Introduction to Hebrews

By James M. Rochford

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In the first-century, thousands of Jewish people came to faith in Christ. Yet, they were still a considerable minority among the greater Jewish population in Israel. This fits within Israel’s long history: The majority of people in the nation often fell away from God, but a remnant of Jews remained faithful to him. The author of Hebrews writes this letter these beleaguered Jewish Christians who were struggling to remain committed to Christ within a larger culture that rejected him.

These faithful followers of Christ faced numerous challenges. First and foremost, they would’ve faced theological confusion: How could their new faith in Christ be consistent with what God revealed in the OT? Indeed, God had prescribed an entire system of rules, regulations, and rituals in the OT. Should committed Christians continue to follow the Old Covenant or not? And if not, why not? These Christians needed answers, and mental laziness would’ve been disastrous (Heb. 5:11-14).

Moreover, the faith and practices of these Jewish Christians would’ve clashed with their religious culture. After all, it would be embarrassing to be the only family on the block who refused to follow the universal religious customs of the day. As a result, these early Christians faced social pressure and religious persecution (Heb. 10:32-34; 13:14). Some had even begun buckle under this persecution—no longer meeting together for fellowship (Heb. 10:25).

This is why the author of Hebrews wrote this letter. In rigorous theological detail, he argues from the authority of the Old Testament Scriptures how Jesus fulfilled the Old Covenant and brought us into the New Covenant. And now, there’s no going back.

Table of Contents

Authorship. 2

Date. 3

Audience. 4

Canonicity. 9

How to use this commentary well 11

Consulted Commentaries. 12

Commentary on Hebrews. 14

Hebrews 1 (Greater than Angels: Part 1). 14

Hebrews 2 (Greater than Angels: Part 2). 23

Hebrews 3 (Greater than Moses). 30

Hebrews 4 (Greater Rest). 37

Hebrews 5 (Greater Priesthood: Part 1). 43

Hebrews 6 (Greater Priesthood: Part 2). 49

Hebrews 7 (Greater Priesthood: Part 3). 59

Hebrews 8 (Greater Covenant). 66

Hebrews 9 (Greater Sacrifice: Part 1). 70

Hebrews 10 (Greater Sacrifice: Part 2). 78

Hebrews 11 (Faith). 88

Hebrews 12 (Hope). 101

Hebrews 13 (Love). 108

Authorship

The author is anonymous, so we shouldn’t be dogmatic in our views. In our estimation, however, Paul (or someone under his supervision) most likely wrote this letter. At the very least, the evidence supports Paul more than any other potential author. Consider a number of arguments for this view:

(1) STYLISTICALLY, there are many similarities between Hebrews and Paul’s writings. For instance:

  1. Only Paul (Rom. 12:4-5; 1 Cor. 12:12-14) and the author of Hebrews (Heb. 13:3) use the term “the Body” to describe the Church.
  2. Both are very close to Timothy (Heb. 13:23).
  3. Both refer to the milk and meat of the Scripture (1 Cor. 3:1-3; Heb. 5:11-14).
  4. Both quote Deuteronomy 32:35 in the same form (Rom. 12:19; Heb. 10:30). Leon Morris writes, “It agrees exactly neither with the MT nor the LXX, though it is quoted in the same form in Romans 12:19.”[1]
  5. Both quote Habakkuk 2:4 (Rom. 1:17; Heb. 10:38).
  6. Both emphasize the rhetorical “we know,” rather than “I” Paul uses this many times (Rom. 2:2; 3:19; 7:14; 8:22; 1 Cor. 8:1; 2 Cor. 5:1; 1 Tim. 1:8), as does the author of Hebrews (Heb. 10:30).
  7. Both emphasize the old and new covenant. Paul writes about the old and new covenants (2 Cor. 3:4-11), and so does the author of Hebrews (Heb. 8:6-13; 10:15-18).
  8. Both refer to the old covenant being a “shadow” of Christ (Col. 2:17; Heb. 8:5; 10:1).

(2) CANONICALLY, Hebrews appears alongside Paul’s letters. It appears in the P46 document dated to AD 200.[2] It wasn’t moved to the “general epistles” until the sixth century AD (Codex Claromontanus).[3] While the Western church didn’t accept the letter as Pauline until the 4th century AD, the Eastern church held that Paul was the author.

(3) HISTORICALLY, several church fathers affirmed Pauline authorship. For instance, Clement of Alexandria (AD 200)[4] and Origen (AD 250)[5] both believed in Pauline authorship.[6] Pantaenus (AD 180) was the founder of a catechetical school in Alexandria, and he believed the letter was both Pauline and canonical.[7]

To repeat, we are not dogmatic about this because the author is anonymous after all. However, we favor this conclusion. For a robust evaluation of the evidence, see our earlier article “Authorship of Hebrews.”

Date

The letter dates before AD 95. Clement of Rome (AD 95) cites Hebrews in 1 Clement 36:1-6.[8] This dates the letter at least within the first century AD.

The letter dates before AD 70. The author writes about the ritual sacrifices as though they are still occurring. He writes, “We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp” (Heb. 13:10-11). The author writes about ritual worship in the present tense (Heb. 7:27-28; 8:3-5; 9:6-9, 25; 10:1-3, 8). This requires the existence of the Temple/Tabernacle and priesthood. Yet, the Romans destroyed the Temple/Tabernacle by AD 70 at the end of the Jewish War. Since the Jewish War began in AD 66, this would even support a date for the letter before this time.

This isn’t merely an argument from silence. Rather, this is a conspicuous silence. That is, we would expect the author to mention this. Indeed, Morris writes, “The best argument for the supersession of the old covenant would have been the destruction of the Temple. The author’s failure to mention this surely means that it had not yet occurred.”[9]

The letter couldn’t be extremely early because this church was definitely a second-generation church. The author writes, “This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him” (Heb. 2:3 NIV). How early could the letter date? We’re unsure. However, being a second-generation church, we would guess that at least a couple of decades had transpired. After all, Hebrews 2 implies that some of the apostles were already dead and gone, which would require at least a decade or two (Acts 12:2, AD 44).

Allen[10] dates the book as late as AD 67-68. However, following Morris,[11] Bruce,[12] and Guthrie,[13] we date the letter some time before AD 70—probably AD 62-65.

Audience

Most modern commentators hold that this letter was addressed to Jewish Christians in Rome.[14] However, we agree with older commentators[15] and some more recent scholars[16] that this letter was most likely written to Jewish Christians in Judea and perhaps even Jerusalem itself. In fact, this was the “dominant view until the nineteenth century.”[17] Consider the evidence below:

The earliest known manuscripts contain the title, “To the Hebrews…” This title is attested by early sources among the church fathers.[18] This, obviously, implies a thoroughly Jewish audience.

The internal evidence strongly implies a homogeneous Jewish audience. The Jerusalem church, of course, was almost entirely Jewish—not filled with Jewish and Gentile Christians. Many cities contained churches that had a mixture of Jewish and Gentile Christians. Consider Romans. The letter addresses both ethnic groups throughout the letter. But Hebrews? Not a single word to Gentile Christians or even Gentile practices! No mention of idolatry, no Jewish-Gentile tensions, no gross immorality. Nothing. What other church on Earth would better explain this phenomenon? This fits best with the Jerusalem church which was almost entirely Jewish.

Moreover, our author assumes that his audience knows the OT well, citing it more than any other NT book. For instance, when writing about the story of Esau, he writes, “For you know…” (Heb. 12:17). Additionally, Hebrews 11 is simply a rapid-fire string of OT stories that assumes a thorough knowledge of the OT. This further supports a Jewish audience—not a Gentile one.

The original audience witnessed apostolic miracles. The author writes, “[This salvation was] announced by the Lord Jesus himself and then delivered to us by those who heard him speak. 4 God confirmed the message by giving signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit whenever he chose” (Heb. 2:3-4 NLT). This further supports the thesis that these Christians witnessed multiple apostles performing miracles. This fits with an audience in Judea or Jerusalem. After all, as McCallum observes, “How many groups in other cities could be described as seeing miracles from multiple apostles?”[19] Good question! Corinth would be a contender because they saw the “signs of a true apostle” (2 Cor. 12:12), and perhaps both Paul and Peter are in view (1 Cor. 1:12; 3:22; 9:5).

The original audience consisted of urban Christians. At the end of the letter, we read, “Here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come” (Heb. 13:14). This implies that these Christians lived in a city—not spread throughout a general region.

The original audience experienced intense persecution. They didn’t necessarily experience rampant torture or execution because the author writes that they had “not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood” (Heb. 12:4). Yet, the persecution was severe nonetheless: Public insults, beatings, prison, and the seizure of their property (Heb. 10:32-34). This could apply to a number of ancient cities, including Rome. However, this internal evidence seems quite consistent with what we know of persecution in Jerusalem. Believers in Jerusalem were imprisoned (Acts 4:3; 5:18), threatened (Acts 4:21), flogged (Acts 5:40), scattered (Acts 8:1-4), and martyred (Acts 7:58-60; 12:2).

The original audience faced the real temptation and threat of apostasy. The threat of persecution was religious in nature, which implies pressure from fellow Jews. These Jewish Christians seem to be on the cusp of cracking under religious pressure to return to Old Covenant formalism. This explains why the author of Hebrews repeatedly warns them not to apostatize.

Conclusion. In our estimation, the anonymous author wrote to Jewish Christians who were surrounded by a highly religious Jewish culture—most likely in Judea or perhaps even Jerusalem itself. This seems to best explain the data.

Arguments against a Jerusalem audience

ARGUMENT #1. The author claims that the audience never heard Jesus personally. He writes, “This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him” (Heb. 2:3 NIV). This argument poses no difficulty in our estimation. After all, if our dating of the book is correct (AD 60s), then this church was in its second generation at this point. Hence, they were 30 years removed from Jesus. Moreover, Jesus had a very small following toward the end of his life, and he relied on his apostles to preach the gospel to the people in Jerusalem (Acts 2:14ff). Thus, this fits with the idea that Jesus’ message was “confirmed to us by those who heard.”

ARGUMENT #2. The letter contains Hellenistic ideas that don’t fit with the Jerusalem church. We don’t find this argument persuasive. For one, the use of Hellenistic ideas in the letter is debated. Thus, this argument “must not be overweighted.”[20] Second, Hellenistic ideas travelled all the way to Qumran—a highly strict sect of Jews that was isolated near the Dead Sea. Hence, if Hellenism could make it as far as an isolated sect like those living in Qumran, why couldn’t it infiltrate a major metropolis like Jerusalem? Third, there is evidence of Hellenism in Jerusalem itself (Acts 6:9).[21]

ARGUMENT #3. The author never mentions the Temple. We find this to be a specious argument. The Tabernacle was the Temple. So, this is raising a distinction without a difference. Indeed, because our author mentions Tabernacle worship in the present tense (Heb. 9:6-9), this argument works in favor of a Jerusalem audience.

Arguments for a Roman audience

Most commentators (Morris,[22] Guthrie,[23] Bruce[24]) believe that the author was writing to believers in Rome—not Jerusalem. Several arguments should be considered:

ARGUMENT #1. The description of persecution fits with Rome under Nero. Our author writes, “You showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property” (Heb. 10:34). It’s true that this reference fits well with the seizure of Jewish property under Claudius’ expulsion of the Jews in AD 49 (Suetonius, Life of Claudius 25:4). Yet it could just as easily refer to the Jewish believers under persecution in Jerusalem. Moreover, the author’s mention of not suffering to the point of bloodshed doesn’t seem to fit with the widespread martyrdom of Christians under Nero in AD 64 (Tacitus, Annals 15.44).

ARGUMENT #2. Clement of Rome cited Hebrews in the first century (1 Clement 36:1-6, AD 95), implying that it was written to Rome. Yet, this doesn’t prove that the letter was sent to Rome—only that it travelled to Rome or perhaps the author wrote the letter in Rome (Heb. 13:24). Presumably, the author had the letter copied before sending it. After all, ancient authors (like Cicero) kept copies of their own letters in case they were damaged or lost (Fam. 7.25.1; 9.26.1).[25] Moreover, the Western portion of the Roman Empire was slow to accept the letter to the Hebrews in the canon, which would point against a Roman audience. (Compare this with Paul’s epistle to the Romans, which was readily accepted.) If the letter landed in Rome first, then why did the Western Church (Rome!) take such a long time to accept its authenticity?

ARGUMENT #3. The author states that the believers haven’t shed blood (Heb. 12:4). The author to the Hebrews writes, “You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin” (Heb. 12:4). Yet, Acts states that the believers in Jerusalem did endure bloody persecution (Acts 5:40; 7:58-60; 8:1-4; 12:2). Yet, a couple of responses can be made.

First, this could be metaphorical language. The author’s words “could be understood metaphorically in the sense of ‘uttermost.’”[26] Even Lane writes that this expression “can be understood figuratively to mean, ‘You still have not done your utmost.’”[27] In other words, this could refer to literal shedding of blood (v.3), or it could be interpreted in light of the figurative shedding of blood, as in the overarching athletic metaphor (vv.1-4).

Second, if the author is referring to the literal shedding of blood, he could be referring to the contemporary audience (in the 60s AD), rather than the early church (in the 30s or 40s AD). After all, this was a second-generation church (see “Date”), so this group of Christians may not have suffered the way their leaders did. This would explain why the author speaks about the original leaders in the past tense, telling the readers to “remember those who led you” (Heb. 13:7). These original believers were gone.

ARGUMENT #4. The author states that he is writing alongside believers who formerly lived in Rome. The author writes, “Those from Italy greet you” (Heb. 13:24). The expression “Those from Italy greet you” (hoi apo tēs Italias) could either refer to “those domiciled in Italy or of Italians who were residing elsewhere.”[28] For instance, when Paul was in Corinth, he met Aquila who was “recently come from Italy” (apo tēs Italias, Acts 18:2). To reiterate, the word “from” (apo) could be refer to (1) those sending greetings from Italy or (2) those living away from Italy. If the first reading is correct, this would rule out a Roman audience. After all, why on Earth would the author state that he was writing from Italy, if he was actually writing to Italy? A number of responses can be made:

First, the comparison with Acts 18:2 isn’t a good comparison. Allen notes that these are “verbal parallels” that use the exact same language, but they are not “grammatical parallels.”[29] Acts 18 modifies a participle, while Hebrews 13 modifies a pronominal article (i.e. an article is used without a noun as a pronoun; an adjectival form of a pronoun). This is why “the church fathers interpreted this phrase in 13:24 to mean the author was writing from Italy to a destination outside Italy,” and this was true all the way up “until the eighteenth century.”[30] Similarly, the Christians “from Joppa” still lived in Joppa (Acts 10:23).

Second, this argument isn’t conclusive. Even if the latter reading is correct, this would merely indicate that the audience was familiar with Roman Christians—similar to the way they were familiar with Timothy (Heb. 13:23). But this wouldn’t necessitate a Roman audience.

Third, there is strong grammatical evidence that the author was writing from Rome. More recently in his dissertation on the subject, Mosser[31] studied the use of the combination of a preposition (apo) followed by the name of a place (e.g. “from” + “Italy”) in first century documents. His conclusion? He writes, “They consistently interpret the phrase to indicate the place from which the epistle was written.”[32]

Fourth, the mention of Timothy’s release doesn’t fit with a Roman audience. The Pastoral Epistles place Timothy in Rome. But if Timothy was released from prison in Rome, why would the author need to mention this to his audience? (Heb. 13:23)[33]

Conclusion. These counterarguments do not carry enough weight to overthrow a Judean audience. In lieu of better counterarguments, we hold that the author wrote to Jewish Christians living in Judea or maybe even Jerusalem itself.

Canonicity

Hebrews was questioned for its anonymity and its official lack of apostolic authority.[34] The Eastern Church accepted Hebrews very early, but the Western Church (i.e. Rome) took longer to accept the letter as canonical. David Allen writes, “It was only toward the end of the fourth century that Pauline authorship began to be accepted in the Western Church and Hebrews gained a canonical position.”[35] Again, the authorship of the letter was the reason that the Western Church waited to accept the work as canonical (see Eusebius, Church History, 3.3.5; 6.20.3)

Manuscript evidence. Hebrews appears in the P46 document alongside of Paul’s letters, and this papyrus document dates to AD 200.[36] Hebrews wasn’t moved to the “general epistles” until the sixth century AD (Codex Claromontanus).[37]

Early Church Fathers accepted Hebrews. For example:

  • Pantaenus (AD 180) was the teacher of Clement of Alexandria and the founder of a catechetical school in Alexandria. He believed the letter was both Pauline and canonical.[38]
  • Clement of Alexandria (AD 215) believed in the Pauline authorship of Hebrews.[39]
  • Origen (AD 250)[40] believed in the Pauline authorship of Hebrews.[41] Origen is often usually quoted as saying, “But who wrote the epistle, in truth God knows” (Church History25.11-14). However, in context, Origen is referring to the amanuensis—not the author. Origen wrote, “I should say that the thoughts are the apostle’s, but that the style and composition belonged to one who called to mind the apostle’s teachings and, as it were, made short notes of what his master said. If any church, therefore, holds this epistle as Paul’s, let it be commended for this also. For not without reason have the men of old handed it down as Paul’s.”
  • 1 Clement (AD 95),[42] Shepherd of Hermas (AD 100-150),[43] Polycarp (AD 140), Justin Martyr (AD 150),[44] and Tertullian (AD 200)[45] all quote or allude to Hebrews. Yet none explicitly considered it canonical or attribute it to Paul’s authorship.[46]
  • Irenaeus (AD 180),[47] Gaius of Rome (AD 200),[48] and Hippolytus (AD 220)[49] all cited from Hebrews, but they denied it was written by Paul.
  • Jerome (AD 400)[50] and Augustine (AD 400)[51] both accepted Pauline authorship tentatively.

This evidence from the Church Fathers strongly favors the canonicity of Hebrews. While these early Christians were cautious in accepting Hebrews, this only shows that they were careful and not credulous.

Evidence against the canonicity of Hebrews

ARGUMENT #1. The Marcionite Canon (AD 140) rejected Hebrews. However, this isn’t surprising because Marcion was so intensely anti-Semitic.

ARGUMENT #2. The Muratorian Canon (AD 175) doesn’t contain Hebrews. This is only a fragment of the manuscript. Because it was damaged, it may have originally contained Hebrews. Indeed, 1 Peter was universally accepted by the early church, but it is also missing from the Muratorian Canon.

ARGUMENT #3. The Western Church was slow to accept Hebrews. Hebrews was accepted late, but for good reasons. The letter didn’t contain apostolic authorship, and this made the Church Fathers cautious in recognizing the book as inspired. However, they concluded that the book did contain apostolic authority—namely, under Paul’s authority. Furthermore, there is a major difference between anonymous authorship and pseudonymous authorship. The debate was over the former—not the latter.

How to use this commentary well

For personal use. We wrote this material to build up people in their knowledge of the Bible. As the reader, we hope you enjoy reading through the commentary to grow in your interpretation of the text, understand the historical backdrop, gain insight into the original languages, and reflect on our comments to challenge your thinking. As a result, we hope this will give you a deeper love for the word of God.

Teaching preparation. We read through several commentaries in order to study this book, and condensed their scholarship into an easy-to-read format. We hope that this will help those giving public Bible teachings to have a deep grasp of the book as they prepare to teach. As one person has said, “All good public speaking is based on good private thinking.”[52] We couldn’t agree more. Nothing can replace sound study before you get up to teach, and we hope this will help you in that goal. And before you complain about our work, don’t forget that the price is right: FREE!

Questions for Reflection. Each section or chapter is outfitted with numerous Questions for Reflection or questions for reflection. We think these questions would work best in a small men’s or women’s group—or for personal reading. In general, these questions are designed to prompt participants to explore the text or to stimulate application.

Discussing Bible difficulties. We highlight Bible difficulties with hyperlinks to articles on those subjects. All of these questions could make for dynamic discussion in a small group setting. As a Bible teacher, you could raise the difficulty, allow the small group to wrestle with it, and then give your own perspective.

As a teacher, you might give some key cross references, insights from the Greek, or other relevant tools to help aid the study. This gives students the tools that they need to answer the difficulty. Then, you could ask, “How do these points help answer the difficulty?”

Reading Bible difficulties. Some Bible difficulties are highly complex. For the sake of time, it might simply be better to read the article and ask, “What do you think of this explanation? What are the most persuasive points? Do you have a better explanation than the one being offered?”

Think critically. We would encourage Bible teachers to not allow people to simply read this commentary without exercising discernment and testing the commentary with sound hermeneutics (i.e. interpretation). God gave the church “teachers… to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-12). We would do well to learn from them. Yet, we also need to read their books with critical thinking, and judge what we’re reading (1 Cor. 14:29; 1 Thess. 5:21). This, of course, applies to our written commentary as well as any others!

In my small men’s Bible study, I am frequently challenged, corrected, and sharpened in my ability to interpret the word of God. I frequently benefit from even the youngest Christians in the room. I write this with complete honesty—not pseudo-humility. We all have a role in challenging each other as we learn God’s word together. We would do well to learn from Bible teachers, and Bible teachers would do well to learn from their students!

At the same time, we shouldn’t disagree simply for the sake of being disagreeable. This leads to rabbit trails that can actually frustrate discussion. For this reason, we should follow the motto, “The best idea wins.” If people come to different conclusions on unimportant issues, it’s often best to simply acknowledge each other’s different perspectives and simply move on.

Consulted Commentaries

We consulted many commentaries for individual passages of Hebrews, but we read these specific commentaries below thoroughly. We give a very short review of each commentary below in order to help students to know a little bit about each commentary.

Leon Morris, “Hebrews,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981).

This is a short commentary written for lay people and pastors.

Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983).

This is a short commentary written for lay people and pastors.

David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010).

Allen gives a very thorough introduction to the book (~100 pages!), and we found his commentary to be quite good. He spends considerable amount of time on key debated passage. For instance, he devotes 50 pages to Hebrews 6:1-8. His understanding of these warning passage is unique—namely, they refer to physical death—not eternal judgment. The reader will need to discern whether his interpretation is sound.

However, in our opinion, Allen focuses too much on grammatical and technical details that don’t serve to interpret the argument of the book. This leads to focusing on the “trees” rather than the “forest.” He compensates for this with concluding sections called “THEOLOGICAL IMPLICATIONS,” which help to bring the main ideas together. Overall, this is somewhere between a technical and a pastoral commentary.

Dennis McCallum, Liberation! Follow the Book of Hebrews into a Life of Radical Grace (Columbus, OH: New Paradigm Publishers, 2015).

McCallum’s lay-level commentary give an excellent treatment of the book for newer readers. The commentary is grace-focused, practical, and insightful. More advanced readers can find complex theological discussion in the footnotes.

Stanley Toussaint, Hebrews (online class from Dallas Theological Seminary).

The late Stanley Toussaint is an excellent teacher and scholar. We took so much from this excellent course on Hebrews.

F.F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990).

F.F. Bruce was an eminent NT scholar, and he gives extensive historical details on extrabiblical Judaism at the time. These are found mostly in his footnotes. This makes Bruce’s commentary a good mixture of detail, while also remaining succinct for a technical commentary (under 400 pages).

Commentary on Hebrews

Unless otherwise stated, all citations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB).

Hebrews 1 (Greater than Angels: Part 1)

Good papers usually begin with a thesis statement—a short and concise way of explaining the main point. These first three verses capture the thesis statement of Hebrews: Jesus is the supreme and final revelation of God the Father. The author spends the rest of the letter expounding upon this central theme.

Hebrews 1:1-3 (The author’s thesis statement)

Hebrews is known for its sophisticated use of the Greek language. However, the prologue surpassing the rest of the book. It is “the stylistic apex of the entire Greek New Testament.”[53] Indeed, “nothing quite like the lofty rhetorical and literary expression of Heb 1:1-4 occurs elsewhere in the New Testament.”[54] Moreover, in a tightly compact way, the author somehow manages to touch on many different core theological doctrines such as “revelation, christology, soteriology, creation, and eschatology.”[55] This is truly an astounding introduction to one of the deepest books in the Bible.

(1:1) “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways.”

God can communicate to humans however he chooses—through written words, visions, dreams, etc. In fact, he can communicate in “many portions” and “many ways” if he sees fit. These terms refer to both the quality and the quantity of God’s revelation.[56] Throughout the OT, this is precisely what we observe, as God spoke to the patriarchs and the prophets in a variety of ways (“fathers… prophets”). But all of this stands in contrast to God’s final revelation: His Son.

(1:2) “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.”

“In these last days.” This can also be translated “at the end of these days.”[57] It isn’t just that Jesus appeared during the last days, but that “his appearance initiated the last days”[58] Morris writes, “The expression is found in the LXX, where it not infrequently refers in some way to the days of the Messiah (e.g., Num 24:14).”[59] The author seems to be subtly alluding to the end of the old covenant.

“[He] has spoken to us in His Son.” A natural contrast would be that God spoke through many messengers in the OT—such as prophets. And now, he has spoken through many messengers in the NT—such as apostles. Yet, the author doesn’t say this. He moves from many piecemeal prophets to the finality of Jesus’ revelation.

This succinctly captures the argument of Hebrews. In the OT, God formerly spoke to many people in many ways, but now, he has spoken through his Son. This is why we read so many a fortiori arguments throughout Hebrews. The revelation of Jesus is far greater than the Old Covenant. This is why the author repeatedly uses the word “great” or “greater” (megas) to describe Christ (Heb. 4:14; 10:21; 13:20), the work of Christ (Heb. 9:11), or the rewards from Christ (Heb. 10:35; 11:26). Indeed, the adjective “better” occurs a total of thirteen times in Hebrews “contrast Christ and his new order with what went before him.”[60]

Why does the author not use the article to describe Jesus? We might expect the author to refer to the Son, but he merely refers to God speaking in Son (en huiō). The author is not communicating the Jesus is one son among many. After all, the context refers to the utter uniqueness of Jesus (“whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world”).

While the lack of the article is grammatically awkward in English, it is not in the original language. In Greek, the grammar “permits the article to be omitted in prepositional phrases… especially in reference to unique persons and deity.”[61] Moreover, by not using the article, this could broaden the scope to refer to everything that the Son does, not merely who He is.

“He appointed heir of all things.” The author will defend this claim with a string of OT citations (perhaps alluding here to Ps. 2:8). For now, he merely asserts his thesis: Jesus is the Son of God who inherits everything. If this is true, then we want to be “fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17).

“Through whom also He made the world.” This speaks to the nature of Jesus as being the Creator God (cf. Jn. 1:1-3; Col. 1:16). Contrary to the views of Unitarians, God didn’t merely use Jesus as the agent of creation. After all, in Isaiah, we read, “I, the LORD, am the maker of all things, stretching out the heavens by Myself and spreading out the earth all alone” (Isa. 44:24). That is, when God created, he claims to have created by himself and “all alone.” How does this fit with the notion that Jesus was God’s agent of creation? Put simply, it doesn’t! If Yahweh was the exclusive Creator of the universe, and Jesus was the Creator, then it follows that Jesus is Yahweh.

“The world” (tous aiōnas) refers to “the space-matter-time continuum that is the universe, the totality of all things existing in time and space.”[62] Later, the author writes, “The worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible” (Heb. 11:3).

(1:3) “And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.”

Regarding the language of this section, Allen states that “each word pulsates with deity.”[63]

“He is the radiance of His glory.” John states that Jesus’ entire incarnation and ministry reflected God’s “glory” (Jn. 1:14). Jesus reflects the very glory of God the Father. Philo used the word “radiance” (apaugasma) to describe the Logos and God (The Making of the World 146; Noah’s Planting 50; cf. Special Laws 4.123). But the author of Hebrews differs from Philo. Bruce writes, “For [Philo] the Logos or Wisdom is the personification of a divine attribute; for [the author of Hebrews] the language is descriptive of a man who had lived and died in Palestine a few decades previously, but who nonetheless was the eternal Son and supreme revelation of God.”[64]

“Exact representation” (charaktēr) originally referred to “an engraved character or impress made by a die or seal, and it was commonly used for an impression on coins.”[65] It was the “reproduction” or “representation” of the original (BDAG, p.1077). The term is “highly expressive since a stamp on a wax seal will bear the same image as the engraving on the seal.”[66]

Yet, this passage doesn’t merely state that Jesus reflected God’s character in the way that other humans do (i.e. God’s communicable attributes). Instead, we read that Jesus was the perfect representation of God’s “nature.” The term “nature” (hypostasis) refers to “the essential or basic structure/nature of an entity.” It is the “substantial nature” or “essence” or “reality” of the thing in question (BDAG, p.1040). In this case, Jesus has the very “nature” (hypostasis) of God himself!

Conclusion. What does all of this mean? Jesus is surely distinct from God the Father because he possesses a unique personhood. Yet, he is similar to God the Father because he shares his essence or nature. This all supports the doctrine of the Trinity.

“[Jesus] upholds all things by the word of His power.” Jesus not only created the universe, but he is “sustaining and guiding”[67] the universe as well (cf. Col. 1:17).

  • This denies deism. Jesus continues to be involved in the world—even to the extent of keeping it in existence.
  • This denies pantheism. Jesus spoke the universe into existence, but he is distinct from the universe—not one with it.
  • This denies polytheism. Jesus is not one demi-god among many others. He is distinct in person from the Father, but the same in essence with the Father. He possesses the “exact representation of his nature” (v.3).

“When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” Jesus isn’t merely the Creator and Sustainer of the world; he is also its Redeemer. What did Jesus do with all of this power and glory? He paid for human sin, or rather, he made “purification of sins.” While letters like Romans and Galatians describe forgiveness by emphasizing the term justification, Hebrews emphasizes the word “purification” (katharismon).

Here is the outrageous claim of Hebrews: While the OT high priest made purification for sins through an animal sacrifice (Ex. 30:10; Lev. 16:30), Jesus—the ultimate high priest—made purification for sins through his own sacrifice. The author will unpack this concept for the next ten chapters (specifically in chapter 9).

“He sat down” (ekathisen). There were no couches or chairs in the Tabernacle. So, the priests needed to remain standing. This was a pictorial representation to show that the work was never finished. By contrast, the fact that Jesus “sat down” implies that his work was completed.

Jesus didn’t just sit anywhere. He took his seat at the “right hand of the Majesty on high,” which implies “a position of high honor.”[68]

(1:3) Doesn’t the author of Hebrews claim that Jesus is spiritually fulfilling the Davidic covenant, because he is currently sitting on a throne in heaven?

Hebrews 1:4-2:3 (Jesus is greater than the angels because he is the Son of God)

Now that our author set out his thesis, he begins a long process of defending it. To begin, he argues that Jesus is greater than the angels. Of course, our author already asserted this, claiming that Jesus was God (vv.1-3). But how will he defend this assertion? He appeals to the OT Scriptures, which his Jewish audience found to be authoritative. More than this, our author would need to make his case from OT Scriptures. Otherwise, the audience would find themselves holding to views which were contrary to God’s very own words in the OT.

(1:4) “Having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.”

Allen summarizes the logic in this way: “Since the Son has inherited a name because of his exaltation, and since his name is superior to that of the angels, then the Son is superior to the angels.”[69]

How did Jesus receive a “more excellent name”? In the ancient world, a person’s “name” described that person’s “nature.”[70] In the subsequent context, Jesus’ “name” seems to refer to being God’s “Son,” as the context makes clear.[71] And if Jesus was indeed God’s Son, then our author demonstrates that the Son of God is greater than any angel. Jesus is the “heir of all things.” The angels are not. This doesn’t mean that Jesus became God’s Son, but that he received this messianic name while on Earth.

Angels usually carried God’s revelation to people. So, by saying that Jesus revealed the character of God, we might think that he was just another powerful messenger of God. Not at all. Indeed, the author cites seven passages from the OT to show that the Son of God was greater than angels.

Seven OT citations

(1:5) “For to which of the angels did He ever say, ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You’? And again, ‘I will be a Father to Him and He shall be a Son to Me’”?

“For to which of the angels did He ever say…” Angels were collectively called “sons of God” (huioi theou) in the OT (Gen. 6:2, 4; Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7). However, the Messiah is called the specific “Son of God.”

“You are My Son, today I have begotten You.” Our author begins by citing Psalm 2. This is a prophetic psalm about the coronation of King Messiah, which ancient Jewish interpreters held to be messianic.[72] The author cites this passage to show that the King Messiah would be called God’s son. Of course, the king was not a baby at his coronation, but a fully grown man. So, the term “begotten” doesn’t refer to creation, but to God’s declaration. Most likely, he received this title at his exaltation,[73] as the context makes clear (v.4). For more on the author’s use of Psalm 2, see our earlier article (“Why does the author of Hebrews quote Psalm 2:7?).

“I will be a Father to Him and He shall be a Son to Me.” Next, the author cites 2 Samuel 7:14, which predicted the permanent and eternal covenant of David (see “Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants”). God promised that one of David’s descendants would be his son. This further demonstrates that the Messiah would be considered the Son of God (not an angel). Of course, if the Messiah is the Son of God, then he has authority and status over the angels.

To be clear, angels are sometimes collectively referred to as “sons of God” (e.g. Gen. 6:1-4). However, this title was “never conferred on any individual angel.”[74]

(1:6) “And when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says, ‘And let all the angels of God worship Him.’”

“When He again brings the firstborn into the world.” This doesn’t seem to refer to the incarnation. After all, later, the author uses the incarnation to demonstrate the Jesus was made lower than the angels (Heb. 2:5-9). Instead, the context refers to “the Son’s enthronement and exaltation.”[75]

Why is Jesus called the “firstborn”? In context, the author focuses on Jesus’ inheritance and title—not his essence or nature. If we want to see his views on Jesus’ nature, we need to read his opening thesis statement (Heb. 1:1-3). In the Bible, the title “firstborn” doesn’t mean “first created.” It is an “honorific title” that signifies “priority in rank.”[76] For instance, David was the last to be born among his brothers; however, because he was the most important among his brothers, he was called the “first born” (Ps. 89:27; cf. Ex. 4:22). Thus, this title implies the preeminence and universal inheritance of Christ (Col. 1:15, 18; Rom. 8:29).

“Let all the angels of God worship Him.” This is either a citation of Psalm 97:7 or the song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32:43 (see the LXX).

  • Deuteronomy 32:43. The song of Moses comes at the end of Deuteronomy (cf. Ex. 15). In context, this citation comes in the very last verse of the song. The difficulty with thinking that this is the proper citation is the fact that it doesn’t conform to the Hebrew Masoretic Text (MT), but rather to an alternate reading in the Greek Septuagint (LXX). The MT states, “Rejoice, O nations’ (gôy), whereas the LXX reads, ‘Rejoice, O heavens’ (ouranoi).” Moreover, the MT states that God “will avenge the blood of his ‘servants’ (ʿebed),” but “the LXX says ‘sons’ (tōn huiōn).”[77] Compare these texts below:

Septuagint (LXX): “O heavens, rejoice together with him, and let all the sons of God worship him. Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people, and let all the angels of God regain their strength.

Masoretic Text (MT): “Rejoice, O nations, with His people; for He will avenge the blood of His servants, and will render vengeance on His adversaries, and will atone for His land and His people.”

  • Psalm 97:7. In our mind, it is more likely what the author is quoting. The original text states, “Let all those be ashamed who serve graven images, who boast themselves of idols; worship Him, all you gods.” The purpose of this citation is to demonstrate the fact that the angels are called to worship Yahweh. If Jesus is God, then even the angels owe allegiance to him, showing Jesus’ superiority over them.

(1:7) “And of the angels He says, ‘Who makes His angels winds, and His ministers a flame of fire.’”

Verses 7 and 8 use a men… de construction in Greek. This is translated, “On the one hand… But on the other hand.” Verse 7 opens the construction, and verse 8 shows the contrast.

“Who makes His angels winds, and His ministers a flame of fire.” Our author cites Psalm 104:4. To begin, this passage shows that angels are created (makes His angels”), while Jesus is the Creator (Heb. 1:3). Moreover, the role of the angels is to serve—not to rule and reign. This concept reoccurs in verse 14 (“Are they not all ministering spirits…?”). This is a further reason why the angels don’t compare to the Son. Guthrie writes, “Their task is one of service. The Son’s task is one of rule (as verses 8 and 9 show).”[78] Furthermore, by calling the angels “winds,” the author is “contrasting the evanescence of angels with the eternity of the Son.”[79]

(1:8-9) “But of the Son He says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom. 9 You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness above Your companions.’”

Our author next cites Psalm 45:6-7. While the psalmist directs this prayer to “God,” the author of Hebrews states that this describes Jesus. Moreover, he emphasizes the king’s “scepter” to show his sovereignty and authority. Allen comments, “The main point, in light of what the text says in vv. 10-12, is the transitory and mutable nature of angels compared to the eternality of the Son.”[80] For more on this citation, see “Does Psalm 45:6 refer to Jesus or to Yahweh?”

(1:10-12) “And, ‘You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of Your hands; 11 They will perish, but You remain; and they all will become old like a garment, 12 And like a mantle You will roll them up; like a garment they will also be changed. But You are the same, and Your years will not come to an end.”

The author cites Psalm 102:25-27. In its original context, the psalmist contrasts the recent destruction of Jerusalem with the immutability and eternality of God. Then, the psalmist notes that even the universe itself isn’t even permanent. It will be rolled up and thrown away. But not the “Lord”! He will “remain” and his “years will not come to an end.” Since the author has already argued that Jesus was the Creator (v.3), he ascribes this psalm to him. Carson and Beale note, “In the LXX the words of our quotation can be taken as the words of Yahweh spoken to one addressed as ‘Lord,’ and in that case they must refer to divine Wisdom or the Messiah.”[81] Bruce comments, “To whom… could God speak in words like these? And whom would God himself address as ‘Lord,’ as the maker of earth and heaven? Our author knows of one person only to whom such terms could be appropriate, and that is the Son of God.”[82]

(1:13) “But to which of the angels has He ever said, ‘Sit at My right hand, until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet’?”

This is a citation of Psalm 110:1. This citation serves as an inclusio with verse 3. Angels never sit, but always serve. Jesus, however, is seated at God the Father’s right hand. This shows his superiority over the angelic realm. The author uses Psalm 110:1 to show that Jesus is the ultimate King, and later, he will use Psalm 110:4 to demonstrate that he is the ultimate High Priest. For more on Psalm 110, see comments on Matthew 22:41.

(1:14) “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?”

“Ministering spirits.” The author brings all of these citations together by showing that angels are “ministering spirits.” That is, angels are here to serve humans who inherit salvation. They don’t receive worship, receive salvation, or receive a kingdom. This will become essential to the author’s argument in chapter 2, where he demonstrates that Jesus’ humanity demonstrates his superiority to angels.

Questions for Reflection

Read verses 1-3. What can we learn about Jesus’ person and work from these opening verses?

F.F. Bruce[83] states that these passages describe Jesus as a prophet, priest, and king. Where do you see that in these opening verses?

These opening verses explain the concept of progressive revelation. That is, God revealed more and more about himself and his plan over time, culminating in the coming of Christ. If all we had was the Old Testament, what would we not understand as well about God character? Put another way, what did Jesus reveal about God’s character that may not have been as clear in the OT?

Read verses 4-14. Why does the author feel the need to show Jesus’ superiority over the angels? What might this imply about his audience? Was his audience confused about the deity of Christ? Were they minimizing this doctrine in some way? Were they elevating angels to an inordinate degree? (Col. 2:18) Or is something else in view?

Is our view of the person and work of Jesus really that important? How might our view of Jesus affect our practical life in areas like prayer, ministry, and our personal security with God?

Hebrews 2 (Greater than Angels: Part 2)

The author demonstrates that Jesus is far greater than angels. Indeed, he is God incarnate. But why does the author focus so much on this subject? Did they have a low view of Jesus’ divine nature? Were they obsessed with angels in some way, and the author needed to correct this theological distortion? Perhaps. However, a better solution comes in the context of chapter 2. Our author has been building a foundation all throughout chapter 1 in order to create an a fortiori argument. Specifically, if we followed the OT Law because it was delivered by angels, then how much more should we follow Jesus who is infinitely greater than angels?

(2:1) “For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it.”

The chapter divisions in Hebrews are quite unfortunate. The author is continuing to develop the argument that he began in the first chapter: Because Jesus is greater than angels, then we should “pay much closer attention” to his message than to the revelation of the Old Covenant brought about through angels (v.2).

“Drift away” (pararreō) comes from the root words “alongside” (para) and “flow” (rheō). It is a “nautical metaphor” (BDAG, p.770) that literally means “to hold a ship toward port.”[84] Unless we actively focus on our faith, we will drift away from it (cf. Heb. 6:19).

(2:2-3) “For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, 3 how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard.”

This is an a fortiori argument: If the revelation of God brought through angels had authority (i.e. the Old Covenant), then how much more serious should we treat the revelation brought through the son (i.e. the New Covenant). As religious Jews, the original readers would’ve accepted the Old Covenant. But now, God had transitioned to the New Covenant. This will be explained in further detail in the subsequent chapters. For now, the author is demonstrating that the revelation of the Son is superior to the angels.

The terms “unalterable” and “confirmed” (bebaioō) are the same word, and it is “virtually a technical term implying legal security.”[85] Both he OT Law and the New Covenant have been authoritatively stamped by God.

(2:2) What is the word spoken through angels? This refers to the fact that angels brought the Law—the Old Covenant—at Mount Sinai. This refers to the revelation of the Law, which was mediated by angels. God gave the Law in “the midst of ten thousand holy ones” (Deut. 33:2). The Law was “ordained by angels” (Acts 7:53) and “ordained through angels” (Gal. 3:19).

Hebrews 2:4-18 (Jesus is greater than angels because he is human)

The author of Hebrews was a masterful thinker and writer. In the first chapter, he argued that Jesus is greater than angels because he is God. Yet the audience may have retorted, “True, Jesus was God… but he was also human. How can a human be greater than an angel?” But, instead of getting defensive, the author uses this hypothetical objection to further his argument. If our author can show from the OT that humans are greater than angels, then this will show that Jesus (also a human) is greater than angels. This is precisely what he does…

(2:4) “God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.”

The mention of “signs” (sēmeiois) and “wonders” (terasin) and “miracles” (dynamēsin) implies that the sending of the Holy Spirit—a distinct promise of the New Covenant. Joel predicted, “I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. 29 Even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days” (Joel 2:28-29). Likewise, Ezekiel predicts, “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances” (Ezek. 36:27).

(2:5) “For He did not subject to angels the world to come, concerning which we are speaking.”

What is the author’s argument? Why does he digress into writing about how angels will not inherit the Earth? While it’s true that humans are not as smart, strong, or as old as angels, God values humans far more than angels. Moreover, God has given far greater promises to human, such as our dominion over the Earth (cf. Gen. 1:28). Indeed, the author assumes that we know that only humans receive salvation—not angels (Heb. 1:14). Thus, not only is Jesus greater than angels by virtue of his deity, but he’s also greater than angels by virtue of his humanity.

(2:6-8) “But one has testified somewhere, saying, ‘What is man, that You remember him? Or the son of man, that You are concerned about him? 7 You have made him for a little while lower than the angels; You have crowned him with glory and honor, and have appointed him over the works of Your hands; 8 You have put all things in subjection under his feet. For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him. But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him.’”

(2:6-8) Why does the author cite Psalm 8:4-6? The author’s logic can be explained in this way.

  1. Humans are rulers over all creation (Ps. 8).
  2. Angels are a part of creation (“all things”).
  3. Therefore, humans are rulers over angels.
  4. Jesus was human; therefore, Jesus rules over the angels.

As Paul cryptically writes, “Do you not know that we will judge angels?” (1 Cor. 6:3) If this is true of humans in general, then it applies all the more to Jesus in particular.

(2:9) “But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.”

Psalm 8 describes that humans descend lower than the angels temporarily, but they will rule over the angels in the end. Similarly, Jesus descended as a human at his incarnation, but he is now “crowned with glory and honor” because he is exalted (cf. Phil. 2:5-11). It was because of the cross that Jesus received his crown. Why did Christ die for us like this? It was because of the “grace of God.”

“He might taste death for everyone.” This is a good verse against the doctrine of Limited Atonement. Jesus didn’t just die for “all” or for the whole “world,” but this text states he died for “everyone” of us (see “Limited Atonement: A Critique”).

(2:10) “For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings.”

“For…” connects Jesus’ actions with “the grace of God” (v.9).

Contrary to our initial assumption, the “Him” is God the Father—not Jesus. After all, the text states that “it was fitting for Him… to perfect the author of their salvation.”

“Bringing many sons to glory.” Guthrie writes, “Not only was the Son crowned with glory, but his glory is shared with those he saves.”[86]

“Perfect” (teleioō) refers to the work God the Father did to Jesus—with the result that Jesus’ work of salvation would be “finished” (Jn. 19:30). This does not imply that Jesus moved from being immoral to having moral perfection. The term “perfect” (teleioō) means “to complete an activity” or to “finish” and “accomplish” something (BDAG, p.996). Luke uses it to refer to the “full number of days” (Lk. 2:43) or to reaching a “goal” (Lk. 13:32). In context, what did Jesus “complete” or “finish”? From verse 8, we can confidently say that he finished his learning of obedience.[87] At the Cross, Jesus could call this completed and finished (Jn. 19:28). For more on this subject, see our article, “Was Jesus imperfect or incomplete?”

“Author” (archēgos) appears again later in the letter, where we read that “Jesus [is] the author and perfecter of faith (Heb. 12:2; cf. Acts 3:15; 5:31). This term “author” can refer to a “leader” and “ruler,” or it can refer to an “originator” or “founder” (BDAG, p.139).

(2:11) “For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren.”

Humans have morally violated God and others, and we are totally depraved. How then can God not be ashamed to call us his family? The only reasonable explanation is that Jesus—the Son of God—has made us fellow sons of God (see “From Slaves to Sons.”) Jesus called people his family after the Cross (Mt. 28:10; Jn. 20:17), as well as when people followed God’s will (Mk. 3:35).

Proof that Jesus calls us brothers (Psalm 22 and Isaiah 8)

(2:12) “Saying, ‘I will proclaim Your name to My brethren, in the midst of the congregation I will sing Your praise.’”

The author cites Psalm 22:22. The author of this psalm is David, and he writes in the first person. Yet, this psalm describes a Righteous Sufferer who dies surrounded by his enemies with his hands and feet pierced. Surely this cannot refer to David, who because David didn’t die this way (1 Kin. 2:10). Instead, David is writing prophetically about Christ. See our infographic video for an explanation of this powerful prediction.

The first half of the psalm (vv.1-21) describes the torture and death of the Righteous Sufferer, while the second half (vv.22-31) refers to the exaltation and ramifications of the Righteous Sufferer’s death. Finally, because of this man’s death, all the nations of the world come to worship Yahweh! We are currently in this era, seeing the message of Christ reaching the world. The author of Hebrews must quote this passage to demonstrate that Jesus suffered and died (Heb. 2:10), but this was for the purpose of reaching the world (Heb. 2:11). Therefore, this is a profound citation, because it shows that Jesus would not only die for humanity (Ps. 22:1-21), but also lead humanity to worship God (Ps. 22:22-31).

(2:13) “And again, ‘I will put My trust in Him.’ And again, ‘Behold, I and the children whom God has given Me.’”

The author cites Isaiah 8:17-18. Since Isaiah (the faithful prophet) linked his faith with those of his children, the author links Jesus’ perfect faithfulness with his people. Moreover, just as Isaiah led his faithful remnant in faith through the political crisis of his day, Jesus leads his people through the ultimate fear and crisis of death (Heb. 2:14-15). The author is seeing a similarity in Isaiah 8—not a one-to-one comparison with Jesus. As F.F. Bruce writes, “Old Testament quotations in the New Testament are not isolated proof-texts, but carry their contexts with them by implication.”[88] For a more robust explanation, see our article “Why does the author quote Isaiah 8:17-18?”

(2:14-15) “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.”

“Render powerless” (katargeō) shouldn’t be rendered “destroy” (ESV, NET). Instead, the word means “to cause something to be unproductive” or “to lose its power or effectiveness” (BDAG, p.525).

Satan uses the fear of death to keep us captive. People hate to admit that they are slaves to death or anything else (Jn. 8:33), yet it’s hard to deny. In his book Immortal (2020), Clay Jones cites various secular thinkers on the subject:

  • Sheldon Solomon (professor of Psychology at Skidmore College): “Humans would be riddled with abject terror if they were constantly plagued by the ongoing awareness of their vulnerability and mortality—twitching blobs of biological protoplasm completely perfused with anxiety and unable to effectively respond to the demands of their immediate surroundings… Cultural worldviews evolved… to manage the terror engendered by the uniquely human awareness of death (hence our term terror management).”[89]
  • Luc Ferry (French secular philosopher): “[A human] knows that he will die, and that his near ones, those he loves, will also die. Consequently he cannot prevent himself from thinking about this state of affairs, which is disturbing and absurd, almost unimaginable.”[90]
  • Zygmunt Bauman (sociologist and philosopher): “There is hardly a thought more offensive than that of death; or, rather, the inevitability of dying; of the transience of our being in the world… The horror of death is the horror of the void” and is “bound to remain, traumatic.”[91]
  • Edwin Shneidman (thanatologist): “To cease as though one had never been, to exit life with no hope of living on in the memory of another, to be expunged from history’s record—that is a fate literally far worse than death.[92]
  • Stephen Cave (philosopher): “No matter how great our glory, it could only ever be a postponement of oblivion.”[93]
  • Irvin D. Yalom (Epicurean psychiatrist): “Despite the staunchest, most venerable defenses, we can never completely subdue death anxiety: it is always there, lurking in some hidden ravine of the mind.”[94]

All of this “abject terror,” “terror management,” and the “horror of death” keep people under control. We suppress the truth about God because we fear him too. If only we would come under the grace of God, we would be liberated from this fear. Jesus says that he holds the keys of death, releasing us from this fear (Rev. 1:18; cf. 1 Cor. 15:54-57). Bruce writes, “Christ’s brothers and sisters are sanctified; his death has transformed the meaning of death for them. To them his death means not judgment, but blessing; not bondage, but liberation. And their own death, when it comes, takes its character from his death. If, then, death itself cannot separate the people of Christ from God’s love which has been revealed in him, it can no longer be held over their heads by the devil or any other malign power as a means of intimidation.”[95]

All of this supports one peripheral strand of the atonement—that of Christus Victor theory (cf. Lk. 10:18-20; Rev. 20:10). This theory has good merits, but it shouldn’t be exaggerated to the extent that Penal Substitutionary Atonement is marginalized (see “Defending Penal Substitutionary Atonement”).

(2:16) “For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham.”

The author brings his argument full circle: Humans inherit the promises of Abraham—not angels. Thus, Jesus is greater than angels, and Jesus’ covenant is greater than the Old Covenant brought about by angels.

(2:17) “Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”

“He had to be made like His brethren in all things.” Jesus didn’t die for angels or animals or aliens from outer space! He was incarnated only once, and he died only once (Heb. 7:27; 9:12; 10:10). In the spiritual realm, there must be some sort of divine rules that require the sacrifice to be like the redeemed. Of course, these rules don’t exist above God, but they must necessarily derive from God’s own nature. Jesus needed to be God to pay for sin, but he needed to be human to identify with us.

“Propitiation for the sins of the people.” Leon Morris deftly defended the concept of “propitiation” over and against C.H. Dodd’s view of expiation.[96] For comments on “propitiation,” see Romans 3:25.

(2:18) “For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.”

“He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered.” How could Jesus be tempted if it’s impossible for God to be tempted? (Jas. 1:17) See our earlier article, “The Incarnation.”

“He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.” Jesus not only died for us in the past, but he can sympathize and aid us in the present. Jesus is far greater than any angel because angels never experienced the incarnation and all that comes with it.

Jesus learned experientially what it was like to experience suffering and temptation. This doesn’t refer to an increase in propositional knowledge, but experiential knowledge. Grudem explains the difference between knowing information and experiential knowledge. He writes, “Some faint parallel to this might be seen in the fact that a man who is a medical doctor, and has perhaps even written a textbook on obstetrics, might know far more information about childbirth than any of his patients. Yet, because he is a man, he will never share in that actual experience. A woman who has herself had a baby (or, to give a closer parallel, a woman physician who first writes a textbook and then has a baby herself) can sympathize much more fully with other women who are having babies.”[97]

Questions for Reflection

Read chapter 2. Why does the author feel the need to bring up the incarnation? How does this develop his overall argument in the letter?

What reasons does the author give for why Jesus needed to become human in order to pay for our sins?

Read verse 14. What does it mean that Satan has the “power of death”? Doesn’t God have this power—not Satan?

Read verses 14 and 15. The author claims that people fear death. In what ways might the fear of death affect our lives? How would the fear of death “subject us to slavery all our lives” as the author states?

Consider showing clips from the 2003 documentary “Flight from Death,” which is based on Ernest Becker’s book The Denial of Death (1974). The documentary gives its view of how to solve this problem at 1 hour and 14 minutes. Basically, it states that we should just create an “illusion” to pacify our worry of death. Do you agree with this solution to the specter of death? Watch a couple minutes and discuss.

Hebrews 3 (Greater than Moses)

The author has demonstrated Jesus’ superiority to angels, and specifically, the superiority of Jesus’ message to the Old Covenant that was delivered through angels (Deut. 33:2; Acts 7:53; Gal. 3:19). Now, our author focuses on the next authority in the chain of command: Moses.

It’s hard to exaggerate how much Jewish culture esteemed Moses. Bruce[98] lists several extrabiblical sources to this effect. The Jewish Encyclopedia (1906) states,

Of all Biblical personages Moses has been chosen most frequently as the subject of later legends… A cycle of legends has been woven around nearly every trait of his character and every event of his life; and groups of the most different and often contradictory stories have been connected with his career.

Moses’ influence and activity reach back to the days of the Creation. Heaven and earth were created only for his sake (Lev. R. xxxvi. 4)…

He was born circumcised (Soṭah 12a), and was able to walk immediately after his birth

A peculiar and glorious light filled the entire house at his birth (ib.; “S. Y.” p. 112b), indicating that he was worthy of the gift of prophecy (Soṭah l.c.).

He spoke with his father and mother on the day of his birth, and prophesied at the age of three.

[Pharaoh’s daughter had leprosy, but when she picked up baby Moses she] was cured of her leprosy (Ex. R. i. 27).

[Pharaoh] delivered him to the executioner, who chose a very sharp sword with which to kill Moses; but [Moses’] neck became like a marble pillar, dulling the edge of the sword (“M. W.” l.c.).

At age 27 Moses became King of Ethiopia and ruled 40 years.

Ben Sira (2nd c. BC) said Moses had “favor in the eyes of all,” and Moses was “equal of the holy ones [angels] in glory” (Sir. 45:1-6). Philo (1st c. AD) called Moses a “king, lawgiver, high priest, and prophet” (On the Life of Moses II, 1:3). The Assumption of Moses (1st c. AD pseudepigraphical work) said that Moses was “prepared before the foundation of the world to be the mediator of God’s covenant,” (11.11).

Of course, none of these statements are biblical or historical, but they demonstrate how much Jewish tradition sought to venerate Moses. (Indeed, many of these statements are so extreme and exaggerated that they sound like Chuck Norris jokes!) Nevertheless, the author doesn’t cure his culture’s exaggerations by disparaging Moses or pointing out his flaws. Instead, he shows that Jesus is greater than Moses. As he will argue, Jesus was “counted worthy of more glory than Moses” (Heb. 3:3).

Moses was the original prophet, and he was the archetype for all of the other prophets to come (Deut. 18:15-18; 34). Moses even set out a way to discern if a prophet was truly one of his successors: If a so-called prophet claimed to be from God, then his message shouldn’t contradict previous biblical revelation (Deut. 13:1-5). Thus, if Jesus’ teaching about the New Covenant contradicted OT revelation, this would be a major problem for Christianity. These are some of the reasons why the author of Hebrews addresses Moses next.

Hebrews 3:1-6 (Jesus is greater than Moses)

(3:1) “Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession.”

“Jesus, the Apostle.” This is the only place in the NT where Jesus is called “the Apostle.” The term “Apostle” (apostolos) means “messenger” or “one who is sent.” While there are multiple types of apostles, Jesus is the ultimate “Messenger” from God. Jesus himself said, “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world” (Jn. 17:18). Just as Moses was “sent” by God (Ex. 3:10), so was Jesus—only for a far greater purpose and mission.

“Jesus, the… High Priest.” The author will extensively explain the priesthood of Jesus at great lengths later on (Heb. 4:14-10:18). He must be introducing the topic here as a sort of teaser for what he will define and defend later in the letter. Though, capturing the function of both titles, Allen writes, “The two titles identify the two functions that Jesus fulfills. He represents God to humanity as apostle and he represents humanity to God as high priest.”[99]

“High Priest of our confession.” This church faced pressure to fall back into OT sacrificial worship with the Jewish priesthood. This is why they needed to “hold fast” to their “confession” of Jesus as the ultimate “High Priest” (cf. Heb. 4:14; 10:23).

(3:2) “He was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was in all His house.”

There is a sense in which Jesus and Moses are similar. Both were men. Both were prophets (Jn. 1:21). Both were found “faithful” by God the Father. Indeed, regarding Moses, God said, “My servant Moses, he is faithful in all My household” (Num. 12:7). However, this doesn’t preclude differences as well.

The Builder versus the Building

(3:3) “For He has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house.”

Did Jesus build the house, or did God the Father build the house? Even though the pronouns are somewhat ambiguous, we agree with Ellingworth[100] and Guthrie[101] that this is referring to Jesus as the Builder. For one, the context leading up to this statement refers to Jesus. Second, our author earlier stated that Jesus was crowned with “glory” and “honor” (Heb. 2:7), which fits with this description as well (“more glory… more honor,” cf. Rev. 5:12-13). Third, since Jesus is God and the Creator of “all things” (Heb. 1:2), it seems natural to see Jesus as the builder here. Others like Bruce[102] and Allen[103] think that this refers to God the Father—though both are open to the possibility that the builder is Jesus.

(3:4) “For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.”

The “house” refers to believers. In verse 6, the author writes, “Whose house we are.” Moses only served in the house, but Jesus built the house. If the builder is Jesus and the builder is also God, then what does this say about Jesus’ identity? Jesus created “all things” (Heb. 1:2), and God is the “builder of all things as well. This is because Jesus is God.

The Son versus a Servant

(3:5-6) “Now Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later; 6 but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house—whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.”

Moses was a servant in the house (Num. 12:7), but Jesus is the Son of the house. In ancient culture, a son and a servant might perform the same functions, but one has a higher status than the other. The author already wrote that Jesus and Moses have many similarities (v.2). Yet, the author is noting that Jesus is greater because of who he is, rather than just what he does.

(3:6) Does this passage make our salvation conditional on endurance? We hold that these conditional statements refer to our role in Christ’s house (v.6) or our sharing in Jesus’ mission (v.14). Rather than threatening our future salvation, the author is stating that our role in God’s work could be compromised if we don’t hold firmly to our faith. This fits with the greater theme of God’s “rest” in this larger section.

Hebrews 3:7-4:16 (Jesus, the Greater Rest)

Many Christians endure seasons of being burned out or feeling ineffective. Sometimes, this becomes theological, where they think that they are a disappointment to God and maybe to others. If you feel this way, then this chapter of Scripture should speak powerfully to you! All of these feelings could be symptomatic of a common spiritual disease—not knowing how to “rest” in Christ. The good news of this chapter is that we can “rest” from our works right now, and enjoy the finished work of Christ (Heb. 4:10). Yet, resting from our works might not mean what you think it means. It’s important to track the argument of the author as he explains how to rest in the finished work of Christ.

(3:7-4:11) What is “the rest” mentioned here? This article goes into great detail regarding the author’s use of the OT to describe God’s “rest.” We contend that the typology of the Wilderness Wandering shows that these people in the Exodus were true believers. They didn’t go to hell for their unbelief, because they passed the test of the Passover (which is clear typology for salvation, 1 Cor. 5:7). Indeed, if the lost generation went to hell because they didn’t enter the Promised Land, then this would imply that Moses, Aaron, and Miriam all fell short of saving faith as well (!!). Instead, the typology of the Promised Land describes rest from our works in this life—not the next.

How does this concept of God’s rest follow from the earlier material about Jesus being greater than Moses? The author of Hebrews is going to address the concept of God’s greater rest through Jesus. Before he addresses this concept, however, he most likely wanted to make sure he addressed Moses first. In other words, before addressing Jesus’ greater glory over the Promised Land, the author first needed to show Jesus’ greater glory over Moses—the Prophet that brought the people to the Promised Land.

Citation of Psalm 95

(3:7-11) “Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, ‘Today if you hear His voice, 8 Do not harden your hearts as when they provoked Me, as in the day of trial in the wilderness, 9 Where your fathers tried Me by testing Me, and saw My works for forty years. 10 Therefore I was angry with this generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart, and they did not know My ways’; 11 As I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest.’”

The author cites from Psalm 95:7-11, which refers back to the failure at Kadesh Barnea (Num. 14:23). In that historical event, the people saw that the Promised Land was everything God had promised (Num. 13:27). However, the people living in the land were powerful and vicious warriors (Num. 13:28-33), and the only expertise the Hebrews had was in brickmaking and shepherding. The Hebrews were escaped slaves with no military training, no weapons, and no experience in battle. Perhaps the ten spies were exaggerating the power of the Canaanites. But on the other hand, even God himself said that the Canaanites were far more powerful than the Israelites (Deut. 7:1). Consequently, the Israelites fell into unbelief. They didn’t take the Promised Land even though God had promised it to them (Num. 13:21-33).

Next, the people tried to stone Moses and Aaron for leading them into the Promised Land (Num. 14:1-10). They started with common-sense observations, but they ended with murderous blasphemy (Num. 14:10)! Hardened hearts are this way. When we argue against God’s word in one area, this easily carries over into another… and another… and another. If one compromise makes sense, why not let another domino fall over? McCallum observes, “Unbelief is a slippery slope. If God isn’t going to keep his word in one area, it’s hard to see why he would keep it in another area. Unbelief at any point really implies the reasonableness of unbelief at every point.”[104]

The Israelites had God’s word and a history of God’s works. So, this wasn’t blind faith, and there was good reason to trust. Yet, they refused to follow God’s promises. McCallum writes, “The faith God expected in this situation was not like New Age mind power. New Agers think they can believe whatever they want and it will happen if they believe hard enough. The Israelites had God’s word on this situation. God had spoken through Moses and validated his word with a series of the most extreme miracles. The whole story up to this point was about God calling his people to leave Egypt for a promised land. Joshua and Caleb were exactly right: to leave God out of the calculation like these spies were doing was to ignore a colossal series of divine actions and even the audible voice of God.”[105]

“[They] saw My works… they did not know My ways.” The author of Hebrews is taking his audience back to the OT to demonstrate how easily it is to fall into unbelief—even after seeing God working so powerfully. The major sin of the Israelites in Moses’ time was their lack of trust in God’s ability to provide for their needs (Ex. 17:7; Num. 11:4-6, 18-23; 14:7-9). Likewise, the original audience faced the same problems. They heard the preaching and saw the miracles of the apostles (Heb. 2:2-3), yet they were tempted to fall back into a works-based approach.

Commentary on Psalm 95: “There is time to change… but you must act “today…”

(3:12) “Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God.”

“Any one of you.” This is a repeated statement throughout the letter. It shows that the author is addressing individuals within the larger church. This could help explain why the author threatens the salvation of the readers at times. It isn’t that true believers can lose their salvation. Rather, this group is a mixed bag of believers and non-believers.

“Evil, unbelieving heart.” The result of unbelief results in “evil,” and to “fall away from the living God is the greatest defection possible.”[106] The people in the Wilderness in Moses’ time “in their hearts turned back to Egypt” (Acts 7:39). They asked, “Wouldn’t it be better if we returned to Egypt?” (Num. 14:3) The author sees parallels between the people in Moses’ day, and the people in the first century. Only in the author’s circumstance, some of the believers in Jesus wanted to return to the ritualism of the Law, rather than the New Covenant. The author doesn’t want history to repeat itself. This is why he repeats the word “today” over and over (Heb. 3:7-8; 15; 4:7).

(3:13) “But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”

The author has been intensely theological, and here he becomes intensely practical. Based on these truths, we need encouragement from one another.

“Encourage” (parakaleō) means to coming alongside and to “give courage.” It is an “act of emboldening another in belief or course of action” (BDAG, p.766). Yet, we can’t bring this encouragement of faith if we do not have it ourselves.

“One another.” Encouragement is the role of everyone in the Christians community. If my brother is falling into unbelief, it’s my role to impart courage for him to carry on.

“Day after day” means that this is an ongoing endeavor. We constantly need this role to be filled in the Christian community.

“Hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” This can be taken in the middle voice.[107] This would mean that we harden ourselves by our sin. Failure to encourage others results in dire consequences! Without this important ministry, sin can warp our minds and harden our hearts. The fact that these believers were forsaking fellowship left them particularly vulnerable (Heb. 10:25). They weren’t putting themselves in proximity to others to experience encouragement.

“Today.” Here is a chilling thought: There literally was no “tomorrow” for the people who fell into unbelief at Kadesh Barnea. The very next “morning,” the people changed their minds about entering the Promised Land (Num. 14:40). But it was too late! Even though they changed their minds, they missed out on the promise, and now, they were trying to contravene the recent word from God about the 40 year wandering (Num. 14:41-42). Though Moses warned them, the people persisted in attacking the Amalekites. Moses writes, “But they went up heedlessly to the ridge of the hill country; neither the ark of the covenant of the LORD nor Moses left the camp. 45 Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down, and struck them and beat them down as far as Hormah” (Num. 14:44-45).

The same is true for us. If you hear God’s voice “today,” then you should respond “today.” You never know where your heart will be so hardened that you won’t hear from him.

(3:14) “For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end.”

(3:14) Does this passage make our salvation conditional on endurance? We hold that these conditional statements refer to our role in Christ’s house (v.6) or our sharing in Jesus’ mission (v.14). Rather than threatening our future salvation, the author is stating that our role in God’s work could be compromised if we don’t hold firmly to our faith. This fits with the greater theme of God’s “rest” in this larger section.

(3:15) “While it is said, ‘Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts, as when they provoked Me.’”

The author keeps emphasizing that they can turn back to God, provided they can still hear his voice. McCallum writes, “And so we see the significance of ‘today.’ If you find God speaking to you, it means there’s at least one more chance.”[108]

(3:16-18) “For who provoked Him when they had heard? Indeed, did not all those who came out of Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient?”

What was the great “sin” and “disobedience” that the Israelites committed? The next verse tells us that it was the sin of “unbelief.”

(3:19) “So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief.”

The author is driving home the point that unbelief was at the root of their sin and apostasy. This completes the loop with verse 12: “Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God.” Of course, we can all admit the perils of unbelief in the account of the Israelites at Kadesh Barnea. But can we see the same perilous consequences in our own lives? As Guthrie writes, “His readers could hardly question the reality of the Israelites’ unbelief and he clearly hopes that they will equally clearly see the dangerous consequences of similar unbelief on their part.”[109]

Questions for Reflection

Read verses 7-19. Most interpreters understand the typology of the Promised Land to refer to our “rest” when we get to Heaven. We would argue that this refers to our current “rest” in our walk with Christ. Which view do you find more plausible?

Read verse 6. Why would these Jewish believers in Jerusalem be tempted to reject grace? Wouldn’t grace teaching always be more attractive to accept?

Read verse 13. Do we wake up one day with a hardened heart? What are some of the subtle steps that lead to developing a hardened heart?

Hebrews 4 (Greater Rest)

The author continues to unfold his argument (despite the poor chapter break!). He is still addressing the failure of unbelief at Kadesh Barnea in Numbers 14. While Moses and the original Exodus generation didn’t enter the Promised Land, the subsequent generation entered after 40 years. This brought about the completion of God’s “rest,” right? Wrong! Though Joshua led the people into the Promised Land, Psalm 95 states that this rest is still available in David’s day—500 years later. This is why David refers to the “rest” existing “Today” (Ps. 95). From this, the author extrapolates that there is still a “rest” of God for believers today. Let’s continue to follow his argument closely.

(4:1) “Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it.”

If the promise of God’s rest still existed in David’s day (Ps. 95), then the author infers that it still remains for his contemporary audience.

(4:2) “For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard.”

Just like those at Kadesh Barnea, these first-century believers had “heard” from God (Heb. 3:16). But they were guilty of unbelief (Heb. 3:19). Simply hearing God’s word doesn’t bring rest—only faith can bring this.

(4:3-5) “For we who have believed enter that rest, 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. 4 For He has said somewhere concerning the seventh day: ‘And God rested on the seventh day from all His works.’ 5 And again in this passage, ‘They shall not enter My rest.’

This is a citation of Psalm 95:7 and Genesis 2:2. The author bounces between these citations to show that God is barring people from his rest (Ps. 95), yet he still has a rest for them to enter. As he wrote earlier, “A promise remains of entering His rest” (Heb. 4:1).

What stops people from not enjoying God’s rest? Unbelief (Heb. 3:19). And what allows people into God’s current rest? Faith! McCallum explains this passage, “Why would God need to rest after the six days? Surely an omnipotent being doesn’t need rest. And here we find the key. God didn’t need to rest. There was only one reason for his rest: his work was finished… Here we have the first hint of the subject that will dominate the rest of the book: the finished work of Christ.”[110] He adds, “Entering God’s rest is when we throw off every hope from self-effort and self-sufficiency and finally and fully begin to trust.”[111] Guthrie writes that this rest “is not something simply to be hoped for in the future. It is an essential part of the present reality for Christians.”[112]

(4:6) “Therefore, since it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly had good news preached to them failed to enter because of disobedience.”

Earlier, the author equated “disobedience” with “unbelief” (Heb. 3:18-19).

(4:7-9) “He again fixes a certain day, ‘Today,’ saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before, ‘Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.’ 8 For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that. 9 So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.”

The author is pointing out that God’s rest is still in effect “today,” not just hundreds or thousands of years ago. Though Joshua brought the people the “rest” of the Promised Land, there was still rest later on. To summarize his argument, the author is showing that:

  • Humans forfeited God’s finished work at the beginning of creation (Gen. 2:2).
  • Humans forfeited God’s finished work at Kadesh Barnea (Num. 13-14).
  • Humans forfeited God’s finished work in the day of David (Ps. 95).
  • And now, these believers were forfeiting God’s finished work through Christ!

In verse 9, the author subtly shifts from “rest” (katapausis) to our new “sabbath rest” (sabbatismos). This could allude to the fact that the old way of the Sabbath has been expanded in the New Covenant (cf. Col. 2:16ff). While religious Jewish people would strictly keep the Sabbath day, our author states that this “sabbath rest” (sabbatismos) is ongoing for the believer in Jesus.

(4:10-11) “For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. 11 Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience.”

God’s rest refers to sanctification—not glorification. Bruce states that believers in the NT age “enter it at death,”[113] but they look forward to this rest through their faith. We disagree. The author isn’t referring to resting in Heaven when we die; he is referring to resting in our walk with God while we live. After all, the author uses the aorist tense: “The one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works.” We agree with Reformed author Andrew Murray who aptly notes, “This is the rest into which [one] enters, not through death, but through faith.”[114]

God’s rest doesn’t mean that we stop actively serving God or others. This would be a poor deduction from this text. “Rest” doesn’t mean that we become lazy, sleepy, or sluggish. Indeed, the author compares our rest to God’s rest on the seventh day of creation (“as God did from His”). God still rests from his works of creation, and yet, he still does works. Jesus said, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working” (Jn. 5:17). Similarly, the believer in Jesus can rest from comparison, performance, and legalism, because we can rest in the finished work of Christ. Then, from this experience, we can serve God with a renewed spirituality.

God’s rest doesn’t imply passivity. Our role is to “be diligent to enter that rest.” An active part of the Christian life is to rest from our works. It takes an active trust to believe these truths, and to walk with God on this stable foundation.

(4:12) “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

The expression “the word of God” can refer to the gospel,[115] Scripture,[116] an audible message,[117] or even to Jesus himself, who is the logos of God.[118] Later uses by the author don’t resolve this issue:

  • Later, the author uses the expression to refer to the gospel. He writes, “In the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come” (Heb. 6:4-5). All of these other expressions refer to salvation. So, this final expression seems to refer to salvation as well.
  • The author also uses this expression to refer to God’s audible words, alluding to Genesis 1: “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible” (Heb. 11:3).
  • Finally, the author makes an ambiguous reference by using this expression. Referring to their leaders, the author writes, “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith” (Heb. 13:7). It could refer to these people coming to Christ, or it could refer to sitting under the teaching of their former leaders. We’re unsure.

Toussaint holds that the expression “the word of God” refers to the gospel message. This could be the case. Yet, we hold that it refers to Scripture. After all, this entire section has been a string of citations to the OT Scripture. Moreover, in context, God has been speaking, and the people were supposed to listen to his voice (Heb. 3:7, 15, 16; 4:2, 7). When God speaks, we’re supposed to listen. Of course, this applies to Scripture, which the author has been quoting throughout this section. Indeed, we hold that Hebrews 4:12 is an inclusio with Hebrews 3:7 which began this section. There, we read, “The Holy Spirit says…” Then, the author proceeds to cite Scripture.

The term “sword” can more accurately be translated as a “knife” (machaira).[119] The word can have “the technical meaning of a surgeon’s knife.”[120] This implies that God uses his word almost like a razor-sharp scalpel to pierce us and perform spiritual surgery (cf. Eph. 6:17; Rev. 1:16; Isa. 49:2). God’s word is sharper than any weapon. Often, as we sit in front of the word, God challenges us, reminds us, or leads us. God’s word is:

  • “Living” (zao). This term comes at the beginning of the sentence, which was the Greek way to show emphasis and intensity (cf. Acts 7:38; 1 Pet. 1:23).
  • “Active” (energes). This is the root word for the English term “energy.” It refers to “capability, effective, active, powerful” (BDAG). This carries the sense that it “speeds to fulfil the purpose for which it has been uttered.”[121]
  • “Judging” or “discerning” (kritikos). This doesn’t refer to judgment, but to discernment (i.e. judging right from wrong). Bruce writes, “The word of God probes the inmost recesses of our spiritual being and brings the subconscious motives to light is what is meant.”[122] Since “God knows the hearts of all men” (Acts 1:24), he word is also capable of knowing our hearts.

(4:13) “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.”

The term “laid bare” (trachēlizō) was a wrestling metaphor, whereby the wrestler would struggle and pin his opponent. Morris writes, “It was used of wrestlers who had a hold that involved gripping the neck and was such a powerful hold that it brought victory. So the term can mean ‘to prostrate’ or ‘overthrow.’ Those who accept this meaning render this verse in this way: ‘All things are naked and prostrate before his eyes.’”[123] If this is the meaning, perhaps it’s saying that God will wrestle with our thoughts, motives, and values through his word. This exposes our unbelief, while simultaneously reveals his grace and love. This shows that we can’t fake faith because God can see directly into our hearts.

This is a good transition verse. Since God knows the depths of our hearts (and our hearts are evil), does this mean that we are without hope? No! This means that we need a powerful priest that can advocate for us. Guthrie writes, “The fact that nothing can be concealed makes all the more pressing the need for an effective representative who can act on behalf of men.”[124] Our author introduced this concept earlier (Heb. 2:17), and now, he circles back to unpack this concept even more.

Hebrews 4:14-5:10 (The high priesthood of Jesus)

The subject of Jesus’ high priesthood begins here and lasts until Hebrews 10:23. This is the prologue and Hebrews 10:19-23 is the epilogue of this long and labored section of Scripture.[125] The author needs to make a strong case for Jesus’ ultimate and final priesthood. Otherwise, his audience will succumb to the pressure of reverting to the Old Covenant priesthood.

(4:14) “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.”

“Great high priest.” Jesus is the solution: Hold fast to this ultimate priest who can bring us into the very presence of God. This is the thesis statement for Hebrews 4:14-10:23.

“Let us hold fast our confession.” This is second of three times that the author urges us to “hold fast” to faith in Christ (Heb. 3:6; 10:23).

(4:15) “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.”

“Sympathize” (synpatheō). This is the same term used to describe how the believers “showed sympathy to the prisoners” (Heb. 10:34). Here, Jesus sympathizes with our many “weaknesses.” (cf. Heb. 2:17)

“Yet without sin.” See our earlier article “The Sinlessness of Jesus.”

(4:15) How could Jesus be tempted? Jesus wasn’t tempted in his divine nature (Jas. 1:17), but in his human nature.

(4:16) “Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

The conclusion of this long section about faith and unbelief results in this imperative: “Draw near with confidence to the throne of grace.” The use of the present tense means that “the readers are exhorted to come as often as needed.” And they can come with “with confidence” or “with boldness” or “with a bold frankness.”[126]

The concepts of having “confidence” while approaching a royal “throne” seems quite conflicting. The way that the author harmonizes this reality is to come through “grace.”

“Confidence” (parresia) refers to “a use of speech that conceals nothing and passes over nothing, outspokenness, frankness, plainness” (BDAG, p.781). It can also be defined as “a state of boldness and confidence, courage, confidence, boldness, fearlessness” (BDAG, p.781).

“Throne of grace.” Guthrie writes, “The throne stands for royalty and could certainly be overawing were it not that its main characteristic is grace, i.e. the place where God’s free favour is dispensed.”[127]

Conclusion. After all of this talk about God knowing, convicting, and seeing our sin, we might be tempted to retreat from God in fear. Yet the author tells us to move toward him instead. Why? We have a gracious mediator—a high priest who can intercede for us and sympathize with our weaknesses.

Questions for Reflection

What was the reason that the people didn’t enter God’s rest?

Read verses 10-11. How do we harmonize this?

  • Verse 10: “Rest from our works…”
  • Verse 11: “Make every effort to enter that rest…”

What does it look like to “rest,” while also “making every effort”? In his book True Spirituality, Francis Schaeffer referred to this as “active passivity.” Referring to Mary’s choice to give birth to Jesus, he writes, “In our thought-world, we are to bow under the work of the Holy Spirit internally, and then as we, in active passivity, give up ourselves to him, the fruit of the resurrected and glorified Christ flows forth through our bodies into the external world.”[128]

How would you define God’s rest?

God’s rest is NOT…

  • Comparison and performance
  • Giving God reasons to love me
  • Feeling like I need to change for God to love me and bless my life
  • Feeling like I deserve more
  • Needing more devotion so that I can experience love from God

God’s rest IS…

  • Expecting God to love and bless me—even though I know I’m unworthy
  • Asking for blessing based on God’s love—not self-effort or dedication
  • Being thankful for what I have already
  • Having more and more confidence that God will use a sinner like myself
  • Trusting more in God and less in self

Hebrews 5 (Greater Priesthood: Part 1)

Who is Melchizedek? The priest Melchizedek is only mentioned in four verses in the entirety of the OT (Gen. 14:18-20; Ps. 110:4). Yet, he serves as a lynchpin in securing Jesus as the ultimate and final priest—far greater than the Levitical priests.

Introduction to the Levitical high priesthood

The author’s Jewish audience were experiencing immense pressure to continue to follow the OT rituals in the Old Covenant. This included bringing an animal sacrifice to the Temple, as well as participating in the Day of Atonement (“Yom Kippur”). It would’ve been very difficult to break away from these rules and rituals for several reasons: (1) God had ordained these practices, (2) the Jewish people had followed these ordinances for 1,500 years, and (3) the Jewish people continued to follow them en masse at that time. Therefore, if Jewish Christians were going to quit participating in these practices, then they would need good reasons for opting out. To this end, the author of Hebrews develops an extended argument over the next several chapters to defend the ultimacy, exclusivity, and finality of Jesus as our High Priest (from Heb. 4:14-10:23).

To begin, the author gives a tutorial on the nature of the Levitical priests. He needs to lay the foundation of the nature and limitations of the Levitical high priest before he can show Jesus’ superiority to this office. He shares many similarities and differences between the high priests and Jesus.

(5:1) “For every high priest taken from among men is appointed on behalf of men in things pertaining to God, in order to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins.”

The high priest needed to be human (“taken from among men”). This is because they interceded “on behalf of men.” Allen comments, “Whereas the prophet speaks on behalf of God to men, the priest functions to bring men to God. This necessitates a close identification of the priest with the people whom he represents. Thus, in 4:14-5:10, the focus is on the humanity of Christ.”[129]

God appointed this high priest to stand in between him and the people, and the high priest would offer sacrifices for the sins of the people. While “the reasons for this are never explicitly revealed,” this explains why “Jesus’ incarnation was not optional.”[130]

(5:2) “He can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided, since he himself also is beset with weakness.”

The high priest needed to be able to sympathize with the people (e.g. “deal gently with the ignorant and misguided”). The high priest could sympathize with the people because he himself was a fallen human. A high priest couldn’t “make fitting expiation for sins,” while also being filled with “feelings of indignation and exasperation against those who were guilty of them.”[131] By his very nature, a priest needed to “sympathize” with sinners. Jesus can sympathize with our weaknesses too, but not because he himself was sinful (Heb. 4:15). Rather, he can sympathize because he took on a human nature.

“[The high priest] himself also is beset with weakness.” We see this in the case of Aaron making the Golden Calf (Ex. 32) and the sins of Joshua (Zech. 3:3-9). This is why the high priest needed to offer a sin offering for himself (Heb. 16:6-17).

(5:3) “And because of it he is obligated to offer sacrifices for sins, as for the people, so also for himself.

The high priest needed to offer “sacrifices for sins.” Both the high priest and Jesus offered “sacrifices for sins.” Yet, here we see another key difference: Since the high priest was himself sinful, he needed to bring a sin offering for himself because he was still a fallen man (Lev. 16:6ff).

(5:4) “And no one takes the honor to himself, but receives it when he is called by God, even as Aaron was.”

The high priest needed to be called by God (“he is called by God”). A man couldn’t simply volunteer for the position of high priest. It might be somewhat analogous to someone volunteering to be the Queen of England! Aaron was the first high priest, and God called him to this role (Ex. 28:1ff.; Lev. 8:1ff.; Num. 16:5; 17:5; 18:1ff.; Ps. 105:26), and God called his successors to this role as well (Num. 20:25-26; 25:11ff). Subsequent priests needed to come from the line of Aaron, and God needed to appoint this person to this very exclusive and important role. Being a high priest was a “divine vocation,” and “not merely a human institution.”[132] This is another similarity between Jesus and the office of high priesthood: Jesus was called and sent by God the Father to perform his ministry as mediator (Jn. 8:42; 9:4; 11:42; 12:44, 45, 49; 14:24).

What’s the problem?

According to OT law, Jesus was disqualified from being a high priest. Christians might find this shocking to read, but think about it: Jesus came from the tribe of Judah—not the tribe of Levi (Mt. 1:2; Lk. 3:33). Even the author of Hebrews admits, “It is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests” (Heb. 7:14). Therefore, Jesus was automatically disqualified from serving in the priesthood. Moreover, the high priest was replaced after his death. Since Jesus died, he couldn’t be the high priest forever and ever. As Bruce comments, “If our author is to sustain his thesis that Jesus is his people’s great high priest, he must produce comparable evidence of a divine call in his case.”[133]

What’s the solution? The Priesthood of Melchizedek

To answer the difficulties above, the author of Hebrews doesn’t try to squeeze Jesus into the Levitical priesthood. Rather, he appeals to another kind of priesthood entirely: Priests in the line of Melchizedek.

(5:5-6) “So also Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a high priest, but He who said to Him, ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You’; 6 just as He says also in another passage, ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.’”

“You are My Son, today I have begotten You.” The author cites Psalm 2:7 once again. He had already established the fact that Jesus was God’s unique son (Heb. 1:5). Now, the author trades on the fact that God not only called Christ a Son (Ps. 2:7), but also a priest (Ps. 110:4).

“You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” The author cites Psalm 110:4. This is a messianic psalm that predicts that the Messiah would be called a “priest… according to the order of Melchizedek.”

(5:7) “In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety.”

Bruce,[134] Allen,[135] and Guthrie[136] argue that the author is most likely referring to Jesus’ experience at the Garden of Gethsemane. While the Gospels don’t record Jesus crying in Gethsemane, this fits with that setting when Jesus said, “My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death” (Mk. 14:34), and he was in such agony that “His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground” (Lk. 22:44). The weeping of Jesus also fits with his character in general (Jn. 11:35; Ps. 22:24).

Why does the author appeal to this portion of Jesus’ life? This demonstrates that Jesus identified with us in his humanity. Like the high priest, he was fully human. This explains how we can have “a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses” and “One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15).

(5:8-9) “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. 9 And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation.”

“He learned obedience.” The text doesn’t state that Jesus learned obedience after being disobedient. Instead, it merely states the fact that Jesus “learned obedience.” Of course, a person cannot learn obedience propositionally or intellectually. You can only learn it practically and experientially. For instance, you could read about riding a bike in books. But you cannot say you’ve truly learned how to ride until you’re rolling down the road. Similarly, you cannot learn obedience without acting on it. Thus, Morris writes, “[Jesus] learned obedience by actually obeying. There is a certain quality involved when one has performed a required action—a quality that is lacking when there is only a readiness to act. Innocence differs from virtue.”[137]

“Having been made perfect.” This does not imply that Jesus moved from being immoral to having moral perfection. The term “perfect” (teleioō) means “to complete an activity” or to “finish” and “accomplish” something (BDAG, p.996). Luke uses it to refer to the “full number of days” (Lk. 2:43) or to reaching a “goal” (Lk. 13:32). In context, what did Jesus “complete” or “finish”? From verse 8, we can confidently say that he finished his learning of obedience.[138] At the Cross, Jesus could call this completed and finished (Jn. 19:28). Morris writes, “This does not mean that he was imperfect and that out of his imperfection he became perfect. There is a perfection that results from having actually suffered; it is different from the perfection that is ready to suffer. ‘He became’ indicates a change of relationship that follows the perfecting. The suffering that led to the perfecting did something. It meant that Jesus became ‘the source of eternal salvation.’”[139]

For a more thorough explanation, see “Was Jesus imperfect or incomplete?”

(5:10) “Being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.”

The author really has us interested in what he’s saying. He’s masterfully handling the OT Scriptures to demonstrate that Jesus was both a King and Priest. But just as he hooks our attention and whets our appetite… he takes a chapter and a half digression! (He will pick up this subject in Hebrews 6:20.)

Why does he digress before finishing his thought? The author has already explained his thesis regarding Jesus’ superior priesthood. But before he elaborates, perhaps he wants to make sure that they are willing to listen and learn before he explains this complex truth in depth. That’s why he addresses their ability to understand the basics before he gets into complex theology.

Dull of hearing

(5:11) “Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.

“Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain.” As we study the priesthood of Melchizedek, we discover an incredibly complex, interlocking web of spiritual truth. While the information is there, are we willing to do the study and understand it? It’s not that these people were too unintelligent to understand. It’s that they were unwilling to learn (cf. 1 Cor. 2:14; Mt. 13:12).

“Dull” (nōthros) refers to being “lazy, sluggish, or careless” (BDAG, p.683). This mental laziness can lead to falling away (Heb. 6:12).

(5:12) “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.”

You ought to be teachers.” These believers had a Jewish background, so they would’ve had an enormous head start on the other believers of their day. Yet, they were not progressing in spiritual growth. They should be at the point where they could teach, but their spirituality had stalled out.

When the author speaks of them as “teachers,” some take this to mean that this was “a small group of intellectuals who lacked spiritual perception.”[140] In our view, this is an ad hoc speculation that possesses no evidence whatsoever. Indeed, it answers a problem that doesn’t exist! Instead, this passage fits much better with the repeated biblical notion of every-member ministry, where every person teaches others (Col. 1:28-29; 3:16).

“Elementary principles” (stoicheia) refer to the “basic components of something,” specifically learning. Indeed, Plato used this term for children learning the alphabet (BDAG, p.946).

(5:13) “For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant.”

What’s wrong with being an infant? Nothing (1 Pet. 2:2). Unless you’re twenty five years old, throwing your food on the ground and defecating in your pants! It’s downright strange to witness people who refuse to grow up physically or relationally. According to Scripture, the same is true for those who neglect growing up spiritually (cf. 1 Cor. 3:1-3).

“Not accustomed” (apeiros) literally means “untried,” and this “inexperience… would suggest that the lack of skill was linked with lack of practice.”[141]

(5:14) “But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.”

We’ve all met the “theologian” who talks about spirituality and doctrine, but never puts it into practice (Jas. 1:22-25). Discernment takes practice.

“Practice” (hexin) implies that spiritual growth is often slow and steady. As Guthrie writes, “Spiritual maturity comes neither from isolated events nor from a great spiritual burst. It comes from a steady application of spiritual discipline.”[142] It might not be very exhilarating to sit with God every day in his Word. Yet, over time, we see major spiritual growth. The same is true for learning to influence and impact others for Christ. On any given night, it might not seem that important to meet with others for a time of fellowship. Yet, this “practice” adds up over time, and ought not neglect these times together (Heb. 10:25).

“Training” (gymnazō) is the root for the modern term “gym” or “gymnasium.” In ancient times, it referred to the training of athletes (BDAG, p.208).

All of this “practice” and “training” can eventually lead to “discernment.” The concept of “discernment” is a sign of a spiritually maturing person. Some people have the gift of discernment (1 Cor. 12:10), but all believers should grow in discernment (Phil. 1:9).

Questions for Reflection

Read verses 1-4. Compare and contrast a normal high priest with Jesus’ role as a high priest. In what ways are they similar? In what ways are they different?

Read verses 11-14. From this text, what are concrete signs that a person is still spiritually immature?

Read verses 11-14. What reasons does the author give for why these Christians have stopped growing spiritually?

Read verse 13. (Devil’s advocate question) Is the author of Hebrews using guilt to motivate these Christians into teaching the Bible? Is he being legalistic by saying that they should be further along spiritually by now?

Read verse 14. What are some ways to build our discernment in practical ministry?

Hebrews 6 (Greater Priesthood: Part 2)

The audience had failed to grasp the “elementary principles of the oracles of God” (Heb. 5:12). The author addresses their dull attitude (Heb. 5:11), and now, he tells them that he is “leaving the elementary teaching.” This doesn’t refer to rejecting these foundational truths. Rather, he is telling them that they need to move forward.

(Heb. 6:1-3) “Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. 3 And this we will do, if God permits.”

Do these six features refer to ritual Judaism or Christianity? We hold to the former view—namely, the author is trying to help them advance past ritual Judaism. Regarding these six features, Bruce comments, “It is remarkable how little in the list is distinctive of Christianity, for practically every item could have its place in a fairly orthodox Jewish community… All this belonged to the creed of a Pharisaic Jew who accepted the whole of the Old Testament.”[143]

The audience needs to move beyond the ritualism of OT Judaism in order to make progress in their sanctification. The author refers to these things as “dead works,” because they carry no meaning to God in the New Covenant. The author lists a number of features of OT ritual Judaism and teaching that has been superseded by Christ:

“Elementary teaching about the Christ.” The author has been arguing about the authenticity of Jesus as the Messiah and High Priest from the Old Testament. These “elementary teachings about the Christ” seem to refer to these undeveloped views about the Messiah that haven’t come into full expression yet (cf. Heb. 1:1-3). The author wants the audience to leave this “elementary” view and experience the full reality of the Messiah.

“Dead works.” Later, the author states that the Holy Spirit will “cleanse your conscience from dead works” (Heb. 9:14). Some commentators hold that these refer to “evil works.”[144] However, we hold that the context refers to works of the Law. These don’t profit a Christian in her sanctification.

“Faith toward God.” This was just as true in the OT as it is in the NT (Gen. 15:6; Hab. 2:4; Isa. 7:9). Moreover, the author has already argued that unbelief kept the Israelites from experiencing God’s rest (Heb. 3-4).

“Washings” (baptismōn). The NIV translates this as “baptisms.” However, in our view, this is a poor translation. For one, it would also certainly be unusual for the author to speak about plural baptism(s), when Scripture only speaks of “one baptism” (Eph. 4:5).[145] Second, the author uses this same word later to refer to old covenant washings (Heb. 9:10; cf. Mk. 7:4). Third, the OT background explains this term far better. Before they entered the Holy Place, Aaron and his sons would “wash their hands and their feet, so that they will not die” (Ex. 30:21). Thus, Bruce translates this as “teaching about ablutions.”[146]

“Laying on of hands.” This could refer to the Christian practice of recognizing leaders (Acts 6:6; 13:3; 1 Tim. 4:14; 5:22; 2 Tim. 1:6). However, this seems quite obscure in a passage about growing from spiritual infancy into spiritual maturity—especially if the focus is really all a warning on apostasy. Instead, the OT context fits far better. The high priest would lay his hands on the sacrificial animal. In Leviticus, we read, “Aaron shall lay both of his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the sons of Israel and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins; and he shall lay them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who stands in readiness” (Lev. 16:21). Furthermore, in the OT, people were anointed for leadership roles after the laying of hands (Num. 27:18, 23; Deut. 34:9), and rabbis were ordained this way as well (Mishnah, Sanhedrin 4.4). So, this could also be a hangover from ritual Judaism.

“Resurrection of the dead” and “eternal judgment.” These concepts were taught in the OT (Dan. 12:2; Isa. 26:19; Job 19:25), and the Pharisees already affirmed this doctrine (Acts 23:8). However, the details weren’t as clear as after the time of Christ. The author sees the need to explain these eternal realities in detail.

Summary. All of these teachings seem to come from the Old Covenant or ritual Judaism in Jesus’ day. The sin of the audience in Hebrews refers to a returning to ritual Judaism, rather than “pressing on to maturity” (v.1).

“This we will do, if God permits.” Presumably, the author is referring to pressing on toward maturity. Regarding the phrase “if God permits,” the author could be harkening back to the entering of God’s rest. Allen writes, “The sense is: we will press on to maturity if God permits, for we know about those (the wilderness generation) whom God did not permit to press on and enter the Promised Land.”[147] We shouldn’t build much on this small phrase. Our reading of this phrase will depend on how we interpret Hebrews 6:1-8 as a whole. Yet, this reading from Allen is interesting because it fits with the greater context of Hebrews.

When we consider the type of the Wilderness Wandering, we can make a strong case that those who died in the desert weren’t sent to hell. Indeed, God told Moses, “I have forgiven them, as you asked” (Num. 14:20 NIV). Allen writes, “Though they had forfeited the Promised Land, for the next 38 years they still were the beneficiaries of God’s miraculous manna and water. They received his divine leadership and protection. Yet they were under his ‘oath,’ his ‘curse’ that they could not enter the land. Though they wept tears of repentance and attempted to go up into the land, God did not permit them to do so.”[148] Elsewhere, he writes, “Temporally, this discipline involves loss of opportunity to go on to maturity in the Christian life, loss of effective service for Christ in this life, loss of the blessings of God that come from an obedient life, and in some cases perhaps premature physical death… The context of the passage is not salvation but sanctification.”[149] In Allen’s view, the sin is permanently refusing to press on toward maturity. In our view, the great sin is reverting to OT animal sacrifices.

(Heb. 6:4-5) “For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come.”

Some commentators (e.g. Grudem) argue the author goes one step short of affirming that these hypothetical people are “in Christ.” The author states says that they have “tasted,” but not that they have drank or been indwelt by the Holy Spirit (contra 1 Cor. 12:13). Moreover, while they have “tasted of the heavenly gift,” this doesn’t mean that they have fully received Christ. Perhaps, they have only performed Christian behavior and spent time in fellowship, but they haven’t actually come to saving faith.

However, this interpretation of these five participles is hard to maintain. Elsewhere, the author uses the same language to describe genuine believers:

  1. “Once being enlightened.” The word “enlightened” (phōtizō) is later used for believers: “Remember the former days, when, after being enlightened (phōtizō), you endured a great conflict of sufferings” (Heb. 10:32).
  2. “Tasted of the heavenly gift.” The word “tasted” (geuomai) is used of Jesus sipping wine on the Cross (Mt. 27:34) or the headwaiter sipping wine at the wedding at Cana (Jn. 2:9). Moreover, Josephus used the term to describe people who have “once had a taste” of the philosophy of the Essenes (Jewish Wars, 2.158). However, the author of Hebrews also uses this word for Jesus having to “taste death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9). This doesn’t imply a small sip!
  3. “Partakers of the Holy Spirit.” The word “partakers” (metochos) is also used for believers being “partakers of a heavenly calling” (Heb. 3:1) and being “partakers of Christ” (Heb. 3:14). Likewise, Peter writes that he was “a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed” (1 Pet. 5:1).
  4. “Tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come.” This is the same term used above (geuomai). The author uses the same word “tasted” (geuomai) to describe how they understood God’s word and miracles or perhaps spiritual gifts (“powers of the age to come”).
  5. “Have fallen away” (parapesontas). This is the fifth and final participle. We will look at it in detail below.

(Heb. 6:6) “And then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since [or “while”] they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.”

“Fallen away” (parapesontas) only occurs in this passage in the NT. After extensively studying this term in extrabiblical Greek, Allen concludes that this refers to “sin,” but not specifically to apostasy. He writes, “In the New Testament, the nominal form paraptōma always denotes ‘sin’ but never ‘apostasy.’ …In none of these examples does parapiptō indicate apostasy defined as a complete turning away from God. From this evidence it seems clear that linguistically there is little if any support for the meaning of apostasy. The word was not used in this sense in Classical Greek, the LXX, or Koine Greek.”[150] Allen notes that translators infer the term “apostasy” because of the strong language in the passage (i.e. “crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame”). However, this doesn’t come from the definition of the word itself.

Earlier the term “fall” (piptō) refers to failing to enter God’s rest: “Let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience” (Heb. 4:11). There, we argued that this refers to entering into a life of grace-based sanctification—not glorification (see “What is the ‘rest’ mentioned here?”). Thus, Allen argues that sanctification is at stake—not our eternal state.

“It is impossible to renew them again to repentance.” This demonstrates that they did repent at one point, because it uses the terms “renew” and “again.” This serves as good evidence that these people were at least initially regenerate believers. After all, if they weren’t believers in the first place, then “why would it be desirable to renew anyone to that kind of repentance?”[151]

Both Arminian and Calvinist interpreters have difficulty at this point. From their perspective, this passage teaches that it is “impossible” to bring an apostate back to faith in Christ. Hence, Bruce writes that “the most difficult persons of all to reclaim for the faith.”[152] We agree. However, this passage isn’t teaching that it is “difficult” to bring apostates back to Christ; rather, it is “impossible” to do so! Thus, Bruce continues, “We know, of course, that nothing of this sort is ultimately impossible for the grace of God, but as a matter of human experience the reclamation of such people is, practically speaking, impossible.”[153] Some interpreters go so far as to say that this is because such people have committed the “unforgiveable sin” (Mk. 3:29; 1 Jn. 5:16). We reject this view. For our view on the unforgiveable sin, see our comments on Matthew 12:32. Yet, how does this cohere with the apostasy and forgiveness of the great apostle Peter, who denied Christ three times and yet found forgiveness?

“Since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.” This passage doesn’t state that it’s impossible to renew them to salvation. Rather, it’s impossible to renew them to repentance. Allen comments, “It is impossible to renew them because God himself won’t permit it (v. 3).”[154] Though Allen doesn’t hold this view, this argument fits with the idea that these Christians couldn’t find repentance while they were engaged in ritual Temple worship. However, if they gave up the Old Covenant, they would be able to find repentance once again.

The NASB footnote shows that “since” can also be translated as “while.” Morris writes, “The tense, however, does convey the idea of a continuing attitude.”[155] In other words, the sin here is putting Christ’s ultimate sacrifice to shame by continuing on in sacrificing animals at the Temple (Heb. 7:25-28). This is what is meant when he writes that they “crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.” The sin here is the sin of false religion (performing animal sacrifices in the new covenant)—not the sin of fornication, drunkenness, etc.[156] In other words, these people are trying to atone for their own sins, rather than relying on Christ. He is arguing that the OT sacrificial system is mutually exclusive with Christ’s new way.

Bruce rejects translating this clause as “while they again crucify to themselves the Son of God.” Bruce argues that “this is certainly not what is meant,” because this would be redundant and a “truism hardly worth putting into words.”[157] Not at all! Rather, this translation fits the greater context of Hebrews—namely, one cannot engage in both Old Covenant, ritual Judaism while also following Christ at the same time. These spiritual pathways would’ve seemed harmonious to some Jewish believers in Jesus, but the author of Hebrews claims this is tantamount to apostasy.

Allen understands this warning as referring to sanctification in general. He states that this to refer to the “internal contradiction between the confession and commitment a believer has made to Christ and the illogic of failing to honor that confession and commitment by choosing sin.” He continues, “All sin dishonors Jesus, and persistent sin, metaphorically speaking, carries the ironic stigma of having a Christian act like a non-Christian, hence ‘crucifying’ to themselves the Son of God.”[158] This interpretation doesn’t explain the severe and emphatic language described here. In our view, the author is referring to the great sin of reverting back to ritual Judaism and the animal sacrifices in the Temple.

(Heb. 6:7-8) For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; 8 but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned.

Is this referring to a non-Christian? This would fit with Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:17-20, where he says, “So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So then, you will know them by their fruits.” In other words, a non-believer bears bad fruit because they aren’t a believer.

Is this referring to a Christian? The text never says that the person is burned up in hell; instead, it states that their fruit is burned up. This is certainly the plight of a believer, who is stuck under legalism and ritualism. At the bema seat, their rewards will be burned up (2 Cor. 5:10). The NIV states that the thorns and thistles are “in danger of being cursed” (v.8). Allen comments, “The land was not destroyed in the process. By analogy, the author of Hebrews is not suggesting that those who had ‘fallen away’ were eternally destroyed. The better interpretation is to take Heb 6:7-8 as referring to loss of rewards.”[159]

“Worthless” (adokimos) occurs elsewhere in to refer to being “disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27) or if a person “fails the test” of being regenerate (2 Cor. 13:5). Thus, Guthrie writes, “It is no arbitrary rejection, but only as a result of due examination. In this case the land is proved to be worthless by the absence of effective fruit.”[160] This fits the loss of reward view quite well. Again, Allen writes, “It is often argued that the group in Heb 6:4-6 is contrasted with the genuine believers in Heb 6:9. But the contrast is not between two different groups of people but rather two possibilities that may affect one group of people.”[161] He continues, “The author is contrasting a fruitful believer who endures with an unfruitful believer who is unfruitful because of willful disobedience resulting in a state of arrested development spiritually, a state confirmed by God himself.”[162]

Conclusion: Three viable interpretations

In our estimation, there are three viable interpretations for this passage. For more on this subject, see our article, “Does this passage threaten eternal security?”

OPTION #1. This passage describes Christians losing their salvation. However, this isn’t because of licentiousness (e.g. drunkenness, fornication, etc.). After all, these were scrupulous religious people. Instead, this is for the sin of apostasy, falling back into ritual Judaism. Therefore, anyone who is using this passage to use fear to threaten a sinful believer is greatly mistaken.

OPTION #2. Non-Christians who never had salvation. Wayne Grudem is the chief defender of this view. The author isn’t sure if each and every person in this church is an authentic Christian. This was a “mixed bag” of regenerate and unregenerate people in the church. After all, imagine if you met a “believer” who still performed animal sacrifices to earn forgiveness! Wouldn’t you question whether or not this person was actually a Christian? Therefore, the author of Hebrews uses this warning to polarize these people in the church who may or may not be true Christians.

OPTION #3. Christians who forfeit sanctification and rewards because they are caught in the sin of immaturity in general. David Allen espouses this view, and it is quite similar to our view (see Option #4 below). To summarize his view, he writes, “Hebrews 6:1-8 is not a soteriological passage; it is a sanctification passage, as is made clear from the context… It is not apostasy that the author of Hebrews is warning against, but persistent rebelliousness comparable to the wilderness generation in the exodus.”[163] Allen’s view is not wrong. Rather, in our estimation, he simply doesn’t go far enough as to explain the sin that is arresting the development of spiritual growth.

OPTION #4. Christians who forfeit sanctification and rewards because they are caught in OT ritualism. They cannot be sanctified while they engage in ritual Judaism (v.6). We hold to this final view, though we think the other three are possible interpretations.

Hebrews 6:9-20 (Security in Christ)

It’s quite interesting that one of the strongest passages in the NT on warning believers about salvation is followed by one of the strongest passages on our security in Christ. Here, the author articulates the great security that Jesus offers. This section serves as a strong precursor for the continuation of is argument in chapter 7.

(Heb. 6:9) But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way.

The language actually switches from “they,” (v.6) “them,” (v.6) and “those” (v.4) over to “you” (v.9). In verse 4, the author could be referring to nonbelievers (“For in the case of those…”). But here, he returns to believers. This could be the author’s way of switching his audience from non-Christians, back to Christians.

(6:10) “For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints.”

God sees every “work” and every act of “love” that we’ve done for the cause of Christ. He also sees all of the ministry that we do for his people—the discipleship, the prayers, the teaching, and the leadership. We might forget our works and acts of love in ministry, but God sees all of it and remembers all of it. This is all so certain that the author states that it would be “unjust” (adikos) if he ignored what we do for him. What does this mean? Never give up serving God and his people! Never believe that you’re alone, that you’re forgotten, that God doesn’t see your love for him, that he minimizes your ministry, or that he disregards your service of other brothers and sisters in Christ. There is every reason to press on, and no good reason to quit or lose heart in serving God. He is the only One who remembers all of the good, and forgives all of the bad.

(6:11) “And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end.”

“Desire” (epithymia) normally carries a negative connotation. It comes from the root words two roots “over” (epi) and “desire” (thymia). Thus, this is an “over desire.” We could translate this as a “great desire” or “inordinate” desire (BDAG, p.371).

The author might be uncertain about the salvation of the entire church (see Heb. 6:1-8). Now, however, he is writing to “each one” of these people. By doing good works and loving people (showing “diligence”), we get a subjective “full assurance” of our salvation. Of course, this is for our benefit—not God’s benefit. God knows the heart (Heb. 4:13), and “the Lord knows those who are His” (2 Tim. 2:19).

(6:12) “So that you will not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”

“Sluggish” (nōthroi) appeared earlier to refer to the author’s “dull” audience (Heb. 5:11). This term, therefore, serves as a bookend around the warning passage in Hebrews 6:1-8. McCallum observes, “The ‘full assurance’ that grace provides will keep them from being ‘dull and indifferent.’ This is what he’s worried about—not that they will end up in hell, but that their dullness will increase and hold them back from the blessings they should be experiencing in a close walk with God.”[164] The way to avoid being “dull” or “sluggish” is to follow the example of those who trust the promises of God with “faith and patience.”

(6:13-16) “For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, 14 saying, ‘I will surely bless you and I will surely multiply you.’ 15 And so, having patiently waited, he obtained the promise. 16 For men swear by one greater than themselves, and with them an oath given as confirmation is an end of every dispute.”

Why does the author introduce Abraham at this point? First and foremost, Abraham was a great man of faith (Gen. 15:6; 22:1ff), who served as an example of someone worth “imitating” regarding the promises of God (v.12). Second, like the readers, Abraham had unconditional promises. The Abrahamic Covenant is still in effect because it was given as a unilateral decision from God, rather than a bilateral agreement between God and his people. Finally, Abraham is associated with Melchizedek (Gen. 14:18-20), and the author could be bringing him back into the minds of the readers to set up his foundation for later (ch.7).

“Since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself.” When we swear in a court of law, we might place our hand on a Bible and swear to God. But, to whom does God swear when he makes a promise? There is not authority above God. Therefore, God swears by his own truthful and immutable nature—for it is “impossible for God to lie” (v.18). Thus, God’s promise to Abraham was based on his own character.

“I will surely bless you and I will surely multiply you.” The author cites Genesis 22:17.

(6:17-18) “In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us.”

God’s role. God made promises that are “unchangeable” and backed by an “oath.” These rest on the foundation that it is “impossible for God to lie.”

Our hope. This is why we can have “refuge” in God’s promises, exercise “strong encouragement,” and can “take hold of the hope set before us.” If God’s word wasn’t reliable, we wouldn’t have such strong assurance and expectation for the future.

(6:19) “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil.”

“Hope” (elpis) doesn’t refer to wishful thinking. In this context, it is an “anchor of the soul.” This term means to “look forward to something with some reason for confidence.” A good synonym is “expectation” (BDAG, p.319).

“Anchor of the soul… sure and steadfast.” When boats harbor in still waters, they don’t seem to need an anchor. However, over time, they will drift out to sea if the captain isn’t paying attention. The same is true for us. Without the anchor of God’s promises, we can “drift away” from our assurance (Heb. 2:3). We need God’s promises to “anchor” us.

“One which enters within the veil.” The author will now continue to build upon his argument, showing that Jesus is the key to entering into God’s presence behind the “veil” of the true Holy of Holies (Ex. 26:31-35; Lev. 16:2, 12, 15). This is why he now breaks his digression, and returns to his discussion of Melchizedek.

(6:20) “Where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”

The author now returns to the topic he started in chapter 5: how Jesus fulfills the requirements for being our high priest. In chapter 7, the author’s emphasis will be on the eternality of the Melchizedekian priesthood: “high priest forever.”

Questions for Reflection

Read verses 1-8. How do you interpret this warning from the author of Hebrews? Does it refer to losing our salvation? Or to something else?

Read verse 9. What are the “better things” that the author has in mind?

Read verses 9-20. In what ways does the author of Hebrews encourage his audience?

Hebrews 7 (Greater Priesthood: Part 3)

Who is Melchizedek? As we noted above (see Heb. 5:1), the priest Melchizedek is only mentioned in four verses in the entirety of the OT (Gen. 14:18-20; Ps. 110:4). Yet, he serves as a lynchpin in securing Jesus as the ultimate and final priest—far greater than the Levitical priests. The author took a digression from his argument to prepare the readers to listen (Heb. 5:11-14), to warn them of the consequences of unbelief (Heb. 6:1-8), and to explain our need to exercise faith in God’s promises (Heb. 6:9-20). All of this sets the table for what he will address in the priesthood of Melchizedek. Rather than choosing to fall back into personal preference regarding spirituality (e.g. the Levitical priesthood, animal sacrifices, etc.), the audience needed to listen carefully to God’s word and exercise faith in God’s final priesthood in the Messiah.

The author makes a number of observations that connect the dots between the mysterious figure of Melchizedek and Jesus.

(7:1-2) “For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham as he was returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him. 2 To whom also Abraham apportioned a tenth part of all the spoils, was first of all, by the translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then also king of Salem, which is king of peace.”

Melchizedek’s NAME prefigured Jesus

The name “Melchizedek” comes from the Hebrew terms “king” (malkî) and “righteousness” (edeq). The first word is in the same word group as the verb “to reign” (mālak), which explains why the noun refers to being a “king” (Dan. 9:1; cf. Sam. 2:9; 5:17; 2 Chron. 23:11).[165]

Melchizedek’s CITY prefigured Jesus

“King of Salem.” The name “Salem” comes from the Hebrew word for “peace” (shālōm). Later, the city of Salem was renamed “Jerusalem” (Ps. 76:2; Antiquities 1.10.2). The Ebla tablets speak of a “Palestinian Salem” that dates to the third millennium BC.[166] Indeed, there is a strong historical “tradition that [Salem] should be identified with Jerusalem.”[167] Bruce writes, “The name Jerusalem (MT yərûšālaim, Akk. uru-salim) may mean originally ‘Shalem has founded,’ …Shalem is attested as a divine name at Ugarit… even so it is cognate with Heb. šālôm (“peace”), and our author’s etymology is well founded.”[168]

Melchizedek’s PRIESTHOOD prefigured Jesus

“Priest of the Most High God.” Melchizedek was a priest 500 years before the Levitical priesthood was instituted. McCallum writes, “Our author sees that these titles are not accidental. The king of righteousness and peace must be a “type” (or symbol) of Christ.”[169]

“Who met Abraham as he was returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him.” This is all recorded in Genesis 14:18-20.

“To whom also Abraham apportioned a tenth part of all the spoils.” Abraham tithed to Melchizedek. This shows that Melchizedek was greater than Abraham, and Abraham was lesser than Melchizedek. Of course, Abraham was the founder of Judaism, and Jewish people still revere him to this day. Thus, it would be odd to see Abraham showing deference to this mysterious figure of Melchizedek. Yet, the Scriptures don’t lie. The readers could see all of the author’s observations for themselves. The question is this: What is the significance of all of this?

Melchizedek’s LACK OF GENEALOGY prefigures Jesus’ priesthood

(7:3) “Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, he remains a priest perpetually.”

Jesus didn’t have the genealogical credentials to be a high priest. Yet, neither did Melchizedek. The author shows that Melchizedek has the authority to be an honorable priest—yet the Scriptures don’t mention his ancestry. Following in the footsteps of Melchizedek, Jesus doesn’t need a Levitical ancestry either. Bruce writes, “For the Aaronic priest, on the other hand, the establishment of proper parentage was an essential qualification; as late as the Hasmonaean dynasty any uncertainty on this score could invalidate a man’s claim to the office (Lev. 21:13f.; Ezra 2:62; Neh. 7:64; Josephus, Antiquities 13.292; Babylonian Talmud Qiddushin 66a). It was therefore necessary that the identity of an Aaronic priest’s father and mother should be publicly known.”[170]

Was Melchizedek a Christophany—an appearance of the preincarnate Christ?

No. Consider each phrase:

“Without father, without mother, without genealogy.” This doesn’t mean he had a supernatural origin. Indeed, the LXX translation of Esther 2:7 also describes Esther as having no father or mother.[171] Rather, the point is that Melchizedek’s “parents are not recorded in Scripture and the Scripture is silent concerning his genealogy.”[172] In other words, Melchizedek didn’t gain his priestly authority from his ancestry, and neither does Jesus.

“Having neither beginning of days nor end of life.” This is in contrast to the fact that the Levitical priests continually died. Our author is arguing that Melchizedek never had a recorded birth or death—just like Jesus. This should “not to be interpreted literally, but typologically.”[173]

Here is the clincher: The author states the Melchizedek was “made like” (aphōmoiōmenos) Jesus. Earlier, Jesus “had to be made like [homoiōthēnai] His brethren in all things” (Heb. 2:17), not that he was his brethren! Bruce writes, “The language here rules out the idea that Melchizedek was the pre-existent Christ.”[174] This term can be translated as being a “copy” or a “model.”[175] Guthrie writes, “What makes Melchizedek’s order perpetual is that Scripture says nothing about the succession. What makes Christ’s perpetual is, however, his own nature. The fulfilment is more glorious than the type.”[176]

Melchizedek’s ETERNAL REIGN prefigures Jesus’ priesthood

“He remains a priest perpetually.” The author observes that Melchizedek’s reign never ended. Instead, he simply drops out of the narrative. Of course, this sets the table for what we will read in Psalm 110:4, where David writes that Melchizedek’s priesthood continues into the future “forever.”

Melchizedek’s SUPERIORITY TO THE LEVITES prefigures Jesus’ priesthood

(7:4-6) “Now observe how great this man was to whom Abraham, the patriarch, gave a tenth of the choicest spoils. 5 And those indeed of the sons of Levi who receive the priest’s office have commandment in the Law to collect a tenth from the people, that is, from their brethren, although these are descended from Abraham. 6 But the one whose genealogy is not traced from them collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed the one who had the promises.”

Collecting a tithe shows superiority. The Levitical priests were holier than the people, and they collected a tithe from the people (Num. 18:21-24). However, Melchizedek collected a tithe from Abraham. If the Levitical priests had authority to collect money from Abraham’s descendants, then how much more authority did Melchizedek have over Abraham?

Receiving a blessing shows superiority. For instance, Jacob blessed his sons before he died (Gen. 48-49). This shows that he was the authority as the patriarch of the family.

(7:7) “But without any dispute the lesser is blessed by the greater.”

In the military, you can discern a person’s rank by who salutes first. The junior officer always salutes before a senior officer. Similarly, in the ancient world, you could discern a person’s authority by who gave out blessings. Again, this is quite odd, but the text of Genesis doesn’t lie. This historical example shows that Melchizedek had a greater spiritual stature than even Abraham.

(7:8-10) “In this case mortal men receive tithes, but in that case one receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives on. 9 And, so to speak, through Abraham even Levi, who received tithes, paid tithes. 10 For he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.”

Since the Levitical priesthood came from Abraham, it was as though this entire priesthood was submitting to Melchizedek’s authority. This is the concept of “corporate personality,”[177] whereby the descendants identify with their ancestor. As Allen writes, “In one fell theological swoop, the author subordinates the entire Levitical priesthood to Melchizedek.”[178]

What theological ramifications does this argument have?

This argument has profound ramifications. It means that the priesthood of Melchizedek is far greater than that of the Levitical priesthood.

Jesus’ priesthood makes the Levitical priests obsolete

(7:11) “Now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the people received the Law), what further need was there for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be designated according to the order of Aaron?

If the Levitical priesthood was permanent, why does Psalm 110 predict a future priesthood that would replace it and last forever?

“For on the basis of it the people received the Law.” The people “were given the law in association with the Levitical priesthood.”[179] This seems to mean that the Law and priesthood are intertwined.

Jesus’ priesthood nullifies the requirements of the Law

(7:12) “For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also.”

Some commentators argue that only the laws pertaining to the Levitical priesthood are in view. This is quite mistaken because it misses the argument of the author. In the author’s mind, the priesthood, the sacrifices, the Temple, and the Law are all tied together. We cannot change one part of the Law without changing all of it. Thus, if Jesus replaced the need for Levitical priests, then this directly implies that he changed the entire legal system as well. Ellingworth writes, “Here the author indicates a change, not merely in particular laws, but of the entire legal system.”[180]

Jesus’ priesthood doesn’t need to arise from the Levites

(7:13-14) “For the one concerning whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no one has officiated at the altar. 14 For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests.”

The Law said nothing about priests coming from the tribe a Judah, which was a kingly tribe—not a priestly one. How then can Jesus be considered a priest if he was from the tribe of Judah? The solution lies in the priesthood of Melchizedek, which supersedes the Levitical priesthood.

(7:15-16) “And this is clearer still, if another priest arises according to the likeness of Melchizedek, 16 who has become such not on the basis of a law of physical requirement, but according to the power of an indestructible life.”

“Not on the basis of a law of physical requirement.” Jesus didn’t gain his priestly authority through the law but through resurrection power—the “power of an indestructible life.”

“According to the power of an indestructible life.” This is a further contrast between Jesus and the Levitical priests. The genealogy of the priests refers to death after death after death. Clearly, these priests didn’t last “forever,” but this is precisely what Psalm 110 predicts: “You are a priest forever.” Later, the author observes, “The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers because they were prevented by death from continuing, 24 but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently” (Heb. 7:23-24). Jesus will never die again, so his priesthood is eternal and “forever” (Ps. 110:4).

Law and grace are mutually exclusive for spiritual growth and closeness with God

(7:17-19) “For it is attested of Him, ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.’ 18 For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness. 19 (for the Law made nothing perfect), and on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.”

“There is a setting aside of a former commandment.” The term “setting aside” (athetēsis) is quite strong. Later, the author uses it to refer to the setting aside of sin (Heb. 9:26).

“Weak… useless… made nothing perfect.” This is a major difficulty for those who think that the Law is a means of growth for Christians (i.e. the so-called “third use of the Law”). Can we even imagine referring to prayer or Bible study as weak, useless, and making nothing perfect? If Jesus is both a king and a priest, then this abrogates the function of the OT Law. We are no longer under Law as Christians—not moral law, ceremonial law, or civil law (cf. Rom. 6:14; 7:6).

“Through which we draw near to God.” The setting aside of the Law is not referring to justification. The author uses the present active tense (“draw”) to describe the way that we continue to come into God’s presence.

This change is permanent—based on an oath

(7:20-22) “And inasmuch as it was not without an oath. 21 (for they indeed became priests without an oath, but He with an oath through the One who said to Him, ‘The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, ‘You are a priest forever’”). 22 So much the more also Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant.”

The author makes a further case for the preeminence of Melchizedek over and against the Levitical priests: The Levitical priests gained their priesthood through their heritage, but the Messiah gained his through a direct oath from God (Ps. 110:4). And we already learned that God can “swear by no one greater [than] himself” (Heb. 6:13). So God’s oaths are inviolable.

(7:23-24) “The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers because they were prevented by death from continuing. 24 But Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently.”

See comments on verses 15-16 above.

Conclusion: Jesus’ work is perfect and complete: “Once for all”

(7:25) “Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.”

Jesus—our high priest—cannot no longer die. Therefore, he always “lives” to intercede for us.

(7:26-27) “For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; 27 who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.”

“Undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens.” Here is a further distinction: The Levitical priests were sinful, while Jesus is sinless. This only further shows Jesus’ superiority as a priest.

“Does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices.” The Levitical priests had to offer up sacrifices continually, but Jesus offered one sacrifice permanently.

“First for His own sins.” Even the high priest needed to give a sin offering for himself before he could intercede for others (Lev. 16:6).

(7:28) “For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever.”

We might summarize the author’s conclusion with a few questions: Do you want weakness or perfection? Do you want to come to God through “men” or through the “Son”? Do you want to come through a conditional Law or through an unconditional oath?

Questions for Reflection

Read through Hebrews 7. In what ways is the priesthood of Jesus greater than the Levitical priests?

According to the text, what practical consequences result if we no longer need a priest?

Why might people prefer going to a human priest to connect with God, rather than relating directly with God himself? Doesn’t this picture of a direct relationship with God seem more preferable? Why would some people actually prefer a mediator?

How would you respond to a person who said, “I know that Jesus is the only high priest… but I feel closer to God when I meet with a priest of some kind”?

Hebrews 8 (Greater Covenant)

The author has successfully defended the ultimacy and finality of Jesus as our High Priest, and he began to explain the consequences this would have for ritual Judaism. After all, if one part of the Law has become obsolete, then the permanence of the entire system is called into question. In this next part of the argument, the author elaborates on how Jesus brings about an entirely New Covenant.

#1. Jesus is the Ultimate High Priest[181]

(8:1-2) “Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, 2 a minister in the sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man.”

After explaining the validity of Jesus’ priesthood, the author expands on the implications. Priests would enter into the Tabernacle of the Temple to meet with God, but Jesus went directly into Heaven itself. This is the difference between getting a letter from the President and staying the night in the White House.

Does the author believe in a literal Tabernacle in Heaven? Toussaint and Bruce[182] that the “true tabernacle” was shown on Mount Sinai to Moses. After all, God told Moses, “See that you make them after the pattern for them, which was shown to you on the mountain” (Ex. 25:40; cf. Heb. 8:5). Likely, Moses had an opportunity to inspect the Tabernacle. This is the “true tabernacle” the author referring to. This is similar to the fact that God wrote the original Ten Commandments (Ex. 31:18; 32:15-16), but these were later exactly rewritten by Moses (Ex. 34:28; Deut. 10:5). After God showed this Tabernacle to Moses, perhaps he took it into Heaven. Allen holds that this simply refers to “where God dwells” in Heaven.[183]

Was the author of Hebrews influenced by Platonic “forms”? Some commentators (see G.B. Caird) argue that the author of Hebrews was influenced by Platonic thinking. Philo of Alexandria held this view when he wrote: “[Moses] saw with the soul’s eye the immaterial forms of the material objects which were about to be made, and in accordance with these forms copies perceptible to the senses had to be reproduced, as from an archetypal drawing and patterns conceived in the mind” (Philo, Life of Moses 2.74). After all, he refers to a copy of the tabernacle existing in Heaven, and this fits with Plato’s “forms” that exist as immaterial, abstract objects. Yet, we reject this view. For one, Plato’s “forms” were uncreated abstract objects, but our author states that the true tabernacle was “pitched” by God himself. This doesn’t fit with Platonism. Moreover, our author writes with all the vocabulary and grammar of an excellent Hellenistic education, but this doesn’t imply that he thinks like a Greek person. Indeed, he has proven himself to be thoroughly steeped in Jewish thinking.

“High priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne.” This ties together the thesis statement: “He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb. 1:3). Guthrie writes, “This shows how carefully the writer has worked out his thesis, constantly throwing out hints which are gems in themselves but which sparkle with new meaning when seen again against a different background.”[184] Zechariah also emphasizes the fact that a future priest-king will “sit and rule” (Zech. 6:11-13).

The “right hand” of God was the position of divine authority. Yet the author combines Jesus’ role as both a king and priest. Allen comments, “The posture of sitting at the right hand of the throne of God connotes both royal and priestly aspects. Here the author is bringing together Psalm 110:1, 4 at a critical juncture in his theological development.”[185]

#2. Jesus cannot be a high priest on Earth

The author develops a minor premise in his argument—namely, we already have Levitical priests on Earth. Therefore, we have no need for a new priest. This is “according to the Law” (v.4) or “according to the commands of the Law.”[186]

(8:3-4) “For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices; so it is necessary that this high priest also have something to offer. 4 Now if He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law.”

“Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices.” Of course, it was necessary for the high priests to offer sacrifices (cf. Heb. 5:1). But what did Christ offer? He offered his own life.

“If He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all.” Jesus never performed any priestly sacrifice on Earth. Why not? He performed this work in heaven—in the true tabernacle and in the presence of God.

(8:5) “Who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as 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.’”

Who or what serves as a “copy” and “shadow” of the heavenly things? The subject so far has referred to the priests.

The author cites Exodus 25:40. As we argued above under verses 1-2, God showed Moses the Tabernacle on Mount Sinai. So, Moses saw a literal Tabernacle on Earth before he built a copy of it.

“Copy” (hypodegmati) refers to an “example, model, pattern” or perhaps an “outline, sketch, symbol” (BDAG, p.1037).

“Shadow” (skia) can refer to “a mere representation of something real” (BDAG, p.929). The author uses the same language of a “shadow” to refer to the Law prefiguring Christ (Heb. 10:1), and Paul writes that the OT festivals were a “shadow” of Christ (Col. 2:16-17). In each of these cases, the idea is not a literal correspondence, but rather that these are symbolic representations of Christ’s work.

#3. Therefore, Jesus is our Ultimate High Priest in Heaven

(8:6-7) “But now He 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. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second.”

“More excellent ministry… better covenant… better promises.” Because Jesus is a better priest, he has also brought about a better covenant.

“Faultless” (amemptos) at the very least implies a deficiency to the OT Law. This may surprise us to read, but the author is saying that the Old Covenant Law has been fulfilled by the “second” covenant inaugurated by the finished work of Christ. Just as the sacrifices and rituals have been fulfilled, so also God’s Law has been fulfilled in Jesus (Mt. 5:17; Rom. 6:14; 7:6).

The Jewish-Christian audience would have wondered how the Cross could fulfill the requirements of the Law. So, the author cites the OT itself to prove his point. This is because the OT explains that the Old Covenant was inherently transitory, and it was never intended to be God’s permanent covenant with his people.

(8:8) “For finding fault with them, He says, ‘Behold, days are coming, says the Lord, when I will effect a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.”

This is a long and uninterrupted citation of Jeremiah 31:31-34.

Was Jeremiah 31 completely fulfilled by Jesus and in the Church Age? Theologians debate if the New Covenant has now come into complete fruition in the Church Age. Since the primary audience for the new covenant is “the house of Israel and the house of Judah,” this would support “replacement theology.”

In our estimation, this is wrongheaded. Jeremiah 31 affirms that the New Covenant was for Israel, but it never affirms that it was only or exclusively for Israel. Though unnamed, this could also include the nations as well. In our view, the nation of Israel is the primary recipient of the New Covenant, but the Church receives the beginning fruits of this covenant in the Church Age.

(8:9) “Not like the covenant which I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; for they did not continue in My covenant, and I did not care for them, says the Lord.”

The covenant that the author has in mind is clearly the Mosaic Covenant—not the Abrahamic or Davidic Covenants. We know this because Jeremiah connects this covenant with the Exodus (“when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt…”). Therefore, “replacement theology” wouldn’t fit this passage because it doesn’t relate to the unconditional covenant given to the nation through Abraham (Gen. 12, 15, 17).

(8:10) “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”

God’s Law used to be written on stone, but in the New Covenant, it will be written on the “minds” and “hearts” of God’s people.

(8:11) “And they shall not teach everyone his fellow citizen, and everyone his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all will know Me, from the least to the greatest of them.”

We resist the notion that the New Covenant has been completely fulfilled in the Church Age. After all, we read statements like this: “They shall not teach everyone his fellow citizen… ‘Know the Lord,’ for all will know Me.” Obviously, not everyone knows Christ, and the Great Commission is still in full effect. We still need to be taught about God (Heb. 5:11-14).

This portion of the prophecy won’t be fulfilled until the Millennial Kingdom. This is evidence that the author of Hebrews is not claiming that the New Covenant is completely fulfilled, but only partially fulfilled. Or perhaps, more accurately, it is slowly being fulfilled throughout the Church Age, culminating in the Millennial Kingdom.

(8:12) “For I will be merciful to their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.”

The “Day of Atonement” (i.e. Yom Kippur) was an annual reminder of sins. In the New Covenant, we will no longer be focused on sin. Of course, God has always been merciful to sinners, but something unique will happen during the New Covenant with regard to sin. It will be wiped away and “remembered… no more.”

(8:13) “When He said, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.”

Jeremiah predicts a day when the Law would be superseded by a new covenant. Guthrie writes that the term “obsolete” (pepalaiōken) is in the perfect tense which “suggests that the first covenant has already become obsolete, the result of which is still evident in the present.” Yet, the tense changes in the second sentence to the present participle (“becoming obsolete”) to show that “although theoretically the old has already become obsolete, in practice it is a gradual process.”[187]

(8:13) Is the author of Hebrews claiming that the Church fulfilled this promise to Israel? The New Covenant for the Church is the inauguration of a portion of Jeremiah’s “new covenant.” Remember, a partial fulfillment does not invalidate a complete fulfillment. In the same way, Abraham’s descendants were promised to be a blessing to the Gentile nations. This was partially fulfilled in the time of Jonah. Jonah was a blessing to the Ninevites (a Gentile nation). And yet, no one would argue that Jonah’s partial fulfillment would invalidate an ultimate fulfillment through Christ.

Questions for Reflection

Read chapter 8. What reasons does the author give for the replacement of the Old Covenant with the New Covenant?

Hebrews 9 (Greater Sacrifice: Part 1)

In the Bible, God always established his promises with a sacrifice of some kind. If Jesus brought about the new covenant, then we would expect an even greater sacrifice. In fact, this is exactly what we find: Jesus’ death on the Cross inaugurated the new covenant for believers. To explain this, the author compares Jesus’ finished work with that of the Old Covenant high priest.

Tabernacle worship foreshadowed Jesus

(9:1) “Now even the first covenant had regulations of divine worship and the earthly sanctuary.”

In order to understand this chapter, we need to be familiar with the old covenant Tabernacle and system of worship. The author of Hebrews explains that the Tabernacle prefigured and foreshadowed the finished work of Christ.

(9:2) “For there was a tabernacle prepared, the outer one, in which were the lampstand and the table and the sacred bread; this is called the holy place.”

There were two special rooms within the Tabernacle. In the outer section (“the holy place”), many of the priests could enter to offer sacrifices. But what about the inner section…?

“Lampstand.” This was the menorah that lit the inner area (Ex. 25:31-39).

“Table.” This consisted of acacia wood, and it was covered with gold and fitted with gold utensils (Ex. 25:23-30; 37:10-16).

“The sacred bread.” There were twelve loaves baked each week (Lev. 24:5-8). These “stood for the twelve tribes of Israel, and pictured their offering of themselves to God, just like we are called to do in Romans 12:1.”[188]

(9:3) “Behind the second veil there was a tabernacle which is called the Holy of Holies.

Inside the Holy Place, a curtain covered the inner room called “the Holy of Holies” (Ex. 26:31; 36:35ff). The high priest could only enter once a year on the “Day of Atonement” (i.e. Yom Kippur).

(9:4) “Having a golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden jar holding the manna, and Aaron’s rod which budded, and the tables of the covenant.”

“Golden altar of incense.” This altar rested in the inner sanctuary, and it was completely covered with gold: “The whole altar which was by the inner sanctuary he overlaid with gold” (1 Kin. 6:22).

“The ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold.” The Ark was completely covered with gold: “You shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and out you shall overlay it, and you shall make a gold molding around it” (Ex. 25:11).

In the Holy of Holies, God kept three articles of evidence that showed how the people had rebelled against his leadership: (1) the manna representing God’s provision, (2) Aaron’s budded rod representing God’s leadership, and (3) the tablets of the Law representing God’s moral will (see comments Exodus 25:10-22). In each of these examples, the people rejected God. As the angels looked down from above (v.5), they must have wondered how God would deal with the sins of the people. God’s solution? An innocent substitute needed to die.

(1) “Manna.” The people manna in the desert to make food (Num. 11:7-8), and this represented God’s provision through his word (Deut. 8:2-3). Yet, the people rejected this provision because they were tired of the taste (Num. 21:5). This is why God had Aaron place it in the Ark (Ex. 16:34).

(2) “Aaron’s rod.” Some of the Israelites challenged Moses’ authority to lead. To solve the problem, Moses placed Aaron’s staff in the Tabernacle to see which one would bud and blossom. Only Aaron’s staff grew (Num. 17:8). God had Moses place this staff in the Ark as further testimony (Num. 17:10).

(3) “Tables of the covenant.” After the creation of a golden idol and the exercise of orgiastic sex in Exodus 32, Moses destroyed the stone tablets of the Law. God had Moses rewrite these, and he had Moses place them in the Ark (Deut. 10:5).

(9:5) “And above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat; but of these things we cannot now speak in detail.”

As the high priest offered the blood of an innocent sacrifice over the lid of the Ark, the angels would peer down and see the blood covering the rebellion of the people (Ex. 25:18-20). Therefore, instead of seeing the rebellion of the people within the Ark, the angels would see the blood of an innocent substitute—in this case, an innocent animal.

(9:6) “Now when these things have been so prepared, the priests are continually entering the outer tabernacle performing the divine worship.”

The priests needed to perform these sacrifices over and over and over. Hundreds of thousands of animals were sacrificed over the years. Gallon upon gallon of blood was shed. But what did it all mean?

(9:7) “But into the second [i.e. the Holy of Holies], 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.”

The high priest would only offer one sacrifice per year for the sins of the people. Again, what is the purpose of this history lesson? Why does he reiterate the Jewish sacrificial system? The author ties this all together in the following verses—namely, all of this prefigured and foreshadowed the work of Christ. When God looked down at the rebellion of humanity, he chose to sacrifice an innocent substitute, who would pay for sin.

“Not without taking blood.” This blood covered the mercy seat on the top of the Ark, but it didn’t really pay for sins (Lev. 16:11ff; Heb. 10:4).

“He offers for himself.” The high priest used the blood of the sacrificial animal to “make atonement for himself” (Lev. 16:11).

(9:8-10) “The Holy Spirit is signifying this, that the way into the holy place has not yet been disclosed while the outer tabernacle is still standing, 9 which is a symbol for the present time. Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience, 10 since they relate only to food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until a time of reformation.”

The tabernacle was a “symbol” (parabolē) for what Jesus would sacrifice and accomplish at the Cross.

“The outer tabernacle is still standing.” This supports the view that the book pre-dates AD 70. Otherwise, our author surely would’ve mentioned the destruction of the Tabernacle/Temple to further his argument.

“Sacrifices… cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience.” Of course, the rituals of the old covenant couldn’t really pay for sin. These were symbols of the future work of Christ. This is in contrast to the finished work of Christ (Heb. 10:22).

The greater work of Christ

(9:11-12) “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; 12 and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.”

The author has been explaining how deficient the Tabernacle worship truly was. It was performed by a sinful priest; it was performed over and over; it was performed by taking the lives of animals. This is all inferior to the perfect and finished work of Christ who died “once for all,” purchasing “eternal redemption.”

“Not made with hands.” The expression “made with hands” is usually negative, being associated with idolatry (Acts 7:41, 48; 17:24-25; 19:26). Jesus’ finished work was not a part of this creation, and not performed by human hands.

“Once for all.” This is a repeated statement throughout Hebrews (Heb. 7:27; 10:10). His work is not only ultimate, but also completely finished.

(9:13-14) “For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”

The author makes an a fortiori argument: If the blood of bulls and goats could cleanse us ceremonially, how much more does the blood of Jesus forgive our sins and cleanse our conscience?

The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer.” This is a reference to the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16) and the sprinkling of ashes from a heifer—a young female cow (Num. 19).

“Cleanse your conscience from dead works.” McCallum writes, “The NIV and NLT both wrongly take this expression to mean ‘sinful deeds’ or ‘acts that lead to death.’ But the author isn’t discussing general freedom from sin in this passage. Rather, he is contrasting old covenant works, which are now dead works, with new covenant faith in the finished work of Christ. People who know they are forgiven also realize they don’t need to offer any more sacrifice.”[189]

“To serve the living God.” This language of “serving” (latreuein) God is identical to the language used of the priestly service (Heb. 8:2, 5-6). Now, the author argues, all believers are priests of God. Allen comments, “The author’s statement in this verse unexpectedly places the readers in the priestly role in the heavenly tabernacle.”[190]

(9:15) “For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.”

“He is the mediator of a new covenant.” The author already introduced Jesus as “the mediator of a better covenant” (Heb. 8:6), citing Jeremiah 31:31-34. Here, the author elaborates on this “new covenant.”

How would God ratify this new covenant? For one, covenants need to be ratified and sealed by death and blood. We see this in the Mosaic Covenant in particular, where he spread blood over the people (Ex. 24). Similarly, the “new covenant” was made with the blood of Jesus—the ultimate death and shedding of blood (cf. Mk. 14:24; 1 Cor. 11:25).

(9:16-17) “For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it. 17 For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives.”

Consider when someone writes a “will” for how their property is to be divvied up after their death. Once the person dies, you can’t argue with the lawyer who is reading the will. Similarly, since Jesus is dead, we can’t argue with his finished work for us and change his covenant.

“Covenant” (diathēkē) can be rendered “covenant” or “will/testament” or even “settlement.”[191] Commentators are split 50/50 on how to understand the function of this word. First, in the first century, Hellenistic Greek authors primarily used this word to refer to a “will.”[192] Second, it wasn’t the case that a covenant in the OT required a death—though it sometimes did (e.g. Gen. 15:1-8; Ex. 24:3-8). Third, the context for the use of the term is “eternal inheritance” (v.15), which seems to fit the concept of a “will” being enacted.

However, we hold that this refers to a “covenant,” rather than a “will. For one, the context supports the view that this is a covenant (vv.15, 18-19). Second, in the LXX, the “word never occurs in the LXX with the meaning of ‘will’ or ‘testament.’”[193] In fact, the LXX translates the Hebrew word “covenant” (berith) with this term roughly 270 times.[194] Bruce confirms, “In the Greek Bible it usually takes its meaning from the Old Testament Hebrew word berîth, which does not have the sense of ‘testament.’”[195] Third, this is also the common translation in the Greek NT (used 33 times). This could be another case of wordplay on the author’s behalf, moving deftly from speaking in terms of a “covenant” to a “will.” Guthrie writes, “A will comes into effect only on the death of the testator and the writer sees therefore a second application of the death of Christ within the covenant. It not only dealt with transgressions, but it also established the positive spiritual benefits of the covenant.”[196] Bruce writes, “[Jesus] is testator and executor in one, surety and mediator alike.”[197]

Regardless, the main point is that a covenant needs blood and the death of someone to make it valid. Jesus gave his life and his blood to ratify the New Covenant.

(9:18-19) “Therefore even the first covenant was not inaugurated without blood. 19 For when every commandment had been spoken by Moses to all the people according to the Law, he took the blood of the calves and the goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people.”

Moses sprinkled blood all over the place when he was inaugurating the Old Covenant: “Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and the other half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar. 7 Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!” 8 So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words” (Ex. 24:6-8).

“Water and scarlet wool and hyssop.” This refers to the practices of the priests: “The priest shall give orders to take two live clean birds and cedar wood and a scarlet string and hyssop for the one who is to be cleansed” (cf. Lev. 14:4; cf. Num. 19:18).

(9:20) “Saying, ‘This is the blood of the covenant which God commanded you.’”

This is a citation of Exodus 24:8.

(9:21-22) “And in the same way he sprinkled both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry with the blood. 22 And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”

According to Levitical law, the life of the sacrificial animal was in the blood of the animal: “The life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement” (Lev. 17:11).

(9:22) Was blood sacrifice really necessary? While some interpreters try to minimize this, the main theme of the OT was blood sacrifice. Rabbis also affirmed this key biblical teaching. In the Babylonian Talmud, we read, “Does not atonement come through the blood?” (Babylonian Talmud Yoma 5a), and we read, “Surely atonement can be made only with the blood” (Babylonian Talmud Zebaḥim 6a).”[198]

(9:23) “Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be cleansed with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.”

If we want the true tabernacle of heaven to be cleansed, we need the Man from heaven to cleanse it.

(9:24) “For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.”

Jesus fulfilled the spiritual solution to our problem. Therefore, there is now no other mediator needed. Jesus is in the very “presence of God for us.” He is literally “face-to-face” (prosōpon) in God’s “presence” (prosōpon).

(9:25-26) “Nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own. 26 Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.”

The priests offered sacrifices over and over, but Christ’ sacrifice was “once for all” (Heb. 9:12). Bruce writes, “If his sacrifice did call for repetition, then he would have to endure suffering and death times without number throughout the ages of world history. But that involves a patent absurdity.”[199]

(9:27-28) “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, 28 so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.”

Humans only die once and then judgment is served. The author assumes that his audience accepts this truth (contra reincarnation, second chance theology, etc.). From this accepted premise, the author argues that Christ only died once, and his death is sufficient to pay for our judgment. When he returns at his Second Coming, Jesus won’t suffer or sacrifice himself. He’ll return to judge the Earth.

The activity of the high priest on the Day of Atonement is similar to the first and second coming of Jesus. Allen writes, “[The high priest’s] first appearance was in the outside courtyard to offer the sacrifice on the altar of burnt offering. From here, he entered the sanctuary, carrying the blood for atonement, and in so doing he passed out of sight of the people. The people anxiously awaited his return. Upon completion of his duties in the inner sanctuary, he emerged to the great joy of all the people. In a similar fashion, Jesus our high priest appeared the first time in his incarnation to make atonement for our sins on the cross (9:26). His ascension took him out of sight into the presence of God where he continually appears as our advocate (7:25). One day he will return to this earth and ‘appear again a second time’ (9:28) to bring final salvation.”[200]

“Those who eagerly await Him.” The word “eagerly await” (apekdechomenois) is used throughout the NT to refer to our expectancy of Jesus’ return (1 Cor. 1:7; Phil. 3:20; Rom. 8:19, 23, 25).

Questions for Reflection

Read verses 1-14. How does the Old Covenant (vv.1-10) compare to Jesus’ work in the New Covenant (vv.11-14)?

How does the author demonstrate that Jesus is greater than the Old Covenant?

Most religions have “holy spaces,” but the author of Hebrews argues that these have been done away with. Why do you think people prefer to have holy spaces? Isn’t the biblical picture more preferable? Why wouldn’t people prefer the biblical view?

What might you say to someone who claimed, “I know that the Bible doesn’t teach we should have holy spaces, but I just feel closer to God in a church or sanctuary”? (see “Omnipresence”).

Hebrews 10 (Greater Sacrifice: Part 2)

(10:1-3) “For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. 2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? 3 But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year.”

Why isn’t the Law helpful for spiritual growth? The author’s argument points to the repetition of the sacrifices. If the Law could cure the disease, why do we need to return to it so frequently? The Law is a reminder of sin, but not a removal of sin (v.3). Much like brushing our teeth every day, the repetition shows us that we are never cured of our condition. Moreover, it is called a “shadow” (skia) of the “reality” (eikōn). Allen comments, “No matter how many times the shadow is repeated, it always remains a shadow; it is never the substance.”[201]

Does the Law refer to the moral law or the ceremonial law? The author’s focus is on the ceremonial law of animal sacrifices. However, the overarching argument of the author is that we cannot change one part of the Law without changing all of it. This is why Paul can use identical language to refer to the Law as a whole: “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day— 17 things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ” (Col. 2:16-17). The Sabbath comes from the Ten Commandments and the moral law, while kosher foods and religious calendar was a part of the ceremonial law. Both pointed to Christ.

(10:4) “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”

Animals like “bulls and goats” are not moral agents. So, they obviously cannot pay for human sins (Ps. 51:16). This only shows the deficiency of the Old Covenant compared to the New Covenant. Bruce writes, “This impossibility has only to be stated plainly like this for its truth to be obvious.”[202]

(10:5-9) “Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, ‘Sacrifice and offering You have not desired, but a body You have prepared for Me; 6 In whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have taken no pleasure. 7 ‘Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come (in the scroll of the book it is written of Me) to do Your will, O God.’” 8 After saying above, ‘Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have not desired, nor have You taken pleasure in them’ (which are offered according to the Law), 9 then He said, ‘Behold, I have come to do Your will.’ He takes away the first in order to establish the second.”

The author quotes Psalm 40:6-8 to argue for the supremacy of Christ’s sacrifice over the sacrifices of animals. By quoting Psalm 40, the author shows that even in the Old Covenant God predicted an internalized understanding of the Law and the value of obedience over sacrifices. Furthermore, he shows that animal sacrifices “were never the means by which God would deal permanently with sin.”[203] The obedience described in Psalm 40 supersedes the sacrifices prescribed there. Since Jesus was perfectly obedient, he paid the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf.

Should this be rendered “my ears” or “a body”? The Masoretic Text (MT) contains the literal statement, “My ears You have opened.” However, the author consistently cites the Septuagint (LXX) throughout his letter. The LXX translates this Hebrew idiom as, “A body you have prepared for me.” The LXX translators understood this idiom as a synecdoche, where the part stands for the whole. A modern example of synecdoche would be if someone asked for a “hand” in moving their couch. The person not just asking for a palm, four fingers, and a thumb! This is a synecdoche that refers to the entire person. By referring to the ears which hear the word of God, the LXX translators understood that David was really referring to the whole man (his “body”). For a more thorough explanation of this difficulty, see comments on Hebrews 10:5.

(10:10) “By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

The author of Hebrews uses the term “sanctified” as Paul uses “justified.” Morris writes, “We should notice a difference between the way the author uses the verb ‘to sanctify’ (NIV ‘made holy’) and the way Paul uses it. For the apostle sanctification is a process whereby the believer grows progressively in Christian qualities and character. In Hebrews the same terminology is used of the process by which a person becomes a Christian and is therefore ‘set apart’ for God… We must be on our guard lest we read this epistle with Pauline terminology in mind. The sanctification meant here is one brought about by the death of Christ. It has to do with making people Christian not with developing Christian character.”[204]

If this understanding of the term “sanctified” is correct (and we believe that it is), then this means that Jesus’ sacrificial work has been completed “once for all.”

(10:11-13) “Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; 12 but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet.”

The author continues to contrast the repetitive sacrifices of the priests with the finished sacrifice of Christ. Since Jesus has rested after the Cross, never to die again (Heb. 9:27-28), this implies that his sacrifice is complete. Christ’s sacrifice is different from the old covenant sacrifices because it was only needed once. His work is finished rather than repeated “daily” and “time after time.” The priests are still standing, while Christ is seated.

(10:14) “For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.”

“Perfected” (teleioō) is a perfect, active, indicative verb. It is a strong way to say that Jesus’ work is complete. The author personalizes Christ’s work. In verse 10, it was his sacrifice. Here it is Jesus himself who saves. Bruce comments, “Christ… has accomplished once for all what generations of Levitical sacrifices had never done. After hundreds of years those sacrifices were no nearer the attainment of their aim than they had been at the beginning.”[205]

“Sanctified” (hagiazomenous) is in the passive voice, and it can be rendered “those being sanctified” (see NASB note). Morris comments, “[This translation] is not likely to be correct because, as we have noticed, the idea of sanctification as a continuing process does not seem to appear in Hebrews.”[206] Morris concludes that it can refer to a timeless setting apart from all people, or that more and more people are coming to Christ and being set apart. Either way it refers to the community of faith being set apart—not to spiritual growth for the individual believer.

(10:15-18) “And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; for after saying, 16 ‘This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws upon their heart, and on their mind I will write them,’ He then says, 17 ‘And their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.’ 18 Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.”

The author concludes the argument for the priesthood of Jesus that he began in Hebrews 4:14. He returns to Jeremiah 31:31-34 to explain that the sacrifice has been paid, our sins are forgiven, and we have no need to offer sacrifices anymore. The Old Covenant was a “reminder” of sin (Heb. 10:3), but in the New Covenant, God says, “Their sins… I will remember no more” (v.17).

Toussaint says that the book of Hebrews can be summarized in two important points. Number one, the Christian life is all about Jesus. And number two, see point number one!

Argument concluded: Now on to application!

(10:19-21) “Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God.”

“Confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus.” The author combines all of the themes that he’s been arguing so far. The Holy of Holies, the veil, and the high priesthood all foreshadowed Christ. In case we think he’s just referring to abstract theology, the author explains the practical consequences of all of this. He gives a number of imperatives to act on these spiritual truths.

The “new and living way” implies an ‘old and dead way’ that is obsolete. In other words, there is no turning back to the Old Covenant.

Through the veil, that is, His flesh.” The Old Covenant priest needed to come through a veil in the Holy of Holies. Now, all believers come into God’s presence through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

(1) Draw near

(10:22) “Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”

“Draw near” (proserchomai) appears at the beginning of the sentence, showing its importance. Because of the work of Christ, we are able to come close to God (“draw near). In the Old Covenant, only the high priest could come into God’s presence in the Holy of Holies, and he could only enter once a year. And this was only after the priest performed innumerable rituals. Now, all believers in Christ have access to God, and we can come far nearer to God than the Old Covenant priest in the Tabernacle.

“Having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience.” The priest would sprinkle blood on the mercy seat (Lev. 16:14), and Jesus “sprinkled” the nations with his blood (Isa. 52:15). But this would only cover the outside of the person—not the “heart.” We now have an internal cleansing that far surpasses the Old Covenant. Thus, even when our “conscience” condemns us, we can have full assurance before God. After all, if my feelings tell me that God condemns me, but God says there is “no condemnation” for me (Rom. 8:1), which is true? My feelings or God’s inspired and inerrant word?

“Our bodies washed with pure water.” This is an allusion to the priests washing themselves before coming into God’s presence (Ex. 38:8; 40:30-32), or perhaps to Jesus washing the Church (Eph. 5:26).

“Sprinkling… washing.” These two participles are objective facts—not something that needs to be done over and over. After all, this would nullify the author’s entire argument so far! Hence, Allen comments, “They function to give the reasons why we can draw near with a sincere heart and full confidence: because we have been cleansed and washed. These are actions which have already been accomplished for us at the moment of conversion, when the atonement is applied to our hearts resulting in the objective forgiveness of sins, internal cleansing, and the concomitant deliverance from a guilty conscience.”[207]

(2) Hold fast

(10:23) “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.”

These Christians were facing persecution (Heb. 10:32-34), and so, the author had already implored them to “hold fast” (katechō) to their faith (Heb. 3:6, 14). Earlier, the author stated, “Let us hold fast our confession” (Heb. 4:14). This is what is meant by the “confession of our hope.” We continue to confess an expectation and anticipation of our future life in Christ.

Because Christ is faithful in his work, we should express personal trust in him. Have you decided in advance to pursue Christ—even when it’s mundane, difficult, and even personally painful? Have you decided in advance to put the cause of Christ above all else? We should make this decision now before trials and temptations come our way.

(3) Consider others

(10:24) “And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds.”

The term “consider” (katanoomen) means “to notice” or “observe carefully” or “to look at in a reflective manner, contemplate, to think about carefully, envisage, think about” (BDAG, p.522). The imperative of this verse is not to stimulate, but to think about how to stimulate others. McCallum comments, “The verse is calling on me to spend mental time with God, praying through my friends and considering how I might speak or act in ways that could get them more excited about acting for God. Of course, this implies that I know these people well enough to be in touch with their needs and progress so far. It implies that I have invested in the relationships enough that I enjoy credibility with them. This picture assumes community and discipleship.”[208]

“Stimulate” (paroxysmon) is the root from which we get our medical term “paroxysm” or “provocation.” It means “rousing to activity, stirring up, provoking” or “a state of irritation expressed in argument, sharp disagreement” or “a severe fit of a disease, attack of fever, especially at its high point: convulsion” (BDAG, p.780). This is the result of our creative, contemplative, and prayerful consideration of others.

(4) Assembling together

(10:25) “Not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some.”

Not forsaking… as is the habit of some.” These believers were under religious persecution and pressure, so coming together for fellowship would’ve cost them something. Consequently, some were beginning to minimize the importance of fellowship. The author is trying to get them back on track. Earlier, the author stated, “God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints” (Heb. 6:10). When we show up for fellowship, God is watching, and we will be rewarded for our labor of love. Don’t quit!

“Assembling together” (episynagōgē) demonstrates that it is a moral imperative to meet together with other believers in fellowship. But merely meeting together is not an end in itself. Guthrie writes, “Christian assemblies are intended to have a positive and helpful outcome, i.e. encouraging one another.”[209]

(5) Encouraging one another

(10:25b) “But encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

“As you see the day drawing near.” The “day” refers to the Second Coming of Jesus (Acts 2:20; 1 Cor. 3:13; 1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Thess. 2:2; Jude 6; Rev. 6:17). As we draw closer to the return of Jesus, the world-system will take a moral and spiritual nosedive into depravity. Jesus said, “Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold” (Mt. 24:12). Likewise, Paul predicts that people will become “lovers of self… unloving… without self control, brutal, haters of the good… lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Tim. 3:2-3). It will become “all the more” important to draw together in fellowship in this period of history.

A final warning

After giving some of the strongest affirmations of our security in Christ, the author takes a sharp 90-degree turn into a severe warning.

(Heb. 10:26) “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.”

What does it mean to “go on sinning willfully”? The context defines this as rejecting Jesus’ sacrifice for sins (Heb. 10:10-18, 29). These people were probably reverting back to OT ritualism and apostatizing. But the author had already reminded them that “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb. 10:4).

(Heb. 10:27) “But a terrifying expectation of judgment and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES.”

Some commentators argue that this is simply the expectation of judgment,” rather than actual judgment. This is the plight of the believer that falls back under Law. They expect God to judge them.

(Heb. 10:28-29) “Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?”

“Sanctified.” Earlier, the author used this expression to refer to believers: “By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all… For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Heb. 10:10, 14). It’s possible, however, that the author is using this term in the Hebraic sense of being “set apart” (1 Cor. 7:14; Heb. 13:12).

“Unclean” (koinos) literally means “common.” Morris writes, “The apostate regards that blood as ‘a common thing’ (koinon). That is to say he treats the death of Jesus as just like the death of any other man.”[210]

(Heb. 10:30-32) “For we know Him who said, ‘VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY.’ And again, ‘THE LORD WILL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE.’ 31 It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

We know” could refer to Jewish believers, who know their Old Testament Scripture—not necessarily Christian believers. Regarding the author’s OT citation, Morris observes, “In both Deuteronomy 32:36 and Psalm 135:14, it is deliverance that is in mind; and both times RSV, for example, translates it as ‘vindicate.’”[211]

(Deut. 32:35) Vengeance is Mine, and retribution, in due time their foot will slip; for the day of their calamity is near, and the impending things are hastening upon them.’

(Deut. 32:36) For the Lord will vindicate His people, and will have compassion on His servants, when He sees that their strength is gone, and there is none remaining, bond or free.

(Ps. 135:14) For the Lord will judge His people and will have compassion on His servants.

In their original context, these passages refer to judging Israel’s enemies—not Israel. Allen writes, “Whereas Deuteronomy speaks of God judging the enemies of Israel, the author of Hebrews applies these quotations as a warning concerning God judging his own people.”[212]

(10:26-31) Does this passage teach that we can lose our salvation from willful sin? We see four possible views regarding this passage:

VIEW #1: Christians losing their salvation. These Christians do not lose their salvation because of sin (e.g. drunkenness, fornication, etc.). Instead, they lose their salvation because of apostasy.

VIEW #2: Christians losing their lives. The Christians indeed face judgment. However, the judgment is not hell. Proponents of this position (such as Allen[213]) make a number of arguments. First, the OT background refers to God judging people by taking their physical lives. Second, typically, the NT refers to “eternal judgment” or “eternal destruction” when it speaks about hell (Mt. 18:18; 25:41; 2 Thess. 1:9; Jude 7). The lack of this adjective speaks to this being temporal judgment. Third, the sin is disrespecting the “blood” of Christ (Heb. 10:29). In 1 Corinthians 11, the judgment for taking the “blood” of Christ in a state of hypocritical sin can result in sickness and even death (1 Corinthians 11:27). This could serve as a strong parallel passage to support the physical discipline view.

The difficulty with this view is that the author makes an a fortiori argument: “How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve…” (v.29) Whatever the judgment is, it is worse than physical death. Moreover, the emphasis on the terror of falling into God’s hands (v.31) doesn’t speak of divine discipline, but divine judgment.

VIEW #3: Non-Christians who never had salvation. When the author uses the term “sanctified” (v.29), this might refer to the general sense of being set apart (hagiazo), which can even refer to non-Christians (c.f. 1 Cor. 7:14).

VIEW #4: Christians who go under law and expect judgment. These believers have the “terrifying expectation of judgment” (v.27), but not judgment itself. The focus of the author is on the fact that judgment is a “terrifying” prospect (v.31). This is what the author has been arguing the entire time—namely, falling under law leads to the intense fear that God will judge us.

Encouragement

Hebrews 6:4-8 is followed by a passage of intense encouragement (Heb. 6:9-20). Similarly, the author follows this warning passage with strong words of encouragement.

(10:32-34) “But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, 33 partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. 34 For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one.”

“Endured” (hypomenō) means to “stand one’s ground” (BDAG, p.1039).

“Reproaches” (oneidismos) refers to “verbal abuse” that could take the “form of public jeering or scoffing.”[214]

“Tribulations” (thlipsis) covers a wide range of concepts: “distress, oppression, affliction” (BDAG, p.457).

“Public spectacle” (theatrizō) is the root word for “theater.” This term only occurs here in the NT, but “Paul uses the cognate noun in 1 Corinthians 4:9.” The terms “derive their force from a theatrical spectacle, the idea being that the Christians had been made a public target for abuse.”[215]

These believers had gone through persecution and suffering. They not only endured persecution, but they willingly identified with those who were persecuted (cf. Heb. 13:3). In a word, the author is saying, “You hung in during persecution before. Do it again! You lived through it before, so God will provide again.”

How were these believers able to endure such suffering? They were focused on eternity: “knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one.”

(10:35-36) “Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.

The issue with our endurance is our “reward,” not our salvation. Guthrie comments that the expression “do not throw away your confidence” (apobalēte) means “to cast or fling away as one throws out rubbish which is no further use.”[216]

(10:37-38) “For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay. 38 But My righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him.”

The author cites Isaiah 26:20 (LXX) and Habakkuk 2:3-4. This is a good foundation from which to “launch the lengthy discourse on faith in Hebrews 11.”[217]

(10:39) “But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.”

Does this refer to the perseverance of the saints? The lack of endurance leads to “destruction,” so this could be a sound inference. However, this is not necessarily the case. Allen writes, “The word here refers contextually to a lack of endurance. Whether this is referring to apostasy or not is another matter altogether.”[218] It might simply relate to our “reward” (v.35). Salvation is never viewed as a reward, but always as a gift.

Questions for Reflection

Read verses 1-10. The author compares the Old Covenant (vv.1-4) with Jesus’ finished work in the New Covenant (vv.5-10). How does the author demonstrate the superiority of Jesus’ finished work?

Read verses 1-4. Christianity only has two rituals: (1) baptism and (2) the Lord’s Supper. However, one of these rituals is only performed once (i.e. baptism), so really, we only have one ongoing ritual in the Lord’s Supper. And even here, freedom is prescribed: Paul gives no mention of where, when, or how often we should practice this. For instance, how often should we practice it? Paul writes, “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup” (1 Cor. 11:26). Other religions have extensive rituals: Why might people prefer ritualism to such a personal relationship with God?

Read verses 11-18. What do these verses mean to you?

Read verses 22-25. What are the keys to spiritual growth mentioned in this passage?

Read verses 22. What are ways to make our personal time with God thrive?

Read verse 23. What are signs that a believer is being to waver in their dedication to Christ?

Read verses 24. How can we prepare to stimulate one another for love and good deeds before a time of fellowship or discipleship?

Read verses 25. Why do you think the author places such a high value on the importance of meeting together in person? What might we miss if we neglect fellowship with other Christians?

Hebrews 11 (Faith)

These historical accounts of biblical figures are mentioned briefly, but they represent a larger story from the OT. In a sense, these references are like “hyperlinks” in a news article that take you to a longer article. Yet, the author doesn’t want to get lost in the details. His purpose is to take a precise focus on the faith in the “unseen.” As McCallum observes, “Our author will also contrast the seen and the unseen throughout the chapter. The unseen realm—the realm of God—is just as real as the visible realm of this world. But because it’s unseen, only those with faith will live for the unseen over the seen.”[219] Moreover, Guthrie sees the same theme: For these men and women of faith, the “pull of the unseen is particularly evident.”[220] Likewise, Bruce comments, “There were many men and women who had nothing but the promises of God to rest upon, without any visible evidence that these promises would ever be fulfilled; yet so much did these promises mean to them that they regulated the whole course of their lives in their light.”[221]

This is the key to interpreting this chapter: Repeatedly, these heroes of faith could “see” problems in the present, but they chose to trust in the “unseen” promises of God in the future.

Definition of faith

(11:1) “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

This is the only explicit definition of faith in the Bible.[222] What can we learn about the substance of faith from this passage?

“Faith” (pistis) means “being someone in whom confidence can be placed” or “believing on the basis of the reliability of the one trusted, trust, confidence, faith” (BDAG, p.818). A good synonym would be “trust.”

“Assurance” (hypostasis) normally refers to the “being” or “essence” of something (BDAG, p.1040). This is also translated “reality” (NLT, CSB).

“Hope” (elpizomenon) means “to look forward to something, with implication of confidence about something coming to pass… both in the sense ‘rely on, trust’” (BDAG, p.319).

“Confidence” (elenchos) means “the act of presenting evidence for the truth of something, proof, proving” (BDAG, p.315).

“Not seen” shows that the evidence only takes us so far. At a certain point, we need to choose to trust what we have heard, moving from the evidence to the reality beyond the evidence.

Demonstrations of faith

Hebrews 11:1 gives us a precise definition of faith, while the rest of the chapter shows us practical demonstrations of faith. The key to interpreting this chapter is to recognize the “seen” versus the “unseen.” Each of these people could “see” trials and temptations, but they trusted in the “unseen” reality of God that was promised to them.

(11:2) “For by it the men of old gained approval.”

Faith doesn’t keep us from suffering or persecution—sickness or death. However, it does give us God’s “approval.” Toussaint says, “The only guarantee of faith is approval from God. But then again, what more do you want?”

The term “gained approval” (martyreo) means “witnessed.” Indeed, the author begins the next chapter by writing, “We have so great a cloud of witnesses [martyrōn] surrounding us” (Heb. 12:1). The author argues that God showed up to “give approval” or to “witness” to these OT saints when they exerted faith. Throughout this chapter, the author doesn’t point to the heroes of the OT because of their works, but because of their faith. He moves at a rapid pace through the OT to show various examples of biblical faith.

Creation (Gen. 1)

(11:3) “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.”

Why does he begin at creation when no humans were present to have faith? This lays the foundation for all other acts of faith. Moreover, the surrounding worldviews believed that the universe was eternal, while the Bible said it had a space-time beginning. It took faith to believe in the latter, rather than the former.

The material universe is “seen” to all of us, but the omnipotent power of God is “unseen.” We can draw inferences from the existence of the universe (e.g. cosmological arguments). But none of us existed to witness this miracle of creation.

Abel (Gen. 4)

(11:4) “By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks.”

Our author skips over Genesis 3 because there isn’t really a good example of faith in that chapter. Abel, however, is a key example of faith.

Abel’s offering was not accepted because it was an animal sacrifice. After all, not all OT sacrifices were blood sacrifices, and yet these were still acceptable to God (Lev. 6:19-20). Bruce writes, “Nowhere suggested in the Genesis narrative that it was a sin offering which the two brothers brought; it was in either case the appropriate presentation of the firstfruits of their increase.”[223] Instead, our author sees that God saw faith in Abel’s sacrifice for a number of reasons.

First, Abel sacrificed his best for God. He brought the “firstlings” of his flock as a sacrifice to God (Gen. 4:4), while Cain simply brought “an offering” (Gen. 4:3). Hartley writes, “These terms convey that Abel gave the best to God.”[224]

Second, Abel’s offering demonstrated something about his faithful heart. God didn’t just accept Abel’s sacrifice; God accepted Abel himself. Moses records, “The LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering” (Gen. 4:4). The man—not just the sacrifice—was regarded with favor by God. As Proverbs writes, “The LORD detests the sacrifice of the wicked, but he delights in the prayers of the upright” (Prov. 15:8 NLT).

Third, Abel’s life resulted in righteous works. Later in the narrative, Cain killed his brother Abel. Why? Cain committed murder “because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s were righteous” (1 Jn. 3:12). Cain’s evil deeds could refer to his half-hearted sacrifice (Gen. 4:3), as well as his jealousy and hatred toward his brother (Gen. 4:5-7).

All of this shows that Cain’s offering is similar to false religious worship of God today. Outwardly, people like Cain can look religious, even giving their offering to God. Inwardly, however, they are giving him their leftovers—not an act of faith. God saw the heart of Cain, and warned him about this “sin” (Gen. 4:6-7).

Perhaps the author cites this narrative for an additional reason. The Jewish culture surrounding the original audience were continuing to bring their sacrifices to God at the Temple. But these were “dead works” and not from faith (Heb. 6:1). Instead of following the religious culture, they should follow in the footsteps of Abel who brought a sacrifice of faith. The old way of animal sacrifices is works, and the new way of Jesus is the key to faith.

“[Abel] obtained the testimony [martureō] that he was righteous.” God gave Abel his “approval” (martyreo) because of his faith (Heb. 11:4).

“Through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks.” Even death cannot stop faith.

Enoch (Gen. 5)

(11:5) “By faith Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death; and he was not found because God took him up; for he obtained the witness (martyreō) that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God.”

Not much is said about Enoch in the OT (Gen. 5:22-24), though extrabiblical Jewish literature contains many imaginative allusions to this figure (see Bruce[225] for a summary of the literature). Biblically, all we know is that Enoch “walked with God” for several centuries (Gen. 5:22). Apparently, Enoch’s faith pleased God, and he was taken before the Flood destroyed the Earth. Guthrie comments, “The writer assumes that only a man of faith could enjoy close communion with God, and that anyone who communed with him like this must have pleased him. It was undoubtedly a right assumption. What is striking about Enoch is that he stood so much above the corruption of his age. Was it for this reason that God chose to remove him from the scene in an unusual way? Certainly his mysterious translation has deeply impressed our writer.”[226]

“Taken up… God took him up.” We can’t bank on God rescuing us from death. In the previous verse, faith led to Abel being slain, while Enoch’s faith led him to being spared.

(11:6) “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”

“Without faith it is impossible to please Him.” Enoch was “pleasing to God” because of his faith (v.5).

“He who comes to God must believe.” This verse really unpacks the implications of verse 1. Two central concepts explain core biblical faith: (1) God exists and (2) God is loving. Or we might say: (1) God is God and (2) God is Good.

Noah (Gen. 6-9)

(11:7) “By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.”

“Being warned by God about things not yet seen.” Noah couldn’t see God’s judgment. All he had was God’s word. He built a massive cruise liner in the middle of the desert, and this was purely on the basis that God’s word was trustworthy. The “seen” was God’s promise, but the “unseen” was the coming Flood, which didn’t arrive for years. McCallum writes, “The story of Noah is so extreme that even many Christians simply don’t believe it is real. If people today have trouble believing in the flood, how much harder would it have been for Noah to believe before the flood! Imagine yourself working for a hundred years on an ocean-going barge many miles from the nearest ocean. That truly is ‘the conviction of things not seen.’”[227]

As the people were chastising Noah for decades, he probably experienced doubt. But when he heard the first raindrops on the roof of his barge, God validated his faith. The same is true of biblical faith for us. We can’t directly verify everything in the Bible, but we are called to express trust in the unseen promises that will surely be fulfilled.

“Became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.” God told Moses, “Enter the ark, you and all your household, for you alone I have seen to be righteous before Me in this time” (Gen. 7:1). Thus, Genesis records that Noah was “righteous,” but doesn’t explain why. Surely, Moses sinned by getting drunk and naked (Gen. 9:21), so he wasn’t conditionally righteous. The author of Hebrews explains that this must’ve been “according to faith,” which is a far better explanation than thinking that Moses was such a righteous man.

Abraham (Gen. 12)

(11:8-10) “By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise. 10 For he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”

How did Abraham demonstrate his faith?

First, Abraham didn’t know where God was leading him. Abraham lived in Ur of the Chaldeans as a pagan, idol-worshipper, until God called him to leave. This is one aspect of the “unseen” dimension of faith. Abraham followed God despite “not knowing where he was going” (v.8).

Second, Abraham surrendered his security and stability to become a nomad. When he was living in his father’s clan in Ur, Abraham had a certain amount of stability. He didn’t need to move, and he was surrounded by friends and family. He gave this up to live a nomad’s life, living in a tent and always being on the move.

Third, Abraham couldn’t see the fulfillment of God’s promise in the Promised Land. Abraham could see the temporary “tents” in his current living situation (v.9), but he couldn’t see the “foundations” of the future “city” (v.10). In fact, God told Abraham that his ancestors wouldn’t inherit the land for over 400 years (Gen. 15:13-16). Guthrie writes, “It was because he left behind the ‘seen’ world of his former days and launched into a project involving an unseen inheritance that he has become an example of daring faith and merits the title, ‘the father of the faithful’.”[228]

Fourth, Abraham “obeyed” God. The author writes, “By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed” (v.8). Genesis records, “Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws” (Gen. 26:5). Why? This is because he was a man of faith (Gen. 15:6), and he was looking forward to what God would show him (Gen. 12:1).

Sarah and Isaac (Gen. 17-18)

(11:11) “By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised.”

God promised Sarah a son despite the fact that she was long past her child-bearing years. Originally, Sarah laughed at God’s promise to her, and she lied about laughing “for she was afraid” (Gen. 18:12-15). This could be why the author states that “even Sarah” had faith because he knew that Sarah’s example was complex at best. Later, however, Sarah’s cynicism turned to evangelism. At the birth of Isaac, she reminisced, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me” (Gen. 21:6).

Abraham’s faith must’ve been contagious because the author of Hebrews states that she cooperated with God and trusted him. Bruce writes, “Our author elsewhere in this chapter can see faith where most people would not.”[229] Allen writes, “Though at first her faith may have been weak, she believed and received the promised blessing of a son.”[230] Guthrie writes, “In spite of the fact that Sarah laughed when first hearing that she was to have a child, her mockery must have turned to faith long before Isaac was born.”[231] Sarah couldn’t see the birth of the child in the decades to come, but she trusted God anyhow (Gen. 21:2).

(11:12) “Therefore there was born even of one man, and him as good as dead at that, as many descendants as the stars of heaven in number, and innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore.”

This is a citation of Genesis 22:17. God brought about an entire nation through the body of a dead man like Abraham. As Paul writes, “Abraham’s faith did not weaken, even though, at about 100 years of age, he figured his body was as good as dead—and so was Sarah’s womb. 20 Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise. In fact, his faith grew stronger, and in this he brought glory to God. 21 He was fully convinced that God is able to do whatever he promises” (Rom. 4:19-21 NLT).

(11:13) “All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.”

“All these died in faith, without receiving the promises.” Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all believed in God’s promises despite the fact that they couldn’t see the fulfillment. This was especially true of Abraham (Heb. 6:15; Gen. 23:4) and Jacob (Gen. 47:9).

“Having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance.” How could these men see the unseen? They saw the fulfillment of these promises through the eyes of faith: “Faith is… the conviction of things unseen” (Heb. 11:1).

“Strangers and exiles.” These were terms Abraham used of himself (Gen. 23:4).

(11:14) “For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own.”

“Country of their own” (patris) refers to a “fatherland where the nation can find its roots.”[232] Abraham surely desired to enter the Promised Land, but he knew that his descendants wouldn’t enter it for several centuries.

(11:15-16) “And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.”

Canaan was far less advanced than Ur at this time (~2,000 BC). So, it would’ve been advantageous to return. If all you focused on was the “seen,” this would make all the sense in the world. However, Abraham and his descendants knew that they should go all the way for the “unseen” fulfillment of the promises of God.

Perhaps our author is making a connection with his first century audience. As Guthrie notes, “It may well be that the writer is appealing to the patriarch’s example in refusing to turn back to exert pressure on those readers who were tempted to turn back from Christianity.”[233]

Abraham offering Isaac (Gen. 22)

(11:17-19) “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son. 18 It was he to whom it was said, ‘In Isaac your descendants shall be called.’ 19 He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type.”

The author offers a second example of faith in the life of Abraham. After decades of waiting on an heir, God delivered Isaac. Yet, years later, God called on Abraham to sacrifice Isaac! Bruce captures the theological difficulty of this command: “The fulfilment of God’s promises depended on Isaac’s survival; if Isaac was to die, how could these promises be fulfilled? And yet Abraham had no doubt that the one who had given the promises required the sacrifice of Isaac. What was he to do? It was Abraham’s problem; apart from the dictates of natural affection, how could the promise of God and the command of God be reconciled? … the impression which we get from the biblical narrative is that Abraham treated it as God’s problem; it was for God, and not for Abraham, to reconcile his promise and his command.”[234]

“He who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son.” On the one hand, God told Abraham to sacrifice his son. But Abraham possessed the promise of God that ensured a nation would come through Isaac (“In Isaac your descendants shall be called,” Gen. 21:12). So, Abraham knew that the promise of God would guard his son—one way or another. Guthrie observes, “The promise stood between. Indeed the promise made impossible the completion of the sacrifice.”[235] Abraham couldn’t see how God would carry out this promise. That was all “unseen.” But he knew God would keep his promise, and so he followed God despite his apprehensions to the contrary.

Jacob and Esau (Gen. 25)

(11:20) “By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, even regarding things to come.”

Isaac couldn’t see Jacob when he blessed him, and Jacob deceived Isaac through this entire process. Despite all of this, the author states that Isaac’s blessing still resulted in the accurate prediction of “things to come.” Specifically, Isaac predicted that Esau’s offspring would serve Jacob’s offspring (Gen. 27:27-29; 39-40). Guthrie writes, “Our writer has a simple point here: that Isaac must have been a man of faith, or God wouldn’t be channeling prophecies of the future through him.”[236]

(11:21) “By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff.”

Jacob blessed all of his sons before he died (Gen. 49:21). While Jacob couldn’t see what would happen to his sons, he made predictions and promises through faith. Allen writes, “The blessing given by Isaac and Jacob was an act of faith since neither man could give what was promised to his sons/grandsons. Both Isaac and Jacob were totally dependent upon God to fulfill the promised blessings.”[237]

Joseph (Gen. 37-50)

(11:22) “By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel, and gave orders concerning his bones.”

Joseph became a highly influential man in Egypt—second to the Pharaoh himself. It would’ve been tempting for him to want to lay down roots in Egypt, seeing as how he had built such a great life there. He could see the wealth and prosperity of Egypt all around him. But the “unseen” promises of God told Joseph that his descendants would be in Israel—not Egypt. This is why Joseph made his descendants promise to take his bones with them to be buried in Israel (Gen. 50:24-25; Ex. 13:19; Josh. 24:32). He knew Israel was central to God’s plan. Bruce writes, “Joseph had spent the whole of his long life, apart from the first seventeen years, in Egypt.” However, Joseph knew that “Egypt was not his home.”[238]

Moses (Ex. 2)

(11:23) “By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.”

Moses’ parents could see the terrors of the Pharaoh’s evil edict. But they chose to trust in the “unseen” plan of God. They knew that their child was unique and valuable in God’s sight. So, they refused to be intimidated by the Pharaoh’s edict.

(11:24-26) “By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, 26 considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward.”

Moses could see the wealth and opulence of Pharaoh’s court in Egypt. But he chose to be a nomad for the majority of his life (80 years!), rather than live in the decadence of Egypt. Moses trusted more in God’s future “unseen” reward than in his present wealth in Egypt. McCallum comments, “Moses was ‘looking to the reward’ he knew would come from living for God. What would have happened if he remained a member of Egyptian nobility? Nothing. None of us would have ever heard his name. He would have lived in comfort and died after a pointless life.”[239] Bruce comments, “Even if (as some have imagined) the crown of Egypt was within Moses’ reach had he remained where he was, and his name had been perpetuated in history as the greatest and wisest of the rulers of that land, he would never have attained such a reputation as he did by making the great refusal.”[240]

“Considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt.” Earlier, the believers withstood the “reproach” (oneidismos) of their persecutors (Heb. 10:33-34), and later, the author tells them to join Jesus outside the camp to bear his “reproach” (oneidismos).

“He was looking to the reward.” Moses could “see” the Egyptian riches, but he looked through the eyes of faith at the future reward.

(11:27) “By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen.”

“By faith he left Egypt.” In Exodus 2, Moses leaves Egypt when it is discovered that he killed the Egyptian taskmaster. Later, Pharaoh calls for Moses to die, and thus, Moses escapes to Midian. Yet, the author makes it seem that all of this was an act of faith. We might be reading into the author of Hebrews too much at this point. While Moses’ murder and fear were wrong, it was an act of faith to leave the palace in the first place. Once Moses went down among his people, there was no turning back. Bruce writes, “He was afraid, admittedly, but that was not why he left Egypt; his leaving Egypt was an act of faith.”[241]

Moses could easily see the wicked, tyrannical Pharaoh and his massive army. But he chose to trust in the true Cosmic King of the universe who is “unseen.”

(11:28) “By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of the blood, so that he who destroyed the firstborn would not touch them.”

The people were trusting the lives of their firstborn sons to the blood of an innocent lamb. When they placed the blood over the doorposts of their homes, they probably didn’t feel like this protected them from judgment. But this was irrelevant. The power of the blood didn’t rest in their feelings, but in God’s “unseen” promises (Ex. 12).

(11:29) “By faith they passed through the Red Sea as though they were passing through dry land; and the Egyptians, when they attempted it, were drowned.”

As they had their backs to the Red Sea (Ex. 14), the people could see the greatest army known to man coming to kill them. But Moses chose to trust in God’s “unseen” promise to rescue them and deliver them from Egyptian bondage.

Abruptly, the author stops explaining lessons about faith in the life of Moses. But why does he stop here? The author of Hebrews most likely stopped intentionally at this point. Why? Toussaint gives the insightful observation that the author wanted to stop before the giving of the Law (Ex. 20). While Jewish readers would expect a long description of Moses as the lawgiver, the author purposely omits this from the story. Instead, he recognizes Moses as a man of faith—not a man of the Law. By stopping here, the author implicitly demonstrates that faith has primacy over the Law.

Joshua (Josh. 6)

(11:30) “By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days.”

The Jewish people must have felt pretty silly circling the walls of Jericho several times. Bruce writes, “Nothing could seem more foolish than for grown men to march around a strong fortress for seven days on end, led by seven priests blowing rams’ horns. Who ever heard of a fortress being captured that way?”[242] These men could see the sneering intimidation of the soldiers atop the walls of Jericho. But they chose to trust in the “unseen” promise and power of God to topple the walls. McCallum writes, “The message of Jericho is crystal clear. God was making double, triple, and quadruple sure these men knew exactly where the victory was coming from. Nobody who experienced this ordeal would ever wonder whether it might have been their own savvy, strategy, and boldness that won the day after all.”[243]

(11:31) “By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace.”

Rahab could see the threat of the Canaanite police, who would likely torture and murder a traitor for hiding the spies (Josh. 2). However, she chose to trust in the “unseen” protection of God over her household. By contrast, the people of Canaan were “disobedient” to God’s revelation. Rahab spoke about how the news had travelled from Egypt that God had rescued the Israelites. She said, “We have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. 11 When we heard it, our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath. 12 Now therefore, please swear to me by the LORD, since I have dealt kindly with you, that you also will deal kindly with my father’s household, and give me a pledge of truth” (Josh. 2:10-12).

(11:32) “And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets.”

The author gives a brief summary of Judges to the Kings to the Prophets. He mentions Gideon (Judg. 6-8), Barak (Judg. 4-5), Samson (Judg. 13-14) Jephthah (Judg. 11-12), David (1 Sam. 16:12ff), and Samuel (1 Samuel 1-28). The “Spirit of the Lord” fell on Gideon (Judg. 6:34), Jephthah (Judg. 11:29), and Samson (Judg. 13:25).

(11:33-34) “Who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.”

“Conquered kingdoms.” This could refer to Joshua and David.

“Performed acts of righteousness.” This could refer to David (2 Sam. 8:15; 1 Chron. 18:14) and Solomon (1 Kin. 10:9).

“Obtained promises.” This could refer to the inheritance of the Promised Land (Josh. 21:43-44).

“Shut the mouths of lions.” This could refer to Daniel (Dan. 6:22).

“Quenched the power of fire.” This could refer to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace (Dan. 3:17).

“Escaped the edge of the sword.” This could refer to many OT servants of God. Elijah escaped death from Jezebel (1 Kin. 19:2-18), Elisha escaped death from Jehoram (2 Kin. 6:31-7:2), and Jeremiah escaped death from Jehoiakim (Jer. 36:19, 26).

“From weakness were made strong.” This could refer to Samson (Judg. 16:28) or Gideon’s battles with his 300 men.

“Became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.” This could refer to Gideon (Judg. 7:21-23).

(11:35) “Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection.”

“Women received back their dead by resurrection.” Elijah raised a widow’s son (1 Kin. 17:17ff), and Elisha raised a Shunammite’s son (2 Kin. 4:18ff). These prophets exercised the faith to raise these boys—not the mothers.

“Others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection.” Guthrie writes, “The primary reference here is generally held to be the slaughter of the seven brethren in the Maccabean period (2 Macc. 6:18ff.). There is some dispute about the precise meaning of the verb were tortured (etympanisthēsan). It may have denoted beatings with clubs or scourgings.”[244] He adds, “These martyrs pinned their hopes on bodily resurrection and declared that their persecutors had put themselves outside such a hope (2 Macc. 7:9ff.).”[245]

(11:36) “And others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment.”

Jeremiah’s life exemplifies this (Jer. 20:2-10; 29:26; 37:15; 38:6-15).

(11:37) “They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated.”

This passage destroys prosperity theology. After all, this concludes the chapter on all of the exemplars of faith, and it states that they faced horrific fates.

“They were stoned.” Extrabiblical tradition states that Jeremiah was stoned to death because he protested the idolatry in Babylon (Tertullian, Scorpion Antidote 8; Jerome, Against Jovinian 2.37). Zechariah was also stoned to death (2 Chron. 24:21). However, Jerusalem had many prophets killed (Mt. 23:37; Luke 11:49ff; 13:33f; Acts 7:52), so this might not be what our author has in mind.

“They were sawn in two.” This might be an allusion to the death of Isaiah (Ascension of Isaiah 5:1-14; Yebamoth 49b; Sanhedrin 103b; Justin, Dialogue with Trypho 120; Tertullian, On Patience 14). The Ascension of Isaiah is our earliest source of this. Bruce writes, “It tells how Isaiah, to avoid the wickedness rampant in Jerusalem under Manasseh, left the capital for Bethlehem and then withdrew to the hill country. There he was seized and sawn in two with a wooden saw.”[246] It’s questionable whether this historical source carries any reliability.

“They were tempted.” This could refer to Joseph with regard to Potiphar’s wife (Gen. 39-40).

“They were put to death with the sword.” The wicked queen Jezebel killed many prophets this way (1 Kin. 18:4, 13; 19:10).

“They went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated.” This might refer to Elijah and Elisha (2 Kin. 1:8).

(11:38) “(Men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.”

The hundreds of prophets in Elijah’s day hid in caves (1 Kin. 18:4), as did Elijah himself (1 Kin. 19:9).

(11:39-40) “And all these, having gained approval (martyreō) through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect.”

At the beginning of this chapter, the author wrote, “By [faith] the men of old gained approval (martyreō)” (Heb. 11:2). Now, at the end, the author closes the loop. In each example above, God approved of these men and women of faith.

Questions for Reflection

As you read about each OT figure, point out what they could “see” in their circumstances compared to the “unseen” promises of God.

Hebrews 12 (Hope)

Throughout the letter, the author has been arguing for the importance of not falling away from their great hope in Christ. In this chapter, he gives a positive picture of running toward Christ with endurance.

(12:1) “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”

The “cloud of witnesses” (martyrōn) could refer to a stadium of OT saints cheering us on to persevere (e.g. 1 Tim. 6:12). However, we agree with Bruce[247] and Allen[248] that these witnesses are not there to us; rather, we witness them. Their lives were “witnesses” of faith, and God brought his approval when they showed faith (Heb. 11:2, 39).

“Let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”

Like a long-distance runner, we are supposed to throw off two things: (1) any “encumbrance” and (2) any “sin.” Obviously, sin issues will affect our ability to run the race to the end, but he also adds morally neutral activities as well (any encumbrance”). The term “encumbrance” (ogkos) has the “widest possible application.”[249] It refers to excess “bulk” or anything that “hinders one from doing something” (BDAG, p.689). Allen writes, “Runners ran in the stadium virtually naked. They would enter wearing long flowing, colorful robes. At the start of the race, these would be discarded. In like manner, the author is exhorting believers to discard anything that would encumber them and hinder them from running the race.”[250] Sometimes in your walk with Christ, you discover areas in your life that aren’t necessarily immoral, but they aren’t as satisfying as your desire to serve Christ. The imagery is that of a runner showing up to the marathon wearing an 80-pound backpack and a wool sweater! This isn’t wrong; it’s just foolish. We often don’t need to choose between the good and the bad, but between the better and the best.

The fact that the author mentions “endurance” (hypomonē) means that our Christian walk needs to be accompanied with patience over the long haul. Many runners who start well do not finish well.

“Let us run.” We run this race together—not in isolation.

“The race that is set before us.” Guthrie writes, “Contestants cannot choose their own race, for the race is set before us, i.e. by God himself. It is on his programme.”[251] God has good works for each of us to accomplish (Eph. 2:10), a course to run (2 Tim. 4:7), and a ministry to fulfill (2 Tim. 4:5).

(12:2) “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

The term “fixing our eyes” (aphorontes) means “to direct one’s attention without distraction” or “to develop more precise knowledge about something” (BDAG, p.158). Guthrie writes, “It suggests the impossibility of looking in two directions at once.”[252] Consider the mental focus needed for running a long-distance marathon. Most of the battle is in our mind, focusing on the goal that is ahead of us.

“Author” (archēgon) this can mean “founder,” “author,” or “leader.”[253] Lane translates the term as “champion.”[254] He is the “forerunner” of faith who blazed the trail for all of us (Heb. 6:20). While on Earth, Jesus didn’t utilize his divine attributes—even though he possessed them—and he relied on the power of the Holy Spirit instead.

“Perfecter” (teleiōtēn) refers to “one who brings something to a successful conclusion” (BDAG, p.997).

What was the joy set before Jesus?

Was the joy the Cross itself? No, Jesus was tortured and butchered like an animal. Nothing about that was joyful, and the text states that he had to “endure” the Cross to access the joy. The “joy” lay ahead of him while he hung from the Cross. That can’t be it.

Was it going to heaven? No, because if that was it, then Jesus would’ve just stayed in Heaven in the first place.

Don’t you see what the “joy” was? It was you! Jesus was willing to endure the Cross because he couldn’t wait to get his hands on you and know you personally. He did it all because you brought him great joy.[255]

(12:3) “For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

We’re supposed to focus on the Cross during times of suffering. It’s only as we think of God’s suffering for us that we’re able to handle our own suffering.

(12:4) “You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin.”

While these believers had suffered the seizure of property and even prison, they hadn’t been killed yet (Heb. 10:32-35). The author might be putting their suffering in perspective to Jesus’ suffering (v.3). We often exaggerate the suffering we’re going through and complain incessantly. The author is asking, “Have you shed blood yet?” If they had, he might’ve asked, “Have you been crucified yet?”

(12:5-6) “And you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by Him; 6 For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives.”

The author cites Proverbs 3:11-12. They had forgotten the word of encouragement because they had grown dull (cf. Heb. 5:11-14). These Christians were enduring hard times and persecution. They may have thought that this was God’s judgment. Not so. This was God’s discipline.

What does it mean to “regard lightly” God’s discipline? This could mean to have a low view of God, a low view of God’s prerogative to discipline, or a low view of God’s ability to work through it.

(12:7) “It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?”

“Endure” (hypomenō). Jesus was the first Son to “endure” (v.3), and therefore, the rest of the sons should “endure.”

“What son is there whom his father does not discipline?” Our culture doesn’t believe in disciplining our children like they do in other cultures. The reason for discipline is that we believe human nature is inherently rebellious, and we need corrected. Proverbs states, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of discipline will remove it far from him” (Prov. 22:15). This is a timeless proverb because “foolishness is [still] bound up in the heart of a child.” Therefore, they still need discipline.

(12:8) “But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.”

We discipline our own children—not other people’s children. If we didn’t experience discipline from God, what would this imply? That we’re not his children! Far from being a sign of God’s wrath, this is a sign of God’s love and fatherhood. This is what theologian J.I. Packer referred to as the believer’s “painful privilege.” As children, we rarely agree with our father’s discipline, but as we mature, we quite often see this discipline from a different perspective. If we didn’t know God as our Father, it’s likely we would misinterpret his discipline. Knowing God as our Father allows us to see his discipline in our lives as a form of love—not judgment or wrath.

(12:9-10) “Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness.”

The discipline from our parents was not perfect. Sometimes they disciplined us for misguided reasons or out of anger. This was wrong. But God’s discipline is infallible and for our “good.” Guthrie writes, “He will never overdo it, nor will he neglect it. He wants to make his sons like himself.”[256]

(12:11) “All discipline 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.”

Jesus endured the Cross for the “joy set before him.” Can we endure discipline for the joy set before us? The author has a realistic view of suffering. He knows that it is painful and sorrowful. But this is the training that no other means of growth provides.

(12:12-13) “Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.”

This is an allusion to Isaiah 35:3 and Proverbs 4:26. Ancient doctors needed to snap a bone back into place in order to set it. This was painful at first, but it resulted in a healed bone. If the patient thrashed in agony, this would only cause pain without resulting in healing. In the same way, God wants us to stop fighting him through these times of discipline. Instead, we need to “lie still” and let the Spiritual Surgeon do his perfect work.

The troubling case of Esau

(12:14) “Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.”

(12:14) Will we go to hell if we are not sanctified by God? This text is an evangelistic text. The context explains that we should “pursue peace with all men,” not just each other. It would have been easy for these Christians to be bitter when they were losing their property (Heb. 10:32-34) and enduring suffering (Heb. 12:4-13). So, the author tells them to pursue peace and avoid “bitterness” (v.15). If they don’t pursue this sort of sanctification, then he writes, “No one will see the Lord” (v.14). But who exactly is seeing the Lord? Believers in Christ? No, the context refers to those outside the Christian community (“all men”). Thus, this text refers to pursuing peace for the sake of non-Christians. If we don’t pursue peace with non-believers, then they will not see the Lord in our community.

The imperative is to “pursue peace,” but not necessarily to have it (cf. Rom. 12:18). The other person can reject our peaceful advances, but at least we know that we honored God by trying.

(12:15-17) “See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; 16 that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears.”

“Bitterness” (pikria) that causes “trouble” (enochleō) refers to a person turning people away from the Lord (Deut. 29:18).

(12:15-17) Did Esau lose his salvation? Put simply, this refers to the consequences of our sin—not to salvation. When Esau sold Jacob his birthright to Jacob (Gen. 25), this referred to his stake in the Abrahamic Covenant. Esau missed out on the “blessing,” not on “repentance.” Esau didn’t die and go to hell. Instead, he was excluded from God’s plan in the world. Later in Genesis, we have every reason to believe that Esau continued to trust and worship God, and God continued to bless his life. Nothing in the text of Genesis suggests that Esau ceased being a believer.

Why was Esau’s decision so “godless”? If we spoke to Esau today, he might argue that there’s nothing strictly sinful about eating soup, and he would be correct. However, when put in context, his decision was extremely sinful. For instance, imagine trading your entire 401k retirement for a meal; or even worse, imagine trading your newborn baby for a meal! In much the same way, Esau traded an eternal impact for a bowl of soup (!!). How low of a view of your birthright do you need to have to trade it in for a bowl of soup?

Was Esau’s decision spontaneous? Yes and no. Like all decisions, he made it in the spur of the moment. But we shouldn’t see Esau’s error in isolation from the rest of his life. We will each face pain, and we will each need to decide if we’re going to take “the bowl of soup” or if we’re going to wait on God. Much like the author’s original audience, Esau faced the temptation of rejecting God’s promises for a temporal blessing. By appealing to this OT example, the author is showing just how insane it is to trade God’s eternal kingdom for any temporal blessing.

OPTION #1. Do you want to come to God through the Old Covenant?

(12:18-19) “For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, 19 and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word be spoken to them.”

The sight at Mount Sinai must’ve been overwhelming and terrifying to witness. God filled the mountain with his powerful presence. Moses records, “Thunder roared and lightning flashed, and a dense cloud came down on the mountain. There was a long, loud blast from a ram’s horn, and all the people trembled… All of Mount Sinai was covered with smoke because the LORD had descended on it in the form of fire. The smoke billowed into the sky like smoke from a brick kiln, and the whole mountain shook violently” (Ex. 19:16, 18 NLT). When God spoke to Moses, he spoke “with thunder” (Ex. 19:19).

When the people saw and heard all of this, “they stood at a distance, trembling with fear” (Ex. 20:18 NLT). They told Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen. But don’t let God speak directly to us, or we will die!” (Ex. 20:19 NLT) The people were so terrified that they would rather speak to Moses than talk with God himself.

(12:20) “For they could not bear the command, ‘If even a beast touches the mountain, it will be stoned.’”

Here, the author states that even the animals weren’t allowed near God (Ex. 19:12-13). Furthermore, not even the priests—the holiest men of all—dared to come near the mountain without ceremonial washings (Ex. 19:22).

(12:21) “And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, ‘I am full of fear and trembling.’”

Even the great Moses—the Lawgiver—was terrified! (Deut. 9:19; cf. Ex. 3:6; Acts 7:32) If Moses was trembling with fear under the Old Covenant, surely this tells us that we shouldn’t want to come to God this way either. Unless, of course, we are claiming that we’re greater than Moses!

Fortunately, the New Covenant gives us an entirely new access to God through Jesus—the one who is truly greater than Moses (Heb. 3:1-6).

OPTION #2. Do you want to come to God through the New Covenant?

(12:22-23) “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, 23 to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect.”

The author compares the fright and fear of approaching God under Law with the happiness and bliss of coming to God through the New Covenant in Christ. He draws the contrast clearly because he opened this section stating emphatically that we have not come to a mountain like Sinai.

“Mount Zion… heavenly Jerusalem.” Guthrie writes, “The heavenly Jerusalem seems to foreshadow the idea of the new Jerusalem in Revelation 21 (cf. also Rev. 3:12), the perfect abode of the people of God.”[257]

“Enrolled in heaven.” This concept also dovetails with Revelation 21:27 (cf. Lk. 10:20).

(12:24) “And to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.”

Abel’s blood cried out for judgment (Gen. 4:10), but Jesus’ blood cries out for mercy and forgiveness. As Bruce writes, “Abel’s blood cried out to God from the ground, protesting against his murder and appealing for vindication; but the blood of Christ brings a message of cleansing, forgiveness, and peace with God to all who place their faith in him.”[258]

Which will you choose? Option 1 or Option 2?

(12:25-26) “See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven. 26 And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.’”

The author cites Exodus 19:18 and Haggai 2:6.

(12:27-28) “This expression, ‘Yet once more,’ denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe.”

The author is comparing the shakable mountain of Law with the unshakable kingdom of grace. Guthrie writes, “Clearly what is unshakeable must be eternal, for any possibility of change would lead to instability.”[259]

(12:29) “For our God is a consuming fire.”

The word “fire” refers to God’s direction (Deut. 1:31), word (Deut. 4:12), redemption (Deut. 4:20), and exclusivity (Deut. 4:24).

Questions for Reflection

Read verses 1-3. What advice does the author give so we can have endurance in following Christ to the end?

Read verses 4-13. What key aspects of God’s discipline does the author explain in this section?

What helps some people to finish the race, while others fall away?

Hebrews 13 (Love)

The author closes his letter with practical exhortations on how to serve God. Now that the author has successfully made his argument for rejecting the ritualism of the Old Covenant, he explains what it truly looking like to worship God in the New Covenant. This is why we see so many references to a redefinition of worship in this final chapter.

(13:1-2) “Let love of the brethren continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.”

Christian love involves (1) loving each other and (2) loving those who don’t know Christ.

“Love of the brethren” (philadelphia) is a compound word that comes from the words “love” (phileo) and “brothers” (delphia). This concept is repeated throughout the NT (Rom. 12:10; 1 Thess. 4:9; 1 Pet. 1:22). As the psalmist writes, “How good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!” (Ps. 133:1)

“Hospitality to strangers” (philoxenia) is another compound word that comes from the words “love” (phileo) and “strangers” (xenoi). This is for all Christians (Rom. 12:13; 1 Pet. 4:9), especially leaders (1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:8).

“Some have entertained angels without knowing it.” This is probably an allusion to Abraham’s experience at Mamre with the three angels (one of whom was the angel of the LORD, Genesis 18-19).[260] Though, this could also refer to the experiences of Gideon (Judg. 6:11-21) and Manoah (Judg. 13:3-20). This doesn’t mean that we are still entertaining angels today (though that might be true). Rather, it shows that people in the past entertained angels without even being aware of this. This shows that we should be quick to love strangers, and it demonstrates the high value of each and every person.

(13:3) “Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body.”

The prisoners in this passage were Christians. The author writes, “Remember the prisoners… since you yourselves also are in the body (v.3; cf. 10:34). That is, they were also in the “body of Christ.” Paul taught, “If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it” (1 Cor. 12:26). Earlier, the author of Hebrews wrote, “You showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one” (Heb. 10:34).

Many commentators take “the body” to refer to the physical body of the individual believer—not the Body of Christ (e.g. Donald Guthrie,[261] F.F. Bruce,[262] Gareth Lee Cockerill,[263] and William L. Lane[264]). However, we affirm that the author of Hebrews is referring to the Body of Christ for a number of reasons:

Grammatically, this makes better sense of the text. The author refers to the plural believers (“you yourselves) being in the singular body (“in the body”). If he was thinking in terms of being embodied, the grammar would need to reflect this.

Semantically, the phrase ‘the body’ is used to refer to the Body of Christ. While usages of this metaphor for the church include “the body of Christ,” some usages of the metaphor simply refer to the church as “the body” (e.g. 1 Cor. 12:14, 18, 19, 22-25; Eph. 3:6; 4:16; 5:23; Col. 1:18; cf. maybe 1 Cor. 11:29).

Intelligibly, this makes better sense as to why these believers should care for fellow believers. We don’t see why the author would need to remind fellow believers that they are embodied creatures… Obviously, they have physical bodies! However, making an appeal to being in the Body of Christ would make much more sense regarding why we should care for the prisoners. After all, we are all one Body—whether in prison or not (1 Cor. 12:26).

“Remember.” It would be easy to forget the prisoners who were “out of sight and out of mind.”

“As though in prison with them.” They were identifying with these prisoners to the point that they empathized with them.

“Those who are ill-treated.” This harkens back to the OT saints who endured torture (Heb. 11:36-37). Cockerill writes, “The incarcerated endured great suffering because prisons were cramped, damp, dark, and filthy. Furthermore, those who kept them were often harsh and desirous of bribes. Prisoners were given no clothes and little if any food.”[265] Later history records that believers would supplement the needs of those in prison.

  • Timothy brought Paul’s “cloak” and “books” to him while he was in prison (2 Tim. 4:13). Earlier Paul urged Timothy, “Do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:8).
  • Lucian (the second century Greek satirist) wrote about a confessing believer named Peregrinus Proteus, who was imprisoned in Palestine. He wrote, “[The Christians] left no stone unturned in their endeavor to procure his release. When this proved impossible, they looked after his wants in all other matters with untiring solicitude and devotion. From earliest dawn old women (‘widows,’ they are called) and orphan children might be seen waiting about the prison-doors; while the officers of the church, by bribing the jailors, were able to spend the night inside with him. Meals were brought in, and they went through their sacred formulas” (The Death of Peregrinus, 12).[266] Lucian also wrote that Demetrius of Sunium (a cynic philosopher) visited his friend in prison, bringing him food (Friendship, 31).[267]
  • Tertullian (AD 200): “The Church… and each brother out of his private means, makes for your bodily wants in the prison” (To the Martyrs, 1).
  • Tertullian (AD 200): “On the monthly day, if he likes, each puts in a small donation; but only if it be his pleasure, and only if he be able: for there is no compulsion; all is voluntary. These gifts are, as it were, piety’s deposit fund. For they are not taken thence and spent on feasts, and drinking-bouts, and eating-houses, but to support and bury poor people, to supply the wants of boys and girls destitute of means and parents, and of old persons confined now to the house; such, too, as have suffered shipwreck; and if there happen to be any in the mines, or banished to the islands, or shut up in the prisons, for nothing but their fidelity to the cause of God’s Church, they become the nurslings of their confession” (Apology, 39).

The believers were probably tempted to retreat from this important ministry, but the author urged them to move fearlessly to help the brothers in prison for their faith. Believers were being called upon to nurture these incarcerated believers “even at the risk of exposing oneself to possible confinement.”[268] McCallum writes, “Visiting a known Christian in prison could easily throw suspicion on you… To associate with them—to go to their house or have them to your house—showed everyone that you were probably a practicing Christian also. So this verse is really calling for solidarity under persecution. Love in the body of Christ has to be willing to risk persecution.”[269] He adds, “We have noted several times that the readers of Hebrews were under persecution and rejection from their own society… One danger appears in softer rejecting cultures like ours: Believers might conclude that we are close enough to cultural acceptance to make full acceptance a plausible goal. Those in countries where persecution is harsh, like India or China, know there will be no acceptance from majority culture, and they don’t waste time trying to gain it.”[270]

(13:4) “Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.”

Marriage is to be viewed with “honor.” The term “honor” (timios) means “pertaining to being of exceptional value,” “costly, precious,” or “of great worth or value” (BDAG, p.1005). God doesn’t actively strike us dead if we refuse his will. Rather, he lets us experience his passive wrath in neglecting his will (see “The Bible’s Sexual Position”).

(13:5-6) “Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,’ 6 so that we confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?’”

The author cites a number of OT sources: Deuteronomy 31:6, 8, Joshua 1:5, and Psalm 118.

“The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid.” God is our Helper (boēthos), and so is Jesus: “He is able to come to the aid [boētheō] of those who are tempted” (Heb. 2:18).

The key to overcoming greed is to learn to be “content” (Phil. 4:11). The reason we don’t need to fret over money is the fact that God promises to always be with us (cf. Mt. 28:20). See “Does Money Make Us Happy?” and “The Eternal Perspective” and “Why Become a Giver?”

(13:7) “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.”

“Those who led you” (hēgoumenōn). This is the first of three references to leaders in this chapter (v.7, 17, 24). Lane writes, “The term is not reserved for a specified official position or administrative task but designates a person entrusted with responsibility for leadership, who on the ground of the official position receives authority.”[271]

These leaders might be dead because he speaks about them in the past tense. Yet, he uses the present active tense for “remember” (mnēmoneuete) which means to “keep on remembering.” The impact of leaders can have a lifechanging impact on our lives. Our values in the areas of love (vv.1-3), sexual integrity (v.4), and materialism (vv.5-6) are all greatly impacted and formed by seeing the faith of quality Christian leaders in our lives.

(13:8-9) “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 9 Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited.”

God doesn’t change (“the same yesterday and today and forever”), and neither does his teaching. Therefore, Christian doctrine is timeless, and not subject to culture (see “Postmodernism”). As Allen writes, “Since Jesus is himself unchanging, strange teachings that do not comport with his Word must be rejected.”[272]

“Today.” Perhaps this be an allusion back to the emphasis about entering God’s rest “today” from earlier in the book (Heb. 3-4). Since Jesus is always the same, we can always enter his rest.

Part of this means that we need to teach what the Bible teaches, but also, we need to emphasize what the Bible emphasizes. Specifically, we should emphasize grace in our teaching (i.e. “strengthened by grace”). If we aren’t emphasizing the love and mercy of God, then what are we emphasizing in its place?

False teaching almost always leads away from one thing: grace.[273] In Hebrews, the temptation was legalism and formalism. This is why grace is emphasized. Formalism and ritualism were often introduced through legalism surrounding “foods.”

(13:10-11) “We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp.”

The Tabernacle/Temple are spoken about in the present tense, and the high priest was still offering sacrifices there. Yet, the fulfillment of these sacrifices was already fulfilled in Christ.[274] Therefore, we shouldn’t feel compelled to follow the ritual sacrifices anymore. This would, in fact, be a form of “varied and strange teaching” (v.9). Our author nearly screams his conclusion: “Don’t follow the crowd into Old Covenant worship! Stay loyal to Christ—even if it means persecution and disgrace!”

The “altar” that we have refers to “the cross of Christ and/or the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross, including the atonement it procured.”[275] Allen writes, “The readers were being accused by their Jewish friends of having no altar, thus the author takes pains to show that Christians do have an altar, and one superior to the Jewish system.”[276]

(13:12-14) “Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. 13 So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. 14 For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.”

Just as the animal sacrifice was burned outside the camp, Jesus was crucified outside the camp (Jn. 19:20). Likewise, instead of taking their sacrifices to the Temple, they needed to leave Jerusalem and the Temple (Tabernacle) worship. They needed to follow where Jesus himself was sacrificed. This would’ve sounded very strange to Jewish readers: Jesus left the holy and sanctified city of Jerusalem to make people holy and sanctified on unsanctified land.[277] The author is demonstrating that Jesus broke traditional concepts of “holy places” in order to accomplish his finished work. Allen writes, “If, as has often been suggested, one of the problems the author is addressing concerns Jewish Christians who were adhering to synagogue practices, Heb 13:9-14, and in fact the whole epistle, would be a strong challenge to such behavior.”[278]

(13:15-16) “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. 16 And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”

Is this describing a worship service? No. At the very least, the text doesn’t require this reading. It is not weekly, but “continually.” It could also refer to praise and prayer—not group singing. For a detailed view of Christian worship, see “What is Worship?”

(13:17) “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.”

“Obey your leaders” (peithesthe, peithō) means to “convince… persuade, appeal to… win over” (BDAG, p.791). Yet, this is a middle imperative, which implies that the follower should “be persuadable” or “allow himself to be persuaded by good reason to follow someone’s direction.” This is quite the opposite attitude of most of us when we disagree with a leader in our lives.

“Submit to them” (hypeikete) is a much stronger term. It comes from the root eiko which means “to yield” or be “weak.” It means “to yield to someone’s authority, yield, give way, submit” (BDAG, p.1030).

Elsewhere, Paul writes, “Appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction” (1 Thess. 5:12; cf. 1 Cor. 16:15-18). The term “have charge over you” (prohistemi) comes from the root words “before” (pro) + “stand” (sta). This refers to “the functions of leadership in an army, a state, or a party” (NIDNTT, 1:193). It also means “to put oneself at the head,” “to go first,” “to preside” (TDNT, 6:700). This, of course, doesn’t speak to the love or character of the leader. For that, we need to turn to various other passages (cf. Mk. 10:42-45; 1 Tim. 3; Titus 1). Rather, these passages speak to a leader’s delegated authority when it comes to running the ministry.

“Obey your leaders and submit to them.” Spiritual authority is taught in the Bible. It pertains only to the realm of spirituality, however. That is, spiritual authority relates to the running of the ministry—not to secular matters in a person’s life (e.g. personal finance, dating, marriage, parenting, career choices, big purchases, etc.). In non-spiritual areas, leaders do not have authority, but lead only through persuasion, modeling, and personal opinion (see “Trusting God with Big Decisions”).

“Submit” has the idea a person is “to yield when the leader’s [direction] is at variance with the reader’s wishes.”[279]

“They keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account.” This doesn’t refer to the eternal life of others, but to the “spiritual well-being” others.[280] Guthrie writes, “It is important to note that those who exercise authority must also accept responsibility for their actions.”[281]

(13:18-19) “Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a good conscience, desiring to conduct ourselves honorably in all things. 19 And I urge you all the more to do this, so that I may be restored to you the sooner.”

This implies that the audience knew who wrote this letter.

(13:20-23) “Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, 21 equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. 22 But I urge you, brethren, bear with this word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly. 23 Take notice that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom, if he comes soon, I will see you.”

“Word of exhortation” was a way to describe how a rabbi would expound the Scriptures in the synagogue (Acts 13:15; cf. 1 Tim. 4:13). Lane states that the term was an “idiomatic designation for the homily or edifying discourse that followed the public reading for the designated portions of Scripture in the Hellenistic synagogues.”[282]

Timothy was in prison at this time. We have no other record of him being incarcerated. Allen speculates, “Given the data of the Pastorals, it is possible that Timothy came to Rome towards the end of Paul’s imprisonment and was himself imprisoned and then released perhaps after the death of Paul. If Luke is the author of Hebrews and wrote the epistle after Paul’s death in AD 67, then this reference to Timothy would not be unusual.”[283]

(13:24-25) “Greet all of your leaders and all the saints. Those from Italy greet you. 25 Grace be with you all.”

Questions for Reflection

Read verses 1-2. Loving each other and loving non-Christians needs to be balanced. How would we know if we were moving too far in one direction or the other?

Read verse 4. How does this mention of judgment fit with the author’s repeated insistence on grace?

Read verses 5-6. What reasons does the author give for why Christians can be free from materialism?

Read verses 7, 17-18. What authority to Christian leaders have? What principles limit their authority?

[1] Leon Morris, “Hebrews,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 108.

[2] Carson and Moo write, “In the earliest text of Hebrews that has come down to us—P46 (early third century)—this epistle is placed in the Pauline corpus, right after Romans.” D.A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament (2nd edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 600.

[3] Gareth Lee Cockerill, The Epistle to the Hebrews, The New International Commentary on the Old and New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2012), 3.

[4] Eusebius, Church History, 6.14.3.

[5] Eusebius, Church History, 6.25.11-14.

[6] Carson and Moo write, “In particular, both Clement of Alexandria (c. A.D. 150-215) and Origen (185-253) preserve the tradition that Paul is the author of Hebrews, even though they recognize the difficulties attached to the view.” D.A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament (2nd edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 600-601.

[7] Gareth Lee Cockerill, The Epistle to the Hebrews, The New International Commentary on the Old and New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2012), 4.

[8] Clement of Rome (AD 95) cites Hebrews 1:3-7, 13 (1 Clem. 36). Commentator William Lane ascribes other allusions from Clement: 1 Clement 9:3-4 [cf. Heb 11:5-7]; 12:1-3 [cf. Heb 11:31]; 17:1 [cf. Heb 11:37]; 19:2 [cf. Heb 12:1]; 21:9 [cf. Heb 4:12]; 27:2 [cf. Heb 6:18]; 36:1-6 [cf. Heb 1:3-13; 2:17-18; 4:15-16]; 43:1 [cf. Heb 3:2-5]. See William Lane, Hebrews 1-8 (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1991), p.cli.

[9] Leon Morris, “Hebrews,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 8.

[10] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 78.

[11] Leon Morris, “Hebrews,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 8.

[12] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 21.

[13] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 31.

[14] Lane holds that this letter was written to a house church in Rome. See William Lane, Hebrews 1-8 (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1991), lviii-lx. So does F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 9.

[15] John Chrysostom, Homilies.

William Ramsay, Luke the Physician (London, 1908), pp. 301-328.

C.H. Turner, Catholic and Apostolic (London, 1931), pp. 81f.

  1. Leonard, The Authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews (London, 1939), p.43.

Arnold Ehrhardt, The Framework of the New Testament Stories (Manchester, 1964), p.109.

[16] C. Mosser, “No Lasting City: Rome, Jerusalem and the Place of Hebrews in the History of Earliest ‘Christianity,’” (Ph.D. dissertation, St. Mary’s College, University of St. Andrews, 2004). Delitzsch, Hebrews, 1:21; Westcott, Hebrews, xxxix-xli; Spicq, l’Épître aux Hébreux, 1:247-250; Buchanan, Hebrews, 256-60; Hughes, Hebrews, 15-19. Cited in Allen, Hebrews 70.

[17] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 62.

[18] Pantaenus (Ecclesiastical History 6.14.4); Tertullian (De Pudicitia 20).

[19] Dennis McCallum, Liberation! Follow the Book of Hebrews into a Life of Radical Grace (Columbus, OH: New Paradigm Publishers, 2015), Kindle loc. 335.

[20] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 29.

[21] Martin Hengel, The “Hellenization” of Judea in the First Century after Christ, trans. J. Bowden (London: SCM; Philadelphia: Trinity, 1989), 7-18.

[22] Leon Morris, “Hebrews,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 5.

[23] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 29.

[24] F.F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 13.

[25] Richards, E. Randolph. “The Codex and Early Collection of Paul’s Letters.” Bulletin for Biblical Research 8 (1998) 151-166.

[26] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 253.

[27] To be clear, Lane holds to the interpretation that this is literal blood of martyrdom, but entertains both views. William L. Lane, Hebrews 9-13, vol. 47B, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1991), 417.

[28] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 281.

[29] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 631.

[30] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 632.

[31] C. Mosser, “No Lasting City: Rome, Jerusalem and the Place of Hebrews in the History of Earliest ‘Christianity,’” (Ph.D. dissertation, St. Mary’s College, University of St. Andrews, 2004).

[32] C. Mosser, “No Lasting City: Rome, Jerusalem and the Place of Hebrews in the History of Earliest ‘Christianity,’” (Ph.D. dissertation, St. Mary’s College, University of St. Andrews, 2004), 157. Cited in Allen, Hebrews p.63.

[33] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 63.

[34] Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.3.5; 6.20.3.

[35] David Allen, Hebrews (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), p.33.

[36] Carson and Moo write, “In the earliest text of Hebrews that has come down to us—P46 (early third century)—this epistle is placed in the Pauline corpus, right after Romans.” D.A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament (Second ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), p.600.

[37] Gareth Lee Cockerill, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2012), p.3.

[38] Gareth Lee Cockerill, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2012), p.4.

[39] Eusebius, Church History, 6.14.3.

[40] Eusebius, Church History, 6.25.11-14.

[41] Carson and Moo write, “In particular, both Clement of Alexandria (c. A.D. 150-215) and Origen (185-253) preserve the tradition that Paul is the author of Hebrews, even though they recognize the difficulties attached to the view.” D.A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament (Second ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), pp.600-601.

[42] Clement of Rome (AD 95) cites Hebrews 1:3-7, 13 (1 Clem. 36). Commentator William Lane ascribes other allusions from Clement: 1 Clement 9:3-4 [cf. Heb 11:5-7]; 12:1-3 [cf. Heb 11:31]; 17:1 [cf. Heb 11:37]; 19:2 [cf. Heb 12:1]; 21:9 [cf. Heb 4:12]; 27:2 [cf. Heb 6:18]; 36:1-6 [cf. Heb 1:3-13; 2:17-18; 4:15-16]; 43:1 [cf. Heb 3:2-5]. See William Lane, Hebrews 1-8 (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1991), p.cli.

[43] Shepherd of Hermas, 2.3.2. F.F. Bruce states that “Hermas almost certainly knows it [Hebrews.] F.F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), pp.23-24.

[44] Justin refers to Jesus as our “apostle” (First Apology 12:9; 63:5, 10, 14; cf. Heb. 3:1). Lane cites additional allusions: (Apology 12.9 [cf. Heb 3:1]; Dialogue 13:1 [cf. Heb 9:13-14]; 19.3 [cf. Heb 11:5]; 19.4 [cf. Heb 5:6; 6:20; 7:1-2); 46.3; 56:1 [cf. Heb 3:5]; 67:9 [cf. Heb 12:21]; 96:1 [cf. Heb 7:17, 24]; 113.5 [cf. Heb 5:6, 10]; 121.2 [cf. Heb 4:12-13]). He concludes, “Justin clearly knew Hebrews.” William Lane, Hebrews 1-8 (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1991), p.clii.

[45] Tertullian On Modesty 20. He ascribed its authorship to Barnabas who worked alongside Paul, and he thought the letter was of higher value than the Shepherd of Hermas.

[46] Gareth Lee Cockerill, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2012), p.4.

[47] Eusebius, Church History 5.26.3.

[48] Eusebius, Church History 6.20.3.

[49] Refutation of All Heresies 6.30.9.

[50] Jerome, Lives of Illustrious Men, 5.

[51] Augustine, Letter 53.8; 129.3; On Christian Doctrine, 2.8; Civ. 16.22.

[52] Scott Berkun, Confessions of a Public Speaker (Cambridge: O’Reilly Media, 2009), 57.

[53] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 95.

[54] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 95.

[55] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 95.

[56] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 98.

[57] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 67.

[58] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 103.

[59] Leon Morris, “Hebrews,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 13.

[60] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 51.

[61] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 104.

[62] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 111.

[63] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 116.

[64] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 48.

[65] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 120.

[66] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 71.

[67] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 122.

[68] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 73.

[69] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 129-130.

[70] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 75.

[71] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 131.

[72] Qumran affirmed this (4QFlor 1.18-19), as did the apostles (see Acts 4:25-26; 13:33; Mt. 3:16-17; Mk. 1:10-11; Lk. 3:21-22; cf. Rom. 1:4; Rev 12:5; 19:15). See footnote. David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 171.

[73] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 172.

[74] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 171.

[75] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 175.

[76] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 175.

[77] G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos, 2007), 931.

[78] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 79.

[79] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 59.

[80] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 177.

[81] G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos, 2007), 940.

[82] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 62-63.

[83] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 50.

[84] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 191.

[85] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 193.

[86] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 93.

[87] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 215.

[88] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 82.

[89] Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, and Tom Pyszczynski, “Tales from the Crypt: On the Role of Death in Life,” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 33, no. 1 (March 1998): 12.

[90] Luc Ferry, A Brief History of Thought: A Philosophical Guide to Living, trans. Theo Cuffe (New York: Harper, 2010), 2-3, 12.

[91] Zygmunt Bauman, Mortality, Immortality, and Other Life Strategies (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992), 12, 13.

[92] Edwin Shneidman, A Commonsense Book of Death: Reflections at Ninety of a Lifelong Thanatologist (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008), p.34.

[93] Stephen Cave, Immortality: The Quest to Live Forever and How It Drives Civilization (New York: Crown, 2012), 224.

[94] Irvin D. Yalom, Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death (San Francisco: Wiley, 2008), 5-6.

[95] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 86-87.

[96] Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955), 125-60).

[97] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI. Zondervan Publishing House, 1994), 567.

[98] See footnote. F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 308.

[99] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 240.

[100] Paul Ellingworth, The Epistle to the Hebrews: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1993), 204.

[101] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 104.

[102] See footnote. F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 93.

[103] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 244.

[104] Dennis McCallum, Liberation! Follow the Book of Hebrews into a Life of Radical Grace (Columbus, OH: New Paradigm Publishers, 2015), Kindle loc. 530.

[105] Dennis McCallum, Liberation! Follow the Book of Hebrews into a Life of Radical Grace (Columbus, OH: New Paradigm Publishers, 2015), Kindle loc. 530.

[106] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 109-110.

[107] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 264.

[108] Dennis McCallum, Liberation! Follow the Book of Hebrews into a Life of Radical Grace (Columbus, OH: New Paradigm Publishers, 2015), Kindle loc. 562.

[109] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 114.

[110] Dennis McCallum, Liberation! Follow the Book of Hebrews into a Life of Radical Grace (Columbus, OH: New Paradigm Publishers, 2015), Kindle loc. 613.

[111] Dennis McCallum, Liberation! Follow the Book of Hebrews into a Life of Radical Grace (Columbus, OH: New Paradigm Publishers, 2015), Kindle loc. 657.

[112] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 116.

[113] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 110.

[114] Andrew Murray, The Holiest of All, 144.

[115] Lk. 8:11; Acts 6:7; 8:14; 11:1; 13:5, 7, 46; 17:13; 2 Cor. 4:2; Phil. 1:14; Col. 1:25; 1 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 2:9; Titus 2:5; 1 Pet. 1:23; 1 Jn. 2:14; Rev. 1:2, 9; 6:9; 20:4.

[116] Mt. 15:6; Mk. 7:13; Lk. 11:28; Jn. 10:35; Acts 6:2; 18:11; Rom. 9:6; Eph. 6:17; 1 Tim. 4:5.

[117] Lk. 3:2; 8:21; Acts 4:31; 2 Pet. 3:5.

[118] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 286.

[119] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 286.

[120] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 289.

[121] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 112.

[122] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 113.

[123] Leon Morris, “Hebrews,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 45.

[124] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 123.

[125] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 125.

[126] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 305.

[127] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 127.

[128] Francis Schaeffer, The Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer (Vol. 3, Crossway Books, 1982), p.282.

[129] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 315.

[130] Dennis McCallum, Liberation! Follow the Book of Hebrews into a Life of Radical Grace (Columbus, OH: New Paradigm Publishers, 2015), Kindle loc. 717.

[131] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 120.

[132] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 317.

[133] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 122.

[134] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 127.

[135] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 324.

[136] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 132.

[137] Leon Morris, “Hebrews,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 50.

[138] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 215.

[139] Leon Morris, “Hebrews,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 50.

[140] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 137.

[141] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 138.

[142] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 139.

[143] Emphasis mine. F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 139. Bruce holds somewhat of a middle view. He writes, “It was on a foundation already laid in the Old Testament, then, and one on which their way of life was already based, that these people had received the gospel.” (p.143) In Bruce’s view, these Christians affirmed these basic Jewish beliefs, and perhaps, they thought this was good enough. Our author is telling them to “press on” past these fundamental beliefs.

[144] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 140.

[145] Leon Morris, “Hebrews,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 53.

[146] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 141.

[147] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 344.

[148] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 380-381.

[149] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 377.

[150] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 360.

[151] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 364.

[152] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 144.

[153] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 144.

[154] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 363.

[155] Leon Morris, “Hebrews,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 55.

[156] Tertullian (AD 200) cited Hebrews 6 to show that adulterers and fornicators could not repent and experience forgiveness! He writes, “[The author] never knew of any second repentance promised by apostles to the adulterer and fornicator” (On Modesty 20).

[157] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 149.

[158] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 365.

[159] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 379.

[160] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 149.

[161] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 378.

[162] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 383.

[163] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 390.

[164] Dennis McCallum, Liberation! Follow the Book of Hebrews into a Life of Radical Grace (Columbus, OH: New Paradigm Publishers, 2015), Kindle loc. 1116.

[165] Robert D. Culver, “1199 מָלַך,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 507.

[166] Richard Longenecker, “Melchizedek Argument,” 183. Cited in footnote of David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010).

[167] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 158.

[168] See footnote. F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990).

[169] Dennis McCallum, Liberation! Follow the Book of Hebrews into a Life of Radical Grace (Columbus, OH: New Paradigm Publishers, 2015), Kindle loc. 837.

[170] See footnote. F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 160.

[171] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 412.

[172] William Lane, Hebrews 1-8 (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1991), 157.

[173] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 414.

[174] See footnote. F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 160.

[175] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 160.

[176] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 160.

[177] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 164.

[178] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 418.

[179] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 419.

[180] Paul Ellingworth, The Epistle to the Hebrews: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1993), 374.

[181] This syllogistic breakdown comes from Paul Ellingworth, The Epistle to the Hebrews: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1993), 204.

[182] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 184.

[183] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 442.

[184] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 173.

[185] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 440.

[186] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 443.

[187] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 180.

[188] Dennis McCallum, Liberation! Follow the Book of Hebrews into a Life of Radical Grace (Columbus, OH: New Paradigm Publishers, 2015), Kindle loc. 1265.

[189] Dennis McCallum, Liberation! Follow the Book of Hebrews into a Life of Radical Grace (Columbus, OH: New Paradigm Publishers, 2015), Kindle loc. 1265.

[190] Westfall, Discourse Analysis, 203. Cited in David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 473-474.

[191] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 221.

[192] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 478.

[193] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 447.

[194] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 479.

[195] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 222.

[196] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 194.

[197] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 213.

[198] Cited in footnote. F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 227.

[199] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 230.

[200] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 488.

[201] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 493.

[202] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 238.

[203] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 497.

[204] Leon Morris, “Hebrews,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 99.

[205] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 246.

[206] Leon Morris, “Hebrews,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 101.

[207] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 515.

[208] Dennis McCallum, Liberation! Follow the Book of Hebrews into a Life of Radical Grace (Columbus, OH: New Paradigm Publishers, 2015), Kindle loc. 1515.

[209] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 218.

[210] Leon Morris, “Hebrews,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 107.

[211] Leon Morris, “Hebrews,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 108.

[212] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 527.

[213] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 524.

[214] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 529.

[215] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 224.

[216] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 225.

[217] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 531.

[218] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 535.

[219] Dennis McCallum, Liberation! Follow the Book of Hebrews into a Life of Radical Grace (Columbus, OH: New Paradigm Publishers, 2015), Kindle loc. 1672.

[220] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 228.

[221] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 276.

[222] Toussaint says it’s a description—not a definition.

[223] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 282-283.

[224] John E. Hartley, Genesis, ed. W. Ward Gasque, Robert L. Hubbard Jr., and Robert K. Johnston, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2012), 81.

[225] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 284-286.

[226] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 231.

[227] Dennis McCallum, Liberation! Follow the Book of Hebrews into a Life of Radical Grace (Columbus, OH: New Paradigm Publishers, 2015), Kindle loc. 1736.

[228] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 233.

[229] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 295.

[230] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 551.

[231] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 234-235.

[232] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 236.

[233] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 236.

[234] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 304.

[235] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 238.

[236] Dennis McCallum, Liberation! (Columbus, OH: New Paradigm Publishing, 2015), Kindle loc. 1878.

[237] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 559.

[238] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 307.

[239] Dennis McCallum, Liberation! (Columbus, OH: New Paradigm Publishing, 2015), Kindle loc. 1954.

[240] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 311.

[241] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 313.

[242] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 317.

[243] Dennis McCallum, Liberation! (Columbus, OH: New Paradigm Publishing, 2015), Kindle loc. 2020.

[244] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 246.

[245] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 247.

[246] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 328.

[247] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 333.

[248] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 572.

[249] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 250.

[250] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 573.

[251] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 251.

[252] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 251.

[253] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 251.

[254] William L. Lane, Hebrews 9-13, vol. 47B, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1991), 411.

[255] I am indebted to Tim Keller for this observation.

[256] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 256.

[257] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 262.

[258] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 361.

[259] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 266.

[260] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 269.

[261] Donald Guthrie writes, “The words draw attention to the physical limitations to which all are subject.” Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 270. However, the author’s point is to show deep, spiritual identification with them—not merely the similarity of being human or embodied.

[262] F.F. Bruce writes, “Those who are themselves ‘in the body’ are in a position to imagine how they would feel if the same ill-treatment were meted out to them. The phrase ‘in the body’ should not be interpreted to mean ‘in the body of Christ’ (as fellow-members).” F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 372.

[263] Garreth Lee Cockerill writes, “This is no reference to the people of God as the ‘body’ of Christ.” See footnote in Gareth Lee Cockerill, The Epistle to the Hebrews, The New International Commentary on the Old and New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2012), 682.

[264] William L. Lane, Hebrews 9-13, vol. 47B, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1991), 515.

[265] Gareth Lee Cockerill, The Epistle to the Hebrews, The New International Commentary on the Old and New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2012), 681.

[266] Cited in F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 372.

[267] Cited in William L. Lane, Hebrews 9-13, vol. 47B, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1991), 514.

[268] Gareth Lee Cockerill, The Epistle to the Hebrews, The New International Commentary on the Old and New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2012), 681.

[269] Dennis McCallum, Liberation! (Columbus, OH: New Paradigm Publishing, 2015), Kindle Locations 2381-2387.

[270] Emphasis mine. Dennis McCallum, Liberation! (Columbus, OH: New Paradigm Publishing, 2015), Kindle Locations 2495.

[271] William L. Lane, Hebrews 9-13, vol. 47B, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1991), 526.

[272] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 614.

[273] Dennis McCallum, Liberation! Follow the Book of Hebrews into a Life of Radical Grace (Columbus, OH: New Paradigm Publishers, 2015), Kindle loc. 2474.

[274] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 378.

[275] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 616.

[276] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 616.

[277] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 618.

[278] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 622.

[279] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 624.

[280] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 625.

[281] Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 278.

[282] William L. Lane, Hebrews 9-13, vol. 47B, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1991), 568.

[283] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 630.