded in prophecy, "to do Your will, O God." To accomplish the will of the Father, Christ had to be both the sacrifice and the priest to offer the blood of the sacrifice. Jesus paid the price as the sacrifice of His body: we were healed by His scourging; He bore our sins in His body on the tree; and His blood poured from the side of His dead body. "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" were the words of His anguish as He personally was separated from the Father in bearing the sins of all mankind (Matthew 27:46). The price He paid in being the sacrifice cannot be overly belabored!

"Now where there is forgiveness of these things," he writes, "there is no longer any offering for sin" (Hebrews 10:18). The faithful saint can thus have the blessed assurance that he is fully forgiven, and that he can press forward into the challenges of spreading the word of God!

Sufficiency and Confidence

The Holy Spirit of God communicates through the written word. He wrote His word in successive stages so that those of us upon whom the ends of the ages have come might know with certainty that the things written are true. Jeremiah, for example, had prophesied, some 600 years before Christ, the coming of a new covenant. This was recorded and circulated for hundreds of years throughout the Jewish synagogues; no one could then claim that it was a statement created out of thin air by the writer of the Hebrew epistle. The reader could then know that God Himself was the author of such prophecies, and gave His assurance to the promises contained therein.

The brethren have no access to the true holy place apart from the blood of Jesus Christ — shed on Calvary, sprinkled in heaven. No one is going to take "an end run" around Jesus and come into the presence of the Almighty based on his own righteousness. But the exciting contrast is that those who have been immersed into Christ Jesus have been forgiven and have this access. The whole story of Christ, termed "His sacrifice," is sufficient to provide forgiveness for even the most abject of sinners, and to give even "the least of the brethren" absolute confidence in coming into the presence of God. Jesus, "having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God." Hallelujah, He reigns!

A New and Living Way

One thousand, five hundred years of Israelite history, and one thousand, five hundred pages of scripture prove that a system of law does not provide forgiveness of sin or a clean conscience. While it seems to be an obvious statement of spiritual reality, the record is that the people of God have had a difficult time grasping the concept. That the Law of Moses was superceded by the Faith of Christ was not easily apprehended by the early church, as established by the controversies recorded in the book of Acts. The books of Romans and Galatians, as well as this book of Hebrews, are in a large measure devoted to establishing the superiority of the system of faith over that of the system of law. While the things of the Law were necessary in providing a physical backdrop, it is the essentials of faith that move man heavenward.

What a blessing it is to be invited into the inner sanctum of heaven itself, to be ushered into the presence of the eternal King, and to be welcomed at the throne! Herein is a test of spirituality: who is better off, the wealthy and powerful merchantman who bestrides the earth like a colossus and is lost, or the humblest slave girl who sleeps behind the millstones and has access to the presence of God?

Hearts Sprinkled, Bodies Washed

Those who are interested in knowing God have always been the ones who come in as close as they can to "where the action is." By contrast, there have always been those who make of pretense of loving God and demonstrating their religiosity, but have no interest in real spirituality or knowing God. "This people draw near with their words," excoriated the Lord through the prophet, "and honor Me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me" (Isaiah 29:13). And the wise Solomon instructed, "Guard your steps as you go to the house of God, and draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools" (Ecclesiastes 5:1). The new covenant saint, then, must count it a great privilege to draw near to God, and to be able to draw near in a spiritual way never offered to anyone in the Old Testament. "Let us draw near," stated Hebrews’ author, because: 1) We are privileged to enter the true holy place by the blood of Jesus; 2) We have a new and living way which Jesus inaugurated for us through His death; and 3) We have a great priest over the house of God. God has extended Himself greatly through Jesus Christ so that we have opportunity to approach His glorious presence!

No one has access to the courts of glory by his own merit, and no one is going to be able to enter there apart from the shed and sprinkled blood of Jesus. It is imperative that the individual be immersed into Christ; at that point his heart is sprinkled clean when his body is washed, and he can now "draw near in full assurance of faith."

Hold Fast the Confession

"Jesus," noted Hebrews’ author, is "the Apostle and High Priest of our confession" (Hebrews 3:1). He proceeded forth from heaven on the special mission of rescuing mankind, provided Himself as the sacrifice, and returned to heaven as the high priest – sprinkling His blood to cleanse heaven, and to engage in His mediatorial reign as intercessor and King. This whole body of belief concerning Jesus and His new covenant is "the confession" — the system of the faith of Christ. The writer of Hebrews also calls this "the new and living way." Because of that new way, and because "we have a great priest over the house of God," we can boldly regard ourselves as in the presence of God by faith, and present our petitions and praises to Him in great confidence.

It is "the confession of our hope" that God wants to exhibit to the world, that others might be drawn to the gospel of glory. For this, the apostles "have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men" (I Corinthians 4:9). For this, the early Christians suffered at the hands of the Jews. For this, they faced the oppression of the Roman government at the close of the New Testament writings. For this, they were cut to pieces in the gladiator rings, and fed to the lions in the presence of thousands in the amphitheaters of the day. For this, they stand as our encouragement today.

Some Stimulation

Even marathon runners need encouragement. When they come in sight of the end of their long run, the adrenalin kicks in and they get a surge of energy to finish. But in the long, lonely miles between the fifth and twenty-sixth, the encouragement of the crowd can be a huge source of strength. This, then, is one of the differences between the Montana Governor’s Cup marathon where there is no one for miles and miles, and the Boston or New York marathons, where the throngs line the way, clapping and cheering the runners onward.

The Christian life is generally like a marathon. There are a few who become Christians just before their earthly death and whose Christian life on earth is like a 100 yard dash, but most faithful followers of Christ are going to have a marathon-like experience in their earthly sojourn. Sometimes there are the lonely, lonely miles of prison time for one of God’s precious saints, or exile such as on the Isle of Patmos. But most of the brethren need some applause along their way to encourage them to press on in the most important "race" of all.

When brethren begin to understand the importance of mutual applause and cheering on the marathon of the Christian life, they begin to understand the importance of their participation in the assemblies of the saints. During trying times, the golden rule is the best way to live: "Just as you want people to treat you, treat them in the same way" (Luke 6:31). Stimulate!

The Assembly of the Saints

There was a time when Jesus entered the house of a Pharisee and did not perform the customary ritual cleansing. Excoriating the Pharisee for his short-sightedness, Jesus remarked, "Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the platter; but inside of you, you are full of robbery and wickedness" (Luke 11:39). Then, as now, many were all about the outward show, but not willing to deal with the inward substance. Then Jesus made this blockbuster, rock-bottom, core statement: "You foolish ones, did not He who made the outside make the inside also?" (Luke 11:40). An important corollary can be drawn here: The same God who made such intricate provisions for the outer man — the precisely balanced gases of the atmosphere for breathing; the delicate balance of nature and provisions for food for man’s body; the hydrologic cycle and water for man’s drinking — has made intricate provisions also for the sustenance of the saints’ inner man. But because they are spiritual in nature, they are not so easily apprehended as those which provide for the outer man.

Because the Jews rejected the Messiah, God destroyed their city. Because the trappings of the Old Covenant stood as a barrier to full acceptance of the New, the Omnipotent destroyed the temple, its priesthood, and its sacrifices. They were "growing old," and had outlived their usefulness. In the same way, the peoples of this earth are in the process of rejecting the Messiah, and God will destroy them. The heavens and earth likewise are becoming "old as a garment"; they have nearly outlived their usefulness and will be "changed" for a new garment, the new heavens and new earth. Christians today, then, are not awaiting the destruction of Jerusalem; they are awaiting the destruction of the earth. We are therefore not to be "forsaking own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more, as you see the day drawing near!"

Hebrews’ Willful Sin

A person could commit a sin in the Old Testament without knowing it. In fact, the offerings presented on the Day of Atonement, according to Hebrews’ author, were "for the sins of the people committed in ignorance" (Hebrews 9:7). This would be something like eating out of an unclean vessel, not knowing it was unclean. But under the terms of the New Covenant, there are no sins of ignorance. Sins are what are often called sins of commission: "Sin is lawlessness," or, as the King James Version put it, "Sin is the transgression of the law" (I John 3:4). Contrasted to the sin of deliberate action, there is also the sin of deliberate inaction, often called the sin of omission: "To one who knows the right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin" (James 4:17). But for the Christian, there is another type of deliberate sin; "Whatever is not from faith," asseverated the apostle Paul, "is sin" (Romans 14:23). A Christian can even do the right thing, but if it is not actuated by the teachings of New Testament faith, it is still sin. The overriding point here is this: all sin under the terms of the New Testament is deliberate, or willful, sin.

The thoughtful saint recognizes what a tremendous price Jesus paid for his sin, and how much work He went through to be the resurrected High Priest, sprinkling the blood of the sacrifice on his behalf. So when the word of God says that the blessings of that sacrifice will be withdrawn — "there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins" — if he fails to assemble, then he makes his commitment to assemble every week, no matter what else is happening!

Fury of Fire

The consequences of God’s Judgment Day are not to be minimized! People laugh about hell, and make jokes about it in order not to deal with its eternal consequences. But it is a real place prepared for the devil and his angels, and the justice of God will require that He throw the disobedient into its lake of fire. Saints of God, by His grace and mercy, are delivered from the consequences of their personal sins. By being immersed into Christ, as repentant individuals who believe in the Biblically revealed truths about Jesus, they have passed from death into life — they have come out of darkness into His marvelous light and are not to come "under judgment." But what about those who willfully forsake the assembly of the saints? What about those who make a habit of absenting themselves from the table of the Lord?

The Lord is committed to the assemblies of the saints. He is the One who ordained them through the teaching first delivered to the apostles. His Supper is the centerpiece of the assembly. His Word is the basis for the preaching. The prayers and praises are addressed to Him. Since, then, the Lord Jesus is the focus of His duly appointed assemblies, anyone who forsakes those assemblies places himself in the position of "adversary" of Christ Himself. And he will face the "fury of a fire" which will indeed consume all such enemies.

No Mercy

It is instructive to see the inspired view of the sons of Israel. When the Lord instituted the Sabbath Day, the people were getting their food as manna on the ground. He directed them therefore to gather double on Friday morning because there wouldn’t be any manna on Saturday morning. But surprise! "And it came about on the seventh day that some of the people went out to gather, but they found none" (Exodus 16:27). "How long do you refuse to keep My commandments and My instructions?" was the Lord’s response. It took God 1000 years to get the Israelites to observe the Sabbath as a regular custom, and that with difficulty. To get the Jews universally to observe the Sabbath required the development of the synagogue as the center of the weekly meeting on Saturdays; in so doing God was setting the stage for the regular meeting of the church on the first day of the week. The Lord is committed to the assembly of the saints!

The old proverb states: familiarity breeds contempt. Too accustomed to the grace of God, it is possible for the new covenant saints to forget the power and judgment of the Awesome God. The writer of Hebrews here brings another warning to the brethren about the importance of the Lord’s assembly. Those in the Old Testament died "without mercy" at the testimony of two or three witnesses; those under the terms of the New Covenant will experience the wrath of God Himself — who needs no witness other than His own — for backing away from the specified appointments of the King.

The Lord’s Supper

It was understood that King David did not want the blind or the lame in his presence. What happened was that the Jebusites who still possessed Jerusalem were so confident that no one could capture their stronghold that they stated that the blind and the lame could turn away any attempt by a foreign army to enter their city. David off-handedly commented that the lame and the blind were hated by his soul in giving instructions as how to take the city. So from that time on they said, "The blind or the lame shall not come into the house" (II Samuel 5:8). Sometime later David wanted to show kindness to Mephibosheth, a son of David’s deeply loved friend Jonathan, for Jonathan’s sake. Mephibosheth, however, was crippled in both feet, and undoubtedly trembling when he was summoned to the presence of him who "hated the blind and the lame," especially as the grandson of the former King Saul. But David told him, "Do not fear, for I will surely show you kindness" (II Samuel 9:7). Mephibosheth was granted honor and "ate at David’s table as one of the king’s sons" (II Samuel 9:11).

The Lord’s Table is indeed highly regarded by the Lord Himself. It cost Him everything to make a way for "dead dogs" to be sanctified by His blood and thus be able to participate in His body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. For the saints to willfully forsake such an assemblage is the highest degree of insult to the great King, and such temporally casual Christians will become eternal casualties!

Remember Former Days

It must not be forgotten that the church began in Jerusalem. And it must not be forgotten that the church hard no more than come into existence than it began to suffer persecution. By the fourth chapter of Acts, Peter and John are on trial and the church needs to pray for boldness. By the close of the fifth chapter, the apostles have been jailed and flogged. In the seventh chapter, Stephen dies as the first martyr for the faith, and by the eighth the persecution is against the whole church, coming directly from the hands of one Saul of Tarsus. As the twelfth chapter opens, the people of Jerusalem have been so hardened against the gospel that the people are pleased when the apostle James is put to death with the sword, and would have welcomed the martyrdom of Peter. So intense was the desire of the Jews to destroy the church in Jerusalem that their efforts were a standard by which later persecutions were measured, as the apostle Paul noted in his comments to the church at Thessalonica: "For you, brethren," he wrote, "became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews, who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out" (
I Thessalonians 2:14,15). The early church was victorious, and the brethren nearly forty years later would need to build on those early successes. The saints, then, were to "remember" those former days of the church. They were to note how the church had survived and grown through the days of Jewish persecution, and to use that as springboard for victorious faith under the Romans.

Great Reward

The purview of God is huge. He allowed, for example, famine to come on the church in Jerusalem so that the Gentile Christians would respond in a generous way, and thus bring the Jewish and Gentile factions of the church closer together. In the same way, He allowed the tumultuous destruction of Jerusalem to be a portion of His great plan to bring the Gentiles into the church in massive numbers. The temple needed to be gone, the sacrifices needed to be gone, the priesthood needed to be gone, and the nation needed to be gone; in that way the trappings of temple worship would no longer be a confusing factor in the direction the church should go. Jerusalem had suffered before its final destruction, however, and the writer of Hebrews continues to use those earlier challenges as a springboard to encourage the saints in preparation for the final throes of Jerusalem’s demise.
There would be a great reward for those first century brethren who successfully maintained their faith through the worst that ever was or ever would be. Secular history records that the church in Jerusalem heeded the warnings of Jesus to flee Jerusalem when they saw the armies of destruction surrounding them, and they migrated to a place called Pella. There they continued to meet on the first day of the week for the breaking of the bread, faithfully maintaining the proclamation of Jesus’ death and resurrection to the world. May we moderns do likewise and claim our great reward at the Lord’s coming!

Need of Endurance

God has never promised His children of faith that earthly life would be a cakewalk. "And if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved," quoted Peter, "what will become of the godless man and the sinner?" (
I Peter 4:18). Thus Christians of all ages need to be able to imitate the example of the successful brethren of Jerusalem, heeding the same types of instruction given them. And the writer of the Hebrews epistle is concerned about the brethren in Jerusalem; he earnestly desires that they survive the coming persecution, endure the shift away from the physical elements of the Law such as the temple, and move positively to embrace fully the spiritual truths of the faith of Christ. "Do not throw away your confidence," he encourages, "which has great reward." The modern Christian would do well to note the concern for those first century brethren, and govern his spiritual life accordingly. "You have need of endurance," the writer stated. It would the development of the faith of the Hebrew brethren which would produce that endurance. By keeping their focus on Jesus the Apostle and High Priest of the confession, and seeing Him who is unseen on the throne of glory, the brethren would be able endure the horrible suffering, death, and destruction of the Roman disturbance. When they finally breathed their last, they would victoriously receive the praises of Him who took pleasure in them, declared righteous because of maintaining their faith!

What is Faith?

People have faith in many things. They have faith that the sun will come up in the morning, and that the lost dog will be found. The past track record is that the sun will come up in the morning, but past history is not so conclusive that the dog will be found. But when the Bible talks about faith, it is talking about a direction in life based upon a set of revealed truths about the realm of the unseen. "Now faith," says Hebrews’ author, "is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen" (Hebrews 11:1). Since "the righteous will live by faith," and the unrighteous therefore perish through lack of faith, this statement in Hebrews about what faith is, is certainly worth unpackaging.

We, notes the author of the Hebrew epistle, "have faith to the preserving of the soul." We are so convicted of the truthfulness that Jesus is risen to the position power at the right hand of the Majesty on high that we will continue to participate in the assemblies of the church, continue to live out the moral principles in our personal lives, and continue to propagate the faith once and for all delivered. Even if the Roman army destroys our land!

Gaining God’s Approval

The faith revealed in the writings of the New Testament is ultimately sublime and spiritual. Because it is the culmination of the revelation of God, it is more intangible and seemingly ethereal than the more physically-directed faith of those in the earlier portions of God successive revelation to man. Abraham, for example, was blessed by God, and he was rich and a prince among the peoples of his day. Paul, by contrast, although more blessed of God than Abraham, was not rich nor a prince among the peoples. "To this present hour," he said, "we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless" (
I Corinthians 4:11). God had to begin with the more physical things connected with the results of faith, as in Abraham’s case, to lay the foundation for the faith of men like Paul, whose rewards were spiritual and heavenly directed. The faith, then, of the Old Testament saints is instructive for those of us upon whom the ends of the ages have come, that we might build upon theirs and be exponents of the great faith of the New Testament. The brethren from among the ranks of the Hebrews were going to have to maintain their faith in Christ regardless of what tribulation came their way. "My righteous one shall live by faith," was God’s statement even from the Old Testament. "We," then, as the Hebrew Christians of the first century, "are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul." This is how we gain God’s approval!

Creation to Enoch

Faith, from the Bible’s perspective, is believing what the Bible tells you to believe. The writer of the Hebrew epistle laid the groundwork for his exhortations on faith in the opening words of the letter, referring to what God has spoken. "God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways," was his first clause, "in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world" (
Hebrews 1:1,2). "The men of old," who gained the approval of God were those who listened to what God had spoken, and then governed their actions accordingly. Correspondingly, then, the men of the new covenant are going to listen to what God has spoken through Jesus Christ, and govern themselves accordingly. The realm of faith obviously is a realm where great things are accomplished. In the realm of faith the universe was created, Abel still speaks though dead, and Enoch never tasted death! This, then, is the realm where the truly intelligent live and invest.

Noah and the Flood

By the time of Noah, faith was almost nonexistent upon the earth. "Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth," is Moses’ recounting, "and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (
Genesis 6:5). Mankind had degenerated quickly from the time of Adam; of an estimated two billion people on this corrupted earth, only Noah and his family "found favor in the eyes of the Lord" (Genesis 6:8). "The end of all flesh has come before Me," the Lord informed the faithful patriarch, "for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth" (Genesis 6:13). Noah was then given instructions to build the ark of gopher wood 300 cubits by 50 cubits by thirty cubits (at least 450’x75’x45’). After 120 years of construction on the ark, and calling the people to repentance, Noah and his wife and his three sons and their wives entered the completed ark. After they and the animals in whose nostrils was the breath of life had entered in, God closed the door of the giant ship. Seven days later the rain began to fall, the floodgates of the deep opened, and the massive flood waters covered the entire surface of the planet. The old earth was destroyed in the immersion, and a new earth with a new beginning emerged from the subsiding waters. Noah and his family and the animals, having spent a year and seventeen days in the ark, stepped out on Mt. Ararat and found their way down the mountain, eventually forming the first post-flood civilization in the Tigris and Euphrates river valley. Mankind as a whole has a hard time understanding that the basis on which God judges each individual is whether he has faith as it is revealed in God’s word. In Noah’s case, because he believed in God’s warning about the judgment in the Flood and subsequently constructed the ark, God declared him to be righteous. He is recommended to us as an example, so that we would be those who would follow the revealed faith of the New Testament. In Noah’s case, it was the Flood that was to come. In the case of the Hebrew Christians, it was the Roman who was to come. In our case, it is the "new world order" that is to come. "For yet in a very little while, he who is coming will come, and will not delay. By My righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him."

Overall Look at Abraham

Abraham, patriarch of Israel and father of the faithful in Christ, was truly a great man of faith. He is featured in the teachings of Jesus, exhibited as an example in the argumentations of Paul and James, and serves as a point of reference in the Hebrew epistle. He is, in the words of Paul, "the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised" (
Romans 4:12). He also "received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness which he had while uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be reckoned to them" (Romans 4:11). Whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, "if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise" (Galatians 3:29). Brethren in Christ, therefore, are "of the faith of Abraham"; Abraham’s faith is worth examining! "Abraham believed God," was the way Paul quoted the Old Testament, "and it was reckoned to him as righteousness" (Romans 4:3). Abraham believed God … What awesome words these are! This was the one man out of the world’s entire population that God could count on! And the entire plan of God hinged on Abraham’s desire to walk in faith, Abraham’s desire to please Him. The plan worked.

Sarah, Mother of Isaac

The women of faith are regarded as important as the men of faith in the Bible. They are generally not as high profile as the men, but their faith, their commitment, and their ministrations all figure significantly into the forward movement of the plan of God. Hence, as the writer of Hebrews begins his list, Sarah — beloved and faithful wife of Abraham — takes her place in the great Hall of Fame of Faith!

God took Eve out of Adam’s side as a "helper suitable for him" (Genesis 2:18). This creativeness of God is astounding when it is carefully considered. For woman, with all her emotions and relationship interests, is the perfect complement of man, with all his lacking thereof. She is as intelligent as he, she can walk and work alongside him, and, when both are properly directed, she can be as interested in the things of God as he. Such a woman was Sarah. This half-sister and wife of the patriarch was outstandingly beautiful well into her 60’s, she willingly left her home and relatives to sojourn with him, and she endured all the trials and travels he encountered as his faithful and encouraging companion.

God’s goal is to produce faith in Christ in the willing heart of any member of the human race. But the story of Christ is not going to be believable apart from the record of the faith of Abraham and Sarah. It is interesting how God squeezed His whole plan down to being funneled through one man and one woman. If Abraham does not believe, and if Sarah does not have faith to conceive, then Isaac is not born. And if Isaac is not born, then the promises of God that Abraham’s descendants would be from many nations and innumerable as the sand of the seashore come to naught. But God knew the character of His special man and His special woman, and thus His plan moved on toward ultimate victory!

Strangers and Exiles

This world has always been hostile toward God. "The whole world," adverted the apostle John, "lies in the power of the evil one" (
I John 5:19). From the time that Adam and Eve first sinned, the wicked Satan, adversary of God, has held sway in the hearts of men. "He was a murderer from the beginning," is Jesus’ commentary, "and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature; for he is a liar, and the father of lies" (John 8:44). The world, then, consisting of the effects of the hearts of unbelievers, is full of lies and destruction, and is hostile toward God and God’s people. Hence it is that the true people of God have never been comfortable in this world; they are here on a pilgrimage, and their desire is to get to their true heavenly home. The Hebrew Christians were about ready to undergo massive upheaval. They themselves, for the most part, would heed the prophetic warnings of Jesus concerning the Roman destruction of Jerusalem, and would emigrate to a town called Pella. They would witness the near destruction of the nation of Israel, they would note the leveling of the temple, they would be cognizant of the elimination of the priesthood of the order of Aaron, and they would be aware of the concomitant cessation of the sacrifices. Seeing, then, the collapse of the Jewish system that had been the structure of their lives would be a huge challenge to their faith. The pressure from the various branches of the Jewish fanaticism that developed would have been intense, and the presence of the Roman legions would have heightened the tension in the local atmosphere. These brave men and women who maintained their faith firm until the end would indeed also have "confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth." And as this modern world plunges deeper into its darkness, Christians of today will need to make that same confession!

Desiring a Better Country

The ridges and valleys of the land known as Israel or Palestine is not the true promised land. God had spoken to Abraham, saying, "To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates" (
Genesis 15:18). There are elements of the promises made to Abraham that were fulfilled in the physical sense, but God uses the physical to get to the spiritual. As far as the physical side of the promise to Abraham’s descendants, it is recorded: "Not one of the good promises which the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed; all came to pass" (Joshua 21:45). What remained to be mopped up in the promised land, accomplished "little by little," was completed in the days of David. The apostle Paul stated, in the synagogue at Antioch of Pisidia, "And when He had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, He distributed their land as an inheritance—all of which took about four hundred and fifty years" (Acts 13:17). But the physical land was not the ultimate fulfillment of the good promises which the mouth of the Lord had spoken. The true promised land is not the land originally occupied by the Kenite, the Kenizzite, the Kadmonite, the Hittite, the Amorite, etc. The true land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the spiritual promised land of heaven itself, a land to be possessed by the true descendants of Abraham. But each inheritor will, like the faithful men of old, confess that he too is a stranger and an exile upon this earth, and will seek for the heavenly country. Then, like his spiritual forbears, God will not be ashamed to be called his God!

Offering Isaac

Faith, to be truly Biblical faith, must be tested. The test, in many cases, will be a hard challenge; how else would "great faith" be exhibited! The Bible is laden with examples of men and women of great faith, a partial recounting of the men and women of the Old Testament being presented in this portion of the book of Hebrews. Jesus Himself, the One who has inherited a more excellent name than angels, faced the ultimate test of faith. Being "made like His brethren in all things," He faced all the temptations that come with having to live in a fleshly body, human in all respects. "In the days of His flesh," it is then written, He prayed earnestly to Him who was able to bring Him forth "safely out of death"; He Himself had faced the ultimate test of faith, trusting that His resurrection would occur. The tests of faith of lesser men and women are recorded, and their examples are also encouraging. Hence the testing of Abraham’s faith is presented.

Abraham obeyed the command of God, successfully passing the test of his faith. The Hebrew Christians, facing the onslaught of Roman order, would need lots of faith to pass their test. Modern Christians, facing the onslaught of the New World Order, will need lots of faith to pass their test. Press on!

More from the Patriarchs

Faith has a forward look. The great examples of faith "are seeking," said the writer, "a country of their own." They are described, in regard to the promises of God, "as having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance." Noah, looking forward, built the ark. Abraham, looking forward, left his country and followed God into a new land and new life. Sarah, looking forward, had faith to conceive at a very old age. Abraham, looking forward, was even willing to offer Isaac as a burnt offering, believing that God would be able to raise him from the dead and thus carry out the future promises through Isaac. The record of the faith of the other patriarchs also shows that same forward look.
These patriarchs were men of faith who were courageously willing to demonstrate that faith by publicly giving their blessings and instructions. God worked with them, giving them the inspiration for the blessings and instructions, and executing those promises hundreds of years later. Joseph’s mummy, for example, stood amongst Israel for more than three hundred years as a reminder that the children of Israel would someday return to the physical land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Thus faith was developed among those who were interested in Israel as they saw the hand of God carry out those promises. The forward look expanded to more people, and God’s plan moved on!

The Faith of Moses

Moses was a great man of faith, and he came from a family of faith. In ways known to God but outside the boundaries of man’s brainpower, the Omniscient was able to select Moses from before his birth and prepare him for the great task of leading God’s people out of Egypt. In the words of Stephen, first martyr for the faith, "Moses was educated in all the learning of the Egyptians, and he was a man of power in words and deeds" (
Acts 7:22). Thrust into the desert for forty years, he was thus prepared to be the deliverer of Israel from the oppression of Pharaoh. He was the law-giver, presenting the Law of God to the children of Jacob — his face shining in reflection of the Shekinah glory Moses encountered in the holy of holies in the tent of meeting. He was the foundational priest, the one who offered the first sacrifices of intercession for the Hebrews, and the basis for the Law. He was the covenant maker, "sprinkling both the book itself and all the people, saying, ‘This is the blood of the covenant which God commanded you.’ " (Hebrews 9:19,20). His faith, then, is worth examining as an example to the Hebrew Christians and their modern counterparts. Moses was truly an amazing man of faith! He set aside earthly perquisites, accepting instead the privation of the desert and the frustration of guiding God’s people. He was able to focus beyond earth and its fleeting moments of fleshly gratification. He was able to see that even the reproach of Christ — not to speak of the reward of Jesus’ accolades — was of greater value than anything earth could offer.

Moses’ Picture

Throughout the ages, those of faith are those who listen to the instruction of God. They then set their priorities and make their decisions accordingly. Such a man was Moses. Although reared in the palaces of Egypt, and adopted as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, Moses had at hand his birth mother who as his nurse was able to implant a powerful picture in the boy’s mind. Jochebed was marked out as a great woman of faith herself, and it would not be unusual for such a mother to have high hopes and great expectations for a son who so obviously had the hand of God upon him. At the age of forty, then, it entered Moses’ mind to visit his people, the sons of Israel. And having made his stand to be counted with Israel rather than with Egypt in putting to death the Egyptian slave driver, Moses again joined his brethren. Stephen, first martyr for the faith, recounts: "And he [Moses] supposed that his brethren understood that God was granting them deliverance through him, but they did not understand" (
Acts 7:25). At the age of forty, forty years before the actual deliverance began, Moses had the faith picture of himself as being the one to bring Israel out of Egypt!

Moses’ picture that he would deliver Israel from the Egyptians was still intact. It is easy to see, however, that his faith was really challenged in many ways, even in the process of getting the people started out of Egypt, much less what it would take to get them to the Promised Land.

Producing Israel’s Faith

If Moses alone had faith, God’s purpose would not have been served. God’s goal was to use Moses as a point man to extend the knowledge of God to a larger portion of mankind and drive the promoters of idolatry backward. The writer of Hebrews, then, recounts the development of faith, beginning with that of the patriarchs. Abel is listed, followed by Enoch and Noah, bringing the record of the survival of faith in God through the Flood. Abraham and Sarah are noted, along with Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, tracing the lineage of faith residing in these ancestors of the Israelites. By the time of Moses, this special people counted in the millions, and the potential for the number of those who believed in the one true God increased greatly. By the wonders God performed through Moses in the land of Zoan, the gods worshiped by those Egyptians were exposed as frauds, and the kernel of true faith in Israel increased. The writer of the Hebrew epistle, therefore, after noting the greatness of Moses’ faith, goes on to comment on the next phases of the development and extension of this faith in the one true God.
With this early base now established in Israel, the All Wise could begin to extend the knowledge of Him and His ways to the world, and set the stage for the coming of Jesus into the world. Fourteen hundred years of Israelite history and over a thousand pages of inspired record are to follow this initial thrust, expanding the knowledge of God and increasing the basis for faith among the peoples of the world. And "when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son" (Galatians 4:4).

Great Men of Faith

"The righteous shall live by faith," Paul was wont to quote Habakkuk. Because God does not desire the death of the wicked, but earnestly desires that the righteous live, He lays out a scriptural education that will produce faith in the honest inquirer. Hence it is that the exploits of the faithful are exhibited in His holy word, along with the demise of the faithless, that the reader may learn and take heed. In the first section of Hebrews chapter eleven, the faith of the patriarchs, Moses, Israel under the leadership of Moses and Joshua, and Rahab the Gentile harlot are placed on exhibition to encourage the readers. The writer would like to recount once again all the history recorded in the Old Testament writings, but this would overtax the readership. Thus the author is content to summarize. "What more shall I say?" queries the author. "For time will fail me …" (
Hebrews 11:32). Earthly rewards did not always come to these great men and women of faith. But their exploits are positively exhibited in God’s great Hall of Faith; their accomplishments beckon the Christian to move forward in his faith, and do even greater things for the glory of God through the name of Jesus Christ!

Faith in Action

Because the first covenant was a physical covenant, the victories of faith were often accomplished in the visible realm. This was necessary, in the economy of God, because man is physical, and has to understand the physical before the spiritual makes any sense to him. Again, the principle is stated by the apostle Paul in his instruction on the resurrection from the dead: "However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual (
I Corinthians 15:46). Hence the writer of Hebrews is going to give a summary list of some of the great physical types of victories of people of faith in the Old Testament, to encourage the brethren of New Testament times to pursue their victories in the unseen spiritual realm.

These great men and women of faith were not passive; they put their faith into action. It is easy to say, "I believe." It is another to lay that faith on the line and engage in action, not knowing the outcome. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego stand as great examples. Threatened to be cast into the fiery furnace if they failed to bow to Nebuchadnezzar’s image they replied, "Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up" (Daniel 3:17,18). This is faith in action; they were going to worship God alone regardless of earthly cost. And God honored them!

Earthly Challenges to Faith

Just because a person has true faith in God does not mean that his earthly life is going to be without challenges. In fact, if a person is immersed into Christ because he thinks it will make his life have less challenges, he has the wrong motivation. An individual needs to become of follower of Christ because the message is true, and be willing to propagate that message regardless of personal cost. This is faith! In fact, it is the great faith that God has been looking to produce from the foundation of the world.

There were men and women in Israel who possessed the forerunner of this New Testament faith. Some, because the old covenant was a physical covenant for a physical people, looked to accomplishments of faith in the physical realm. David did kill Goliath, for example, and cut off the giant’s head with the giant’s sword. But there were others who looked beyond this life for any recognition of their stand for the truths of God.

These were truly the men "of whom the world was not worthy." They stand as our shining examples of those who would hold to their picture of faith, even to the death if necessary. The saints in Jerusalem, facing the onslaught of Roman destruction, needed to draw courage from their examples, as do their modern counterparts of faith!

The Promise

"For truly I say to you," affirmed Jesus, "that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see and did not see it; and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it" (
Matthew 13:17). In a similar statement, He noted that many "kings" as well had the same desire (Luke 10:24). Those who are truly spiritually inclined have always been those who looked for the great things God has done in the spiritual realm rather than focusing on the physical. The raising of Jesus from the dead, for example, was a much more powerful event than the Israelites’ crossing the Red Sea. Forgiveness of sins is much more important than deliverance from the Philistines. And the promised indwelling Spirit is the most awesome of all gifts, far surpassing the possession of the Promised Land. The spiritual greats of the Old Testament would really liked to have known much more about such a promise.

The writer’s point is intended to be a very encouraging one: if those men and women of the Old Testament accomplished what they did without the indwelling Holy Spirit, how much greater victories can be won by those who are empowered by the Spirit of God within! Yes, indeed; those prophets and righteous men and kings would gladly trade places with those august personages, the truly spiritually great people of the new covenant!

Apart from Us

Some "women received back their dead by resurrection," was a summary point of Hebrews’ author. But this resurrection to walk again on earth was only temporary; the grave would call again in each of those cases. Those resurrections, however, were very important in that they laid the groundwork for belief in a permanent resurrection from the dead on the last day. "Others were tortured," continues the record, "not accepting their release, in order that they might obtain a better resurrection." They had faith in God and hope for their eternal redemption, having listened to the messages God was delivering to the fathers through the prophets in many portions and in many ways.

God is really so awesome! Those saints of the new covenant need the recorded faith of the Old Testament children of God, and those of the Old Testament need to be joined with the great people of new testament faith. When Jesus comes back, He is coming for the His bride, the church. By the provision of God, those faithful servants of the age of the patriarchs and of the Law of Moses will be "thrown in" and be a part of the bride. Praise God for His magnificent plan, and His ability to not lose any of the faithful along the way!

Faith’s Marathon

If those of the Old Testament "experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment," what about the brethren of New Testament times? The congregation in Jerusalem, they were exhorted to remember, had undergone severe persecution in its early days. "But Saul began ravaging the church," records the historian Luke, "entering house after house; and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison" (
Acts 8:3). Later this same Saul was reported as "still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord" (Acts 9:1). The congregation therefore, in an earlier generation than that of the book of Hebrews, had been tested in matters of faith even more so than the Old Testament saints. But writer is concerned about the future persecution coming in connection with the Romans. "For yet in a very little while," the author had noted, "he who is coming will come, and will not delay." His goal, then, is to use the perseverance and faith of the Old Testament greats as a motivational springboard to encourage the brethren in the face of the severe destruction about to break loose in Judea. These men and women of the Old Covenant times were not indwelt by the Holy Spirit; what can these of the New Covenant successfully endure as the people upon whom the ends of the ages had come!

The Christian life is run of endurance; even an extra ounce wears the runner out and hinders him from finishing the race. But hearing the cheers of that great cloud of witnesses who have gone on before, and shedding the sins and other hindrances, the Hebrew Christians were to run on and on, keeping their faith through the Roman destruction. May we in the twenty-first century go and do likewise!

All Eyes on Jesus

It is an honor for a band to be selected to march in the Rose Parade. It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for a group to perform at the White House. Because of the high profile venue, the performers are going to put on their best show and watch to see if the key people in the audience, such as the President, are pleased. How much more, then, is the Christian privileged to be able to execute his responsibilities in the presence of the great King — Jesus, Lord of all!

As the saint runs his race, then, he is conscious that every step is taken in front of the "box seat" of the Lord. In most earthly marathons, by contrast, there are many miles of lonely road, where there the audience is sparse or nonexistent. But the spiritual marathon is run in the continual presence of Christ who encourages or applauds the runner on his way.

Those who live by faith will thus be those who maintain a consciousness of Jesus in the glory of His Majesty, fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah, "Your eyes will see the King in His beauty" (Isaiah 33:17). Whatever they do in word or deed will be done in an awareness of the watchful and hopeful eyes of the King, knowing that what they do is "in His name," and therefore reflects on His reputation among men. Their praises and thanksgivings will consciously ascend to His throne. They will zealously seek and save the lost, realizing clearly that was His purpose in leaving His glory for earth in the first place. And they will be willing to endure privation and persecution from a hostile world, following in the footsteps of Him who suffered first for man, knowing He would be glorified later. All eyes of God’s people are focused on the King!

Joy Set before Him

"Glorify Me," said Jesus in His prayer to the Father, "with the glory which I had with You before the world was" (
John 17:5). Jesus did not have to come to earth to receive glory; He had the glory before the world was. So there was something else going on besides the simple glorification of Jesus.

There is an interesting note by the apostle John in his gospel account as he records the events leading up to the Passover meal and the "Last Supper." "Now before the feast of Passover," is the annotation, "Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He should depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end" (John 13:1). Ultimately, the existence of this Creation and the existence of man are all about God’s desire to communicate the truth that "God is love" (I John 4:8). He created the angels (including the one who became Satan), He created Adam and Eve, and He created the tree of the knowledge of good and evil so that man would have choice. In rescuing man, easily beset by sin, from the clutches of sin and Satan through Jesus Christ, God can demonstrate to angels and to men that He really is LOVE!

Saints are encouraged to run their own races with endurance, fixing their eyes on Jesus. His example is awesome; He has endured the cross, "and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:2). And what motivated the Lord to go through such horrific suffering victoriously will also be the key motivation for the brethren of Jesus also. Not only will the upward call of their own resurrections motivate; not only will the reward of sitting with Jesus on His throne "charge up"; but also the bringing of many souls to glory will provide the ultimate impetus for the brethren to press on to ultimate victory. "For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation?" asked the apostle Paul. "Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming?" (I Thessalonians 2:19).

Overcoming Hostility

It is a surprise when the good news of Christ is greeted with hostility. In the night in which He was betrayed, Jesus tried to warn the apostles of the challenges that would face them following His resurrection. The significance of His words did not register at the time, but He knew they would be preserved by the Holy Spirit for the future edification and motivation, not only of the apostles but for all who would later come. "If you were of the world," He informed them, "the world would love its own; but because I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you" (
John 15:19). He also added, "If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you" (John 15:20). But it still is a bit of a surprise when the good news of Christ is greeted with hostility.

Christians then were not to be discouraged, not to lose heart. Christians now are not to be discouraged. Christians then were not to grow weary. Christians now are not to grow weary. Let us then "gain new strength." Let us "mount up with wings like eagles, run and not get tired, walk and not become weary!"

Striving against Sin

Most Christians would like to lead a quiet life, raising gardens and kids, having things go reasonably smoothly, and then checking out of earthly life quietly. That, of course, is wanting to have Paradise on earth. But this world is in rebellion against God, and the forces of darkness never rest in their unrelenting war against God, against the welfare of the human race as a whole, and against Christians in particular. Hence it is that the Lord Jesus, recognizing the how the course of events transpire, made His sweeping statement, "Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword" (
Matthew 10:34). It is not that the Lord Himself wanted the warfare, but that He knew the hostility the proclamation and propagation of His gospel by His people would engender.

Pointing to the time of Jerusalem’s demise, the Lord had prophesied, "And because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold" (Matthew 24:12). The Christians would strongly need to overcome this downward pressure, resisting even to the point of having their own blood shed as they strove exhibit God’s love and call the people surrounding them to repentance.

The Discipline of the Lord

Jesus Himself, affirmed Hebrews’ author, "learned obedience from the things which He suffered." Like it or not, the faithful follower of Christ will also learn obedience through suffering. "For you have been called for this purpose," superadded Peter, "since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps" (
I Peter 2:21). The tribulation that was coming upon Judea, executed by God through the Roman army, would leave devastation and desolation in its wake. "Unless," said the Christ Himself, "those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect, those days shall be cut short" (Matthew 24:24). The "elect" would have God’s protective hand upon each of them; the amount and type of suffering that each was to endure would somehow be exactly what each saint needed for his own personal growth and perfection of his character.

Faith that endures the challenges of life — the persecutions, the sufferings, the difficulties, the personality problems — is the tested faith that is more precious than gold. This is what God desires to produce in His children through His word and through His discipline. That is why it is evident that whom the Lord loves, He disciplines!

Subject to the Father of Spirits

Spare the rod, and spoil the child! The American proverb, of course, is taken from the Old Testament: "He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently" (
Proverbs 13:24). The Biblical basis for discipline is obviously love, and a loving parent is not going to wield the rod indiscriminately or out of uncontrolled anger. Parents who have a Christian perspective think in terms of training their children, and use a combination of praise, positive instruction, and — if necessary — corporal punishment. "The rod and reproof give wisdom," is another of Solomon’s pearls, "but a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother" (Proverbs 29:15). A rod without reproof just produces anger and exasperation, but a rod in the proper setting drives foolishness out of the heart of the child.

The movers and shakers behind the destruction of Western Civilization have an agenda of eliminating corporal punishment. Their goal is to produce anarchy through a generation of unruly, undisciplined young people in order to establish the necessary tyranny which of necessity follows such anarchy. Thus it is that Paul writes to Timothy, noting that "in the last days difficult times will come," bringing out as one the characteristics of such an age that children would be "disobedient to parents" (II Timothy 3:1,2). The ultimate goal of Satan, the ultimate mover and shaker in the realm of darkness, is to produce a people who will not accept the rod and reproof of the Almighty Himself.

Earthly fathers help their children through difficulties and challenges, and applaud them in their triumphs. Even though in the midst of the lessons the children might feel their fathers are "picking on them," in the end they respect their dads for pushing them through and training them up properly. In the same way children of the Lord can respect and reverence the heavenly Father, and give Him praise through the trials tailored for their learning and spiritual development. They are thus joyfully "subject to the Father of spirits," and because of the disciplined character He produced, they will live eternally!

God’s Training Program

The athlete who won’t practice won’t perform at his best on game day. Both mind and body have to be trained and trained and trained so that the individual can "get into the zone" when he is called upon to step forth and make the big plays for his team or make the major push if it’s a solo sport. Hence it is that teams and track stars need coaches. The coach can guide, correct, teach, and push the athletes to the next level. Christians likewise need a coach to help them accomplish the same things in the race that is set before them. The guidance, correction, teaching, training, and pushing of the spiritual athletes come from a very special coach; His name is "the Father of spirits"!

One of the most challenging aspects of the Lord’s discipline is the means by which it comes to the faithful follower of Christ. Just as the Lord blesses through people and circumstances, He also disciplines through people and circumstances. One of the major purposes of this epistle to the Hebrew brethren was to encourage them to remain faithful and productive to the kingdom throughout the time of the upcoming Roman onslaught. The Lord, then, would be disciplining each of His children through the people around them, through the Romans themselves, and through the concomitant circumstances. In this they were to rejoice; and we too are to follow their example. Discipline and disciple are words that just possibly might be related!

Strengthen and Straighten

"Man up!" is the exhortation. When the challenges have come, and the difficulties are descending, the Lord expects His children to do their part in stepping up and meeting their responsibilities. "No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man," is His explanation through Paul, "and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it" (
I Corinthians 10:13). Whatever the Hebrew brethren were about to undergo was not going to overwhelming for them; whatever temptations there would be to forsake the faith would be something that each of the brethren could overcome with God’s help, or that the Father Himself would have an opening for them to duck through. They were also to understand that if they were still physically alive when the onslaught by the Roman army began, it was because the Lord was providing discipline for the strengthening of their faith. "All discipline," the writer reminded them, "for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness." Thus there was a mind-set that the brethren were to be developing — a mind-set that they would be able successfully to go through anything that was coming upon their land. "We are overcomers," they would have to say to themselves. "Through Christ we are more than conquerors!"

The "straight" life is a life where there is discipline and order. The Christian living this life is one who is capable of planning ahead, having his finances in shape, his family in training, and moving forward spiritually. The Christian who has not yet arrived to this point is exhorted to work on these things; if he does so, many other things in his life will fit into place — the limb that is lame will not be put out of joint but will be healed. And in the body of Christ, the stronger members are to encourage their brethren along this "way," strengthening and straightening, that the blessings of God might be manifest. And this would be true, even during the Roman — or modern — tribulation!

What to Chase

People in general are "chasing" a lot of things. Men are chasing women; women want certain men to chase after them. Most are chasing earthly dreams — land, wealth, fame, power, security, a home. They have not yet learned what Solomon learned; it is vanity. "I have seen everything during my lifetime of futility," adverted the sage (
Ecclesiastes 7:15). The man who had everything, who tried everything … did he find happiness in any of his pursuits? "So I hated life," he said, "for the work which had been done under the sun was grievous to me; because everything is futility and striving after wind" (Ecclesiastes 2:17). A new home, a new car, a new girlfriend or guy friend, a new baby, a vacation, or a new project are all the types of things people try in order to find happiness and purpose; and just like the base of the rainbow is just out of reach, in the same way happiness is out of reach for people who pursue it in this way.

So what sort of things should the Christian be chasing after? What advice could be given to the saints of Jerusalem, about to experience the "abomination of desolation," the Roman army sweeping through Judea? How should they direct their steps in their walk during the few remaining years of their earthly sojourn?

It is the earnest desire of the Holy Spirit that brethren be peace-seeking and holy in their behavior regardless of the difficulty of external circumstances. The "great tribulation," the worst that ever was or ever would be, would certainly offer an excuse for not pursuing peace with all men, or not pursuing sanctification, if ever such an excuse were available. Christians therefore need to chase after peace. And they need to chase after sanctification. Or they won’t see the Lord!

Falling Short of Grace

The grace of God is big, and it will cover nearly everything. But "nearly everything" is not the same as "everything," and it is possible to fall short of His grace, even as a Christian. Now it is important to understand that God has a careful balance that He must maintain here; God’s grace must be sufficient to cover anything that a struggling new convert might be dealing with as he strives to overcome his past, yet have the type of boundaries tied to faith in such a way that the saint would not try to take advantage of God’s goodness. The "battered reed" must not be broken off, and the "smoldering wick" must not be put out. Should the saint, however, "continue in sin that grace might increase?" The answer, of course, is: "May it never be!" (
Romans 6:1,2). Hence it is that God works hard through His written word to produce a mind set in His disciples that they are honest with Him, and that they are striving with all spiritual effort to become like Christ.

The Christian life is rightly called "the good fight of faith." The modern saint, therefore, seeing the parallels between the circumstances which confronted the Hebrew brethren of the first century and those of our current times, can draw upon the lessons to be learned by those saints. He can encourage his modern brethren to stay within the grace of God, and to eliminate the anger and frustration which leads to bitterness. Encourage one another, then, "and all the more, as you see the day drawing near!"

Selling the Birthright

One of the great challenges of life is having the spiritual judgment to see those things which have the highest value. "But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God," commented the apostle Paul, "for they are foolishness to him." The problem here is not the ability of the individual to understand the words of God; the problem is the focus of the descendant of Adam. When man puts his attention on the physical realm, then the things of the truly spiritual realm are foolishness to him. Why, for instance, would a person contribute ten percent of his take-home to the Lord, when that money could be put to good use elsewhere? To a "natural man," it is foolish to invest in the spiritual realm. "He cannot understand" the revealed truths of the Spirit of God "because they are spiritually appraised" (
I Corinthians 2:14). Once again, it is not because he lacks the capacity; it is because he lacks the interest. His system of appraisal — of putting value on things — is wrong. He puts no value on whether he goes to heaven or hell, but he is intensely concerned about improving his golf game, his bottom line, or his social standing in the community. Such a man was Esau.

Would the Hebrew brethren, then, sell their "birthrights" as those born again to a living hope, as those inducted into the family of God and fellow heirs with Christ? And what about modern Christians? Will they sell those same birthrights in exchange for earthly survival? Will they cave into the demands of the onrushing "new world order," or will they maintain the faith "once and for all delivered," accepting their earthly deaths, if necessary, rather than compromising the truth and commitments of the gospel of Jesus?

Loss of the Blessing

First the sacrifice, then the reward! Expressing this truth are words attributed to William Penn: "No thorns, no throne/No pain, no palm/No cross, no crown/No gall, no glory." Penn, of course, was referring to our Lord Jesus Christ as the inspiration of these thoughts, drawing from the events leading up to His crucifixion and culminating in His exaltation. If then the followers of Christ will take up their respective crosses and deny themselves, they will be rewarded, standing before the Lord in glory — clothed in white robes and with palm branches in their hands (
Revelation 7:9). "If anyone serves Me," were the words of the Master, "let him follow Me; and where I am, there shall My servant also be; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him" (John 12:26).

But what is it going to take to receive that reward? "To him who overcomes …" said Jesus repeatedly in His apocalyptic presentation (Revelation 2:7). Not only must the Christian, in the words of the apostle Paul, "fight the good fight," but he must also "finish the course," and "keep the faith" (II Timothy 4:7).

The author of Hebrews is recording the lesson from Esau to communicate to his contemporaries the importance of their faithful decisions in the upcoming critical moments. For each of them, there was the possibility that they would make a decision based on the flesh and cave in to doing things the easy way rather than the right way. They were about to be reminded that while Esau was before the Law, and that the Israelites received the Law at the base of the quaking Sinai, they themselves had come to the true mountain of God, the spiritual Mt. Zion. Hence they had much more reason to make the spiritual decision in the moment of opportunity!

The lesson also stands for us: when the moment of spiritual opportunity is presented, seize the day!

Spectacle of Sinai

God, the great communicator in the sky, uses examples in the physical realm as the basis for His great spiritual truths of the new covenant. The spectacle of a wall’s falling on thousands of the enemy, the image of swarms of hornets chasing hordes of the hostile host, and the picture of the forest’s devouring David’s enemies are all designed to help us understand the power of God in the unseen realm, to apprehend the nature of the spiritual warfare against unseen forces of darkness. Hence, in the consideration of the two covenants, a graphic introduction of the physical covenant sets the stage for a spiritual introduction of the spiritual covenant. The physical covenant failed to produce a people who could keep it; the nation Israel lapsed into idolatry and collapsed under the onslaught of their enemies. But the truly spiritual people that arose under the terms of the new covenant would be capable of victoriously maintaining their faith through the worst that had ever happened to Israel according to the flesh.

While the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and without that fear there is no beginning, such fear does not sustain the individual’s commitment to God and His principles. Thus Israel’s fear ended in failure. Not so, however, for the saints of the new and better covenant. "You," affirmed the author, "have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God." This new covenant, while having the ingredients for the proper respect of God, begins in compassion and ends in victory! Which covenant, then, will you choose?

The March to Zion

One of the great themes of the scripture is centered upon "Zion." Zion was the name of a land formation protruding down between the Kidron and Tyropoeon Valleys, and its meaning is derived from a Hebrew root word having to do with dryness. Because of the cliff-like walls on its south, east, and west sides, and because the spring Gihon was located there as the only readily available water, Zion became the "fortress" home of the Jebusites. Although Joshua had originally driven the Jebusites — one of the pagan Canaanite tribes — out of Zion, they crept back in, and the Israelites were unable to dislodge them from their fortress home until David captured the city early in his reign as king. David made Zion his capital, and the larger city that grew around the original fortress area was called Jerusalem. Zion is often used interchangeably with Jerusalem in the writings of the Psalms and the Prophets, and is one of the prophetic names for the church.

These brethren had also come "to the sprinkled blood [of Christ], which," affirmed the author, "speaks better than the blood of Abel" (Hebrews 12:24). These Hebrew brethren, then, having made their march to the true Zion, and with all the comfort connected with that fellowship, would be able to be encouraged to come through their trials victoriously!

Church of the First Born

The last plague to come upon the land of Egypt during the time of Moses was the death of the first born male of man and beast. "For I will go through the land of Egypt on that night," said the Lord, "and will strike down all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments — I am the Lord" (
Exodus 12:12). In Israel’s case, however, the first-born were spared. They were instructed to kill a male lamb without blemish, and put some of the blood on the top and the door posts of the entrance to their houses. "And the blood shall be a sign for you," further instructed the Lord, "on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt" (Exodus 12:13). Those first-born should have been dead. But since by the hand of the Lord, they survived, the Almighty declared from that time on, the first-born in Israel belonged to Him. "For all the first-born are Mine," He declared, "on the day that I struck down all the first-born in the land of Egypt, I sanctified to Myself all the first-born in Israel, from man to beast. They shall be Mine; I am the Lord" (Numbers 3:13).

"You have come," said Hebrews’ author, "to the general assembly and church of the first-born [ones] who are enrolled in heaven" (Hebrews 12:22,23). At immersion, each of these that is now born again has his name recorded in the Lamb’s book of life, and has the opportunity to be a part of the most awesome gathering that there has ever been: the general assembly and church of the first-born! This collection of personages is so great that, although the church generally has the name of either the Father or the Son, here it takes its name from those who inhabit its environs. Rejoice in the honor!!

The City of God

What was a small village in the time of Melchizedek became David’s capital and home to the magnificence of Solomon. Salem eventually became Jerusalem.

During the days of wandering in the wilderness, the children of Israel took the tabernacle of God with them. Once they had captured the promised land, however, they set up the tabernacle of God at Shiloh in the territory of Ephraim. For about 400 years the tabernacle remained in Shiloh, but after David located his capital at Jerusalem and had the secured the kingdom, he moved the tabernacle to the high place at Gibeon, comparatively near by. After David’s death, Solomon had the task of building the temple on the outskirts of the city, on the northeast side at the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite, which David had purchased before he died. Thus Jerusalem became both the political and religious center for the Jews, and from the time of Nehemiah on was also called "the holy city" (Nehemiah 11:1).

Words cannot really express the blessings of being a part of the heavenly Jerusalem. Inside her boundaries are freedom, forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and the river of life (the indwelling Spirit). "And the name of the city," was the prophecy, "from that day shall be, ‘The Lord is there.’ " (Ezekiel 48:35).

You Have Come to Jesus

The points of superiority of Christianity over Judaism are manifold. The writer of Hebrews himself details a series in which he presents his case for the superiority of the system of Christianity — the system of the faith of Christ — over the system of the Law of Moses. Christ, affirmed the writer, is superior to the angels; hence "the faith" which came through Christ is more excellent than the Law, "the word spoken through angels." Christ is far above Moses and Joshua; the spiritual nation which was delivered from sin and came into the true promised land is far above the physical nation which was delivered from Egypt and came into the physical land of promise. The high priesthood of Christ — according to the order of Melchizedek, by the power of an indestructible life — greatly excels the priesthood of the order of Aaron, which was beset by weakness and who were prevented by death from continuing in their priesthood. And the sacrifice of Christ — the blood shed on Calvary but sprinkled in the true holy of holies — exceeds in magnitudes the animal offerings of the Aaronic priesthood. All this, then, brings us again to the superiority of the new covenant!

The apostle Peter joins the writer of Hebrews. When the body is washed, said Hebrews’ author, the heart is sprinkled clean from an evil conscience. Peter’s exhortation therefore is "that you may obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood" (I Peter 1:2). Abel’s blood still speaks, but it cries from the ground. The blood of Jesus cleanses from heaven!

Listen to Him

At the Mount of Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah appeared along with Jesus. Moses and Elijah were bright and radiant, and Jesus as well was shining in a transfigured glory. Peter, always good at vocalizing his thoughts, suggested, "Let us make three tabernacles; one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah" (Luke 9:33). The inspired record notes that Peter really didn’t understand the significance of what he was proposing, because he was implying that the standing of Moses and Elijah was equal to that of Jesus. A cloud suddenly overshadowed them, and the voice from heaven clarified the status of Jesus: "This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!" (Luke 9:35). Moses stood as the representative of the Law, and Elijah stood as the representative of the prophets. The point was that the Law and the Prophets pointed to Jesus, and the message of the ages is, "Listen to Him!"

The apostle Peter, in his second message to the Jews, noted, "Moses said, ‘The Lord God shall raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren; to Him you shall give heed in everything He says to you.’ " (Acts 3:22). God indeed "raised up" this Prophet; He "raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand!" He indeed "warns from heaven." "And it shall be," animadverted Peter, "that every soul that does not heed that Prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people" (Acts 3:23). The message is clear: Listen to Him!

Shaking Heaven and Earth

The spectacle from the base of Sinai was overpowering. "Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke," Moses recalled, "because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently. When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him with thunder" (Exodus 19:18,19). "And so terrible was the sight," was the commentary in this epistle to the Hebrews, "that Moses said, ‘I am full of fear and trembling.’ " The purpose of all this was to produce in Israel the proper reverential fear of God so that they would put away their idols, worship and serve God, and follow His instructions for worship and living. Its further purpose was to produce this same reverential fear of the Almighty in future generations, and for all those of Gentile background who read of the laws of God in preparing them to understand their need for the Savior.

God will "shake" not only the earth but also the heavens. And anything that is a little "shaky" will certainly be gone! It is imperative, then, that each saint "make certain about His calling and choosing" (II Peter 1:11). "As you therefore have received Christ Jesus as Lord," exhorted the apostle Paul, "so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude" (Colossians 2:6,7). "Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless!" (II Peter 3:14).

Showing Gratitude

The immediate things of earth often override the important things of eternity. Since the outer shell of the Christian is bound to earth, and since earth is the only experience that anyone of human origin has had, it is not surprising that saints are challenged in the arena of making things of the unseen realm more important than that which is seen. It is obvious when a person needs daily bread for his physical nourishment; it is not so obvious when he needs his daily spiritual nourishment.

But the writer of the Hebrew epistle has warned us: the created things can and will be shaken; only "those things which cannot be shaken" will remain. The rational perspective, then, is to put the highest priority and attention to those things which cannot be shaken. Properly understood, the requirements of earthly existence — regardless of their clamor for immediate attention — must take their lower place in a list of carefully thought out daily tasks and goals. Then the stranger and alien to this world will be able properly to offer to God his gratitude for that which is truly and eternally important, as well as offering Him praise for the necessities of daily existence.

True gratitude will not throw something God’s way and say, "Here, God, this is what you’re getting from me." True gratitude will find out what God wants, and then offer Him what is pleasing and acceptable in His sight!

Love of the Brethren

The God of all grace and mercy is also a consuming fire. Thus, while God is desirous that the saint have bold and confident access to His throne, He does not want the child of God to abuse His privileges and become lax and arrogant. The nature of God’s being a consuming fire is placed in careful juxtaposition, leaning with perfect pressure against the nature of His love and mercy, so that the balance between openness and casualness with the Father is maintained. Saints, then, are to be conscious and caring in offering up to God their acceptable service, presenting themselves and their actions with the appropriate reverence and awe.

The writer of Hebrews is Spirit-inspired to delineate what some of these items of acceptable service are. The new covenant priest is not going to be offering up the blood and fat of animals, which never did anything to make the ones who offered them perfect in conscience. The sacrifices of the new testament priests are going to be spiritual sacrifices, directed to pleasing God and benefiting mankind in general and brethren in particular. And the first item on the list of such spiritual service, not surprisingly, is: "Let the love of the brethren continue" (Hebrews 13:1).

"Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God," is the apostle John’s sweeping statement, "and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him" (I John 5:1). Membership in the body of Christ is open to "whoever believes." This means all different kinds of people with all different kinds of personal standards and mores are coming into the body of Christ. People with all kinds of weaknesses, driven by strong desires for help and peace from God, enter the gates of the kingdom. And they all need love. All the time!

Showing Hospitality

Extra people can mean extra hassle. Extra people can mean extra expense. Extra people can mean extra sacrifice. And extra people can mean extra social embarrassment.

There was a certain tanner named Simon, and he lived in a house by the sea. Being a nice guy, doing his Christian duty, he had invited a certain preacher named Peter to stay with him for a while in the city of Joppa. (For the purposes of this story, I am going to assume that Simon the tanner was married, and that his wife was a willing partner in letting this preacher stay in their house, occupy one of their bedroom spaces, and eat their food.) Now this preacher, Simon Peter, would often go up on the rooftop to pray just before lunch. But on this particular day, he did not come down on time (I can just see the text message: grrrrr!) Furthermore, totally interrupting lunch, three guys from somewhere up north — Caesarea was the name of the place — started beating on the door and asking if this Simon Peter was living in this house. Finally (it seemed like forever) the preacher guy made his way down the stairs and answered the door. Outside the door were three men (Gentiles! Could you believe that Gentiles were knocking at the door of this house in a nice Jewish neighborhood?) and they had this story about a Gentile centurion who was supposedly God-fearing and that the Jewish people of that area loved him and an angel spoke to him and told him to send and bring this Simon Peter preacher up to his place in Caesarea. And do you know what the preacher did? He on his own, without checking with anybody, invited these Gentiles in and had them stay in the house, a house he didn’t even own. And what do you suppose all the neighbors had to say about that!

Yep! Extra people can mean extra hassle. Extra people can mean extra expense. Extra people can mean extra sacrifice. And extra people can mean extra social embarrassment.

The plan of the ages and the gospel of God move on the wheels of hospitality. "Beloved," wrote the aged John, "you are acting faithfully in whatever you accomplish for the brethren, and especially when they are strangers; and they bear witness to your love before the church; and you will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God" (III John 5,6). Extra people can mean extra hassle. Extra people can mean extra expense. Extra people can mean extra sacrifice. And extra people can mean extra social embarrassment. All accomplished with smiles, of course, and in gratitude to God.

Remember the Prisoners

Prisoners? Who wants to be associated with a bunch of jailbirds?

It is important to remember that this world is in rebellion against God and overall it is hostile to God’s spokesmen. "If you were of the world," said the Lord Jesus Himself, "the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you" (John 15:19). "We know that we are of God," said the apostle John in another place, "and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one" (I John 5:19). Because the sons of men are trapped in Satan’s web and held captive to do his will, then it is no surprise if they resist the message of Jesus, often subjecting those who communicate the gospel to imprisonment and death. "If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you," reiterated the Lord. "But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me" (John 15:20,21). The world did! And does!

"Let us show gratitude," is the overall exhortation, "by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe." Remembering the prisoners and being conscious of those who are ill-treated is part of this service to God. It is true: To the extent to which we serve one of these brothers of Jesus, we serve Him!

Hold Marriage in Honor

"From the beginning of creation," animadverted Jesus, "God made them male and female" (Mark 10:6). On the inside both male and female are spirit beings, beings in the image of God. But externally and mentally, there are obvious major differences between the two halves of the human race. Woman is indeed a helper worthy of man, fitted to walk and work beside him, and capable of being his conversational companion on all topics. The sons of God still notice that the daughters of men are beautiful, and females are conscious of that from the time they are little. Hence a strong magnetism naturally develops between male and female, a magnetism that needs to be carefully monitored and kept inside the boundaries for which God intended it. Satan, of course, corrupt and angry, is desirous of taking that which is good between male and female, and turning it into that which is the most destructive. Love is twisted into lust, and commitment is twisted into convenience.

The Christian must thoughtfully consider the teaching of God on this subject. When all the trash that currently emanates from Hollywood and from television pervades the home, marriage is not being held in honor. That is serious propaganda affecting the next generation to come along. Remember: this section on holding marriage up in honor is part of our showing "gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe."

Content with What You Have

Financial stewardship is a character issue. Jesus Himself brought out the core issues in His parable of the squandering steward. "If therefore you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous mammon," was the Lord’s comment, "who will entrust the true riches to you?" (Luke 16:11). If a Christian cannot handle his personal finances, he cannot be trusted with other spiritual responsibilities. Financial stewardship is very much a spiritual and character issue.

Money, or "unrighteous mammon," as the Lord called it, has a powerful tug on the individual. Money is necessary for survival, and more money gives a person greater flexibility. But the challenge of keeping money inside those boundaries is very great, and the desire for more money has ruined many a man or woman. The moral compromises people make to be upwardly mobile are horrendous. The words of the apostle still stand: "For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil" (I Timothy 6:10).

And money is not the source of happiness. A lot of folks assume that if they had more money, they would be happy. As Jesus made clear in introducing another of his parables, "Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions" (Luke 12:15).

Another old wise saying is that man’s extremity is God’s opportunity. It is when people have run out of their own resources that God has the opportunity to show that He is God, and that He is trustworthy. Part of the saint’s offering service to God with gratitude is demonstrating his trust in the Almighty. When he sinks to the level of groveling for money for his security, then he is equivalent to Israel’s turning to Egypt for help instead of turning to the Lord. Those Hebrew Christians were to trust God in the midst of the upcoming Roman tribulation; we are to trust God in the one that is coming up for us.

Imitating Faith

The greatest men to ever walk the earth graced the gravels and cobblestones of Jerusalem. The Lord Jesus Himself walked through her dusty streets, preached in her temple, rode into town on the donkey, hid from stoning in her alleyways, and wept over her from the Mount of Olives. John the Immerser, greatest ever born of woman, undoubtedly entered her environs to participate in the feast days. Then there were the apostles, the best of the best (excluding Judas Iscariot), who watched the Lord die outside Jerusalem’s walls but who first preached the message of spiritual deliverance to her sojourners. They were the ones around whom the early church gathered, who trained its future leaders and impressed the doctrines of Jesus Christ upon all disciples. They faithfully proclaimed the gospel amidst arrests, floggings, and even death to James the son of Zebedee. The apostles set things in order in Jerusalem before scattering to the four winds to take the message of salvation to the Gentiles in the remotest parts of the earth. These were the greatest men to ever walk the face of the earth, and they were the early leaders for the church in Jerusalem.

It is interesting that saints are encouraged to "imitate their faith." Because the details of circumstance and position in the body of Christ are so different for each disciple of Christ, saints are not necessarily encouraged to have the same actions as the apostles. But their faith is to be imitated, then as well as now. In this way the plan of the Lord gets accomplished all over the world in all times. "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever!" (Hebrews 13:8).

Strengthened by Grace

The apostle Paul and the others were free men — free spiritually to accomplish the will of King Jesus. "To the Jews," Paul commented, "I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews." To the Gentiles, "to those who are without law," he became "as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, that I might win those who are without law" (I Corinthians 9:20,21). For 1500 years the Israelites had been under dietary restrictions, but with the coming of the new covenant, those restrictions were no longer necessary or profitable. "What goes into a man from outside cannot defile him," stated Jesus Himself. To which Mark and the Holy Spirit appended, "Thus He declared all foods clean" (Mark 7:18,19). The focus, then, was directed from what was going into the stomach to that which was coming from the heart!

The "acceptable service with reverence and awe" is not going to be focused on what kinds of foods are clean or unclean; those who made those issues a priority "were not benefited." A heart that is strengthened by grace rather than struggling under law is the one that is able to charge into the spiritual warfare against the forces of darkness, which is the true spiritual service of a new covenant priest.

The Spiritual Altar

Altars undoubtedly go back to the time of Adam and Eve, although the first direct mention of an altar is when Noah offered some clean animals to the Lord in thanksgiving after deliverance from the Flood. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all built altars that were approved by the Lord, and offered their sacrifices. But Satan worked in the minds of men, and duplicated those early altars and twisted the terms so that the sacrifices were offered to demons rather than to God. Hence with the coming of the Law of Moses, the details for the altar and specifications for the sacrifices were spelled out for Israel.

It took God almost 1000 years to drive idolatry out of Israel. What became the northern nation was wiped out by the Assyrians in finality in 722 BC because of their idolatry. The southern nation, Judah, had to be taken into captivity by the Babylonians until they learned that sacrifices were not to be offered at the "high places," but that the only approved altar was the one at the temple in Jerusalem. The Jews developed their synagogues, then, in order to have the Law read out loud to the people, and so that they would hold to the Law and the attendant customs.

"We," the saints of the new covenant, "offer to God and acceptable service with reverence and awe." At the core of this service is our participation in the true altar — wherein the sacrifice of Christ is demonstrated in the emblems of the Lord’s Supper — and we need to elevate it in our understanding to the tremendous privilege it is!

Outside the Camp

God is the perfect communicator, and He worked for years to develop words and concepts which would be understood by His people. The apostle Paul, exponent of the gospel of God and chosen to be one of the communicators of the written word, explained: "Now we [meaning those inspired men such as the apostles] have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words" (I Corinthians 2:11,12). Those of us who follow the lead of the apostles do not receive those spiritual thoughts and spiritual words directly; we must read them, ponder over them, have them expounded to us, and come to understand them. Hence we come to comprehend the marvelous interplay between the old covenant writings and the great spiritual truths revealed in the new covenant writings.

What the Hebrew Christian experienced is a foreshadow of what will happen to the modern Christian. As the Jews rejected the Messiah, and the vultures fed at the rotting carcass of a dead Judaism, just so the world is rejecting the Messiah, and the vultures likewise will feed at the rotting carcass of a spiritually dead world. As the day of Roman judgment approached, so the day of God’s final judgment approaches. So what shall we do? "Let us go to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach."

The City to Come

"Why" is more important than "what." As important as it is to do what is right and holy and good and productive, why it is being done is even more important. Without the proper "why," there is no motivation for getting all the "what’s" done. The word of God, then, is going to spend many of its verses providing the proper "why’s" for God’s people, that they will be supremely motivated to carry out God’s will in a joyful fashion.

The apostle Paul, in discussing the question as to whether there is a resurrection from the dead, mentioned his fights with the animals in the colosseum at the capital of the Roman province of Asia: "If from human motives I fought with the wild beasts at Ephesus," he asked, "what does it profit me?" In the same section, he asked a rhetorical question in regard to his suffering, "Why," he emphasized, "are we also in danger every hour?" (I Corinthians 15:32,30). His overall point was that if there is no resurrection of the dead, there would be no motivation for him to go through all that suffering in getting the gospel to the lost. "Why" is more important than "what"!

The ultimate why for the Christian is to dwell in the eternal city of God! That’s why Paul could stand in the ring with the lions in Ephesus. That’s why Peter would exhort the brethren to look for new heavens and a new earth. That’s why John would assist the brethren so that they might have confidence in the day of judgment. That’s why Jesus resurrected from the dead, and has gone to prepare a place for us!

Spiritual Sacrifices

Worship of God is spiritual under the terms of the new covenant. It is worthy of note to recall that the only direct reference to worship under the terms of the new covenant was Jesus’ statement that those who worship God must worship in Spirit and in truth (John 4:23,24). But writer of Hebrews has a great picture of how this worship is taking place, describing how saints "have the confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus" (Hebrews 10:19). By faith, the disciples of Jesus have been raised up with Christ and are sitting with Him on His heavenly throne; they have been ushered into the presence of the Majesty on high! Here, parallel to the picture of the twenty-four elders of Revelation, they cast their crowns before the great God, and worship Him who lives forever and ever. Because it is in the realm of faith, this worship is "in spirit and in truth."

Service to God under the terms of the new covenant is action carried out in the body. "Present your bodies," said the apostle Paul, "a living and holy sacrifice" (Romans 12:1). This presentation of the body to the Lord is the "spiritual service" (or the logical type of service you would expect for a spiritually oriented covenant). In other words, the body is to be offered to the Lord at all times under all circumstances. Hence, where anything connected with the body of the saint is involved, the proper term for the action is this service, and would fit in the list under the heading described in the book of Hebrews: "Offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe" (Hebrews 12:28).

The true sacrifices acceptable to God were not those offered by the Old Testament priests. God earnestly desires His people to do good, to share, to be ready for every good deed. He loves to hear the sacrifice of praise, coming from the lips of those who sing of His glories or who offer their praises in prayer. His ear is attentive to those who with thankful hearts confess the greatness of His name. Yes, with such sacrifices He is well pleased!

Obey Your Leaders

Is the church of the living God a structured or unstructured organization? Because of poor, unscriptural, or tyrannical leadership, some have concluded that there is no real structure for the local congregation, that the local church is a vague organism that somehow functions without being structured. Such thinking is not really in touch with human nature or how Christians act in partnership with each other. Even marriage, the most simple arrangement (believe it or not!) of human interaction, has to be structured, with the husband as head. The leadership of the church, then, originally was built on the foundation of the apostles and New Testament prophets (Jesus Himself being the chief cornerstone), and since then continues to consist of evangelists, pastors (elders) and teachers (Ephesians 4:11).

The congregation of the brethren in Jerusalem were exhorted, in the face of upcoming destruction from the hands of the Romans, to "offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe" (Hebrews 12:28). As the closing part of a broad list of such acceptable service, the writer of the epistle to the Hebrew Christians, under inspiration of the Spirit, writes: "Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you" (Hebrews 13:17). The local congregation is structured, and needs to follow the direction of godly leaders.

The church in Jerusalem was about to undergo tremendous upheaval. In those types of situations, everyone has a different opinion and perspective as to what decisions need to be made. That is where the track record of such "tested and trusted" leadership is important; those men will be wise in the ways of the Lord, and in His wisdom make the right decisions. But the same principle is true in less extreme situations also. That is why the scriptural injunction is "Obey your leaders, and submit to them."

“Pray for Us”

There is a constant theme running throughout the new testament writings: PRAY! Jesus Himself led the way, praying early in the morning or all night. And in His example He taught us to address God as the Father, setting up an intimacy in prayer that would not have occurred to faithful followers if it were not for Jesus’ opening that up that understanding. Saints are thus exhorted to pray for their daily bread and make petition on behalf of their national leaders. Disciples are instructed to devote themselves to prayer, keeping alert with an attitude of thanksgiving. They are to pray for the salvation of their enemies as well as for the eternity of their loved ones. The brethren are urged to make their entreaties for all men, or specifically praying that an apostle Paul might be delivered from his enemies. They are to ask for their own forgiveness and also for the rapid spread of the gospel. The children of God are invited to let their heavenly Father know their inner struggles and are exhorted to cast their anxieties upon the Almighty. Participants in the church of the living God are encouraged to pray at all times, under any circumstances, for all things in accordance with the will of God. The theme does constantly thread through the new testament writings: PRAY IN JESUS’ NAME!

The true love and concern the writer has for his brethren in Judea really shines through. His desire that they remain faithful to the principles of the new covenant is manifest, and his request that they pray for him and his fellow participants in the gospel shows his true fellowship with them. The brethren clearly knew him well, and thus his warnings in this epistle would have had maximum impact on the saints to learn and to continue to move forward.

The Eternal Covenant

The book of Hebrews explains the shadows, the shadows that were cast backward in time. It is hard for us, time bound and locked in to the limitations of our reason, to understand a God who transcends time. "I am God," said He, "and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning" (Isaiah 46:9,10). Before the events happen, He knows them; before the formation of the material universe, He had His plan. Of Christ He stated, "For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you" (I Peter 1:20). Hence it was that the true spiritual things really existed; the light of God’s glory shone on them, and they cast their shadow backwards in time into the types of the Old Testament writings. The "true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched and not man," cast its shadow backward and the result was the tabernacle of Moses, pitched by man first in the deserts of Midian. Even "the new creation," formed in the waters of immersion and brought forth by the Spirit, cast its shadow backward to the very first day of creation, wherein the physical creation was formed out of waters as the Spirit of God moved over them. Thus the covenant of Christ always was "the eternal covenant."

One of the main purposes of the book of Hebrews was to assist the Hebrew brethren in moving their attentions from the trappings of the covenant of Moses to the spiritual aspects of the covenant of Christ. The temple, the sacrifices, and the priesthood of the Old Covenant were ready to disappear in the Roman destruction. Their focus should thus be shifted upward, and they should be ready to fix their attention on Jesus on the throne, where all things connected with the blood of the eternal covenant had their powerful and continuing effects!

Equipping the Sheep

The God of peace is powerful in His peace. The lack of peace on earth is not due to the character of God, but as a result of the rebellion of Satan and his minions, with willing participation on the part of man. God is so much the God of peace that He has been willing to make major steps in reaching out to wayward man. He reconciles him so that there is peace between God and the individual, and retrains that individual so that he also is now an ambassador for the peace of God. The God of peace, in order to establish His divine peace as the permanent and all abiding ambience of eternity, eventually will have to crush Satan under the feet of the saints. But as a major preparatory step, He raised Jesus from the dead by the blood of His eternal covenant. The devil and his angels were cast from the courts of heaven into the darkness of Tartarus, Jesus as high priest cleansed heaven, and then Jesus as the Messiah took His throne at the right hand of the Majesty on high.

How would we quantify those "good things" that accomplish His will? How would we reference those qualities which God works in us to perform what is pleasing to Him? No short list will do; it requires all the writings of the New Testament, buttressed by the lessons and shadows of the Old. Therefore, all this is to be accomplished "through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen" (Hebrews 13:21). This world has been prepared through Him, by Him, and for Him. The recipient of the mercy of God, extended through the sacrifice and intercessory priesthood of Christ, thus willingly allows God to work in him so that all the glory redounds to the Son of God! There is no higher calling.

Closing Comments

The Holy Spirit is the master communicator. The New Testament is the most compact and orderly communication of information in the entire universe, drawing on the principles, prophecies, and historical proclamations of the Old Testament. The modern disciple of Christ, then, has the entire wisdom of God — everything pertaining to life and godliness — in a small volume that he can carry in his pocket, if necessary, or she in her purse. And the book of Hebrews plays a key role in this communication. Without this epistle to the brethren of Judea, we would not have a clear understanding of the purpose of the Old Testament temple and its attendant sacrifices, nor would we understand Jesus’ position as our high priest according to the order of Melchizedek. The letter, maybe more than any other, helps us move from the realm of the physical to the realm of the spiritual, using the types and foreshadows of the old covenant to teach us the tremendous significance of the power of new covenant imagery. But the Holy Spirit, knowing His overall plan to bring the word of God to the world in this one handy, portable volume, made sure every written word was finely honed.

Thus ends one of the great documents of all history. The writer opened with a sweeping view of Jesus as the great Son and spokesman of God, co-Creator of the heavens and earth. Having been made for a little while lower than the angels, He ascended to the throne of God, the high priest ministering in the true tabernacle, executor of the new covenant, the One who intercedes for the sons of men. He is superior to the angels, His work exceeds the combined efforts of Moses and Joshua, and His sacrifice and offering of that sacrifice cleansed the heavenly things rather than just the earthly things. Furthermore, He offers to the priests of the new covenant opportunity to also enter into the true holy place, having certain access by faith to the great and eternal God. The message: hold fast to the terms of the eternal covenant, offering Him service with appropriate reverence and awe!