Hebrews 1:4 “Better”
There is a theme running through this book in which many contrasts are being made and the key word to look for is the word “better”. Most of the comparisons relate to the excellence of the gospel in relation to the previous state of Jewish believers under the law. The purpose of the author, probably Paul, is to help Hebrew Christians get beyond Judaism.
In the first two chapters, however, there is, in the contrasting of our Lord Jesus Christ with angels, perhaps a refutation of the Gnostic concept that He be classed below them in the hierarchy of spiritual beings. Hence we have at the outset a wonderful revelation of the supremacy and primacy of our Savior.
We see Him gloriously portrayed as the Creator of the “worlds” and the “heir of all things”. He expresses the glory and character of the Father (the word image here is the Greek word character) and is set forth as the language through which God now speaks to us. (Literally, “spoken to us in Son” - as we might say in French or Spanish). Verse 8, a quotation from Psalm 45, sets Him forth as God!
Though He is better than the angels, we do get some great insight into their importance to us in verse 14. How much we owe to these guardians we will never know this side of eternity. Praise God for this provision He has made for those of us who are predestined to salvation.
A good prayer, “O Lord help me to love righteousness and hate iniquity as I grow to be like Jesus.”
Hebrews 2:9 Lower than the Angels?
Upon further study, since few commentators mention Gnosticism, it may be that our Lord Jesus is spoken of as being “better than the angels” because the Hebrew believers were so aware of their involvement in the delivery of the old covenant (v. 2) (there was certainly a Gnostic problem at Colosse where worship of angels is mentioned in chap. 2:18).
In this chapter, however, we are introduced to a fact that not only was man made lower than the angels, (or as a note on this reads: “ a little while inferior to”) but we also find reference here to “Jesus who was made a lower than the angels” (v.9). How can this be?
In the answer we find a glorious Biblical doctrine, substitution! Do we see Him? Jesus tasting death for us, dying for us! When did an angel ever do that? But in order to do it He had to empty Himself (Phil.2: 5-7) of “all but love” and be nailed to a tree. Just a few days ago I heard a soloist at a funeral for a dear friend sing her favorite hymn which includes the words “In the Beloved, I went to the tree.” Do you see yourself crucified, risen, seated with Him? Our victory over sin is rooted in such a doctrine and here in this chapter we see it vividly portrayed as Paul says, “both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one” (v.11).
Our Lord is now highly exalted and it won’t be long before the man in Psalm eight, now redeemed, will see all things put under him. What is man? Soon the “world to come” (v.5) will be put in complete subjection to us. Wow!
(See Rev. 2:26 & 27)
Hebrews 3:18 Entering into Rest
All the way through this book we must be reminding ourselves why and to whom it was written or we can easily be confused. This, of course, is one of the most basic principles of interpretation. So far, I have seen nothing written that says it any better than the introduction to the book in the Old Scofield Reference Bible. He says that it was written to confirm Jewish Christians by showing that Judaism had come to an end and to warn of the danger of lapsing back into it or of pausing short of true faith in Christ. We cannot distinguish often between the two when reading this book or in currently observing today’s professing Christians. No doubt the contemporary Christian church is at least partially made up of both true believers who have lapsed back into the world and seekers who haven’t quite gotten through to saving faith.
The problem indicated in this chapter and the next is defined as unbelief and the solution is through constancy and perseverance to arrive at a position of rest in Christ. The illustration our Apostle uses is the familiar example of the failure of Israel to enter the promised land because of unbelief.
In making an application we need to recognize here the principle of the cross. Israel should have denied themselves, entered the place of death and found deliverance and joy in obedient possession of the land. In our epistle, the Jewish believers must reckon themselves dead to Judaism and alive to that which is “better” in the gospel of Christ. This is such an important decision for them that they are told to exhort each other daily on these issues lest the same evil heart of unbelief keep them from the place of resurrection rest and blessing.
Of course, we cannot exhort one another daily except perhaps at family devotions or at Christian school for we do not see each other that often as adult believers, but this principle of the cross should face us daily (Luke 9:23).
Hebrews 4:2 An Important Ingredient in the Mix
To continue from yesterday’s portion, the theme remains much the same. Again the apostle is admonishing the Jewish believers to enter into the rest afforded in the Gospel. Several illustrations are used. The fact that we are told that God rested after His works were completed was His way of saying to them, the days of work (under the law) are over and in Christ the day of rest has begun. In a rather strange mixture of illustrative material he proceeds to the next example in verse 6 citing Psalm 95:7-11 as a call to enter rest and showing that this rest could not have been completely fulfilled under Joshua (“Jesus” is Greek for his name) else why this later reference in Psalms. All of this use of various Scripture of the O.T. in order to make the statement in verse 9, “There remaineth therefore a rest (from dead works) to the people of God.”
It is a very interesting fact that the word “labor” in the next verse is actually the same word as “study” in 2 Timothy 2:15 and what it says to us is that we need to labor in the Word to understand how to rest in Christ’s finished work. God’s word will reveal the thoughts and intents of the heart if we study to show ourselves as approved workmen. What it will do is divide between flesh and spirit. It said to Israel, count the cost, trust Me and don’t worry about your relatives (Numbers 14:3). It said to these Jewish believers in Hebrews, “let go of your nationalistic worship”. Jesus faced the Jews with the same message in John 6 and many of His disciples turned back. How many young people are willing to present their bodies to the Lord and trust Him concerning jobs, marriage, etc? Did I say young people? It’s the same principle for all – we only enter into rest when we stop struggling with a God who knows best.
Hebrews 5:12 Meateaters
So we come at long last to the verses from which the name of our little fellowship of
readers is taken. Hopefully, we are a company of those who are ready for the “strong meat” of the word of God. There is, of course, a need for the milk and those who need it are ones we would consider “babes in Christ” (1 Cor.3:1). In the afore-mentioned passage Paul says to his readers that they are “yet carnal” and therefore it is required that he feed them “with milk and not with meat”.
It might be well for us to ask the questions “what exactly constitutes the difference between these two spiritual conditions? Am I yet a babe? Do I think I am a meateater since I read these devotionals, or is there more to it than that?” It is obvious from the use of these illustrative terms that there are definite stages in the Christian life. It is also significant that this fact appears in this particular book where the appeal is being made for the movement to maturity. What exactly made the difference in the lives of these believers being addressed? For them to pass to the realm of meateaters they had to cut loose from Judaism, i.e. they had to take a very unpopular course of action. Even today an orthodox Jew who converts is considered to have died and his funeral is held. This, beloved, is the cross! The “living sacrifice” of Rom.12:1&2 may well be the next soul greeted in heaven by Stephen’s welcoming Savior (Acts 7:56) especially if he be a Muslim.
So, what am I saying? I believe that the point where we pass from being carnal Christians who “walk as men” to being mature believers is when we as disciples take up the cross to follow Christ. Consider these verses: Mt.10:34-39; 16: 23-26; Mk.10:17-30; Lk.14:25-33 and Jn.12:24-26. Since the cross is the place of death, the mature Christian, having embraced it, cannot die again so he no longer fears what man can do to him. Physical death will only deliver him to his Savior and eternal bliss.
Hebrews 6:1 “On unto Perfection” (Maturity)
Now comes a good test as to whether we are meateaters or not. Are we troubled when we read about falling away? Are we prone to choose verses that support the views we like and ignore those that seem to contradict them? If so, we are no more mature than those on the other side of an issue that do the same thing! Where in the Bible do we find the words “once saved always saved”? Or the term “eternal security”? “But I feel saved “ and so do those of the opposite view feel they are not. I know because I have personally spoken with such. Once a young woman told me that she had been saved but knew that if she should die right then, she would go to straight to hell. I think she really believed she would!
It is usually true that those who are Arminian in their theology are the ones who believe they can lose their salvation. These truly pity us who are so naive as to believe otherwise. Arminianism usually expresses itself in Pentecostalism, Free Willism, Methodism (and its children i.e. Nazarenes, Salvation Army, Wesleyianism, etc.). It is significant that for the most part these dear people do not understand the doctrines of election, predestination, and positional sanctification, all absolute biblical doctrines. I think there are hopefully many who do feel secure but are unwilling to break away from those of their friends and relations who are heretical. These are no worse off than those in our camp who have no real biblical answer to give when challenged. The problem with both is that they are not meateaters. They are still on milk. Clearly, God wants us to be in the Scriptures. This means more than dabbling!
Verses that seem to run contrary to what we have been taught should cause us to study. These in this chapter obviously refer to some professed Jewish converts who did not in the author’s opinion possess those “better” things that truly accompany salvation (v.9).
Hebrews 7:1 Melchisedec
Hopefully if you are reading the book of Hebrews along with these devotionals for after all which is more important, God’s word or what some man writes about it? If so you may have noted that back in 4:14 the apostle begins to mention Christ as our high priest. (If you do not own a Scofield Reference Bible, you should get one just for the outline features let alone the notes and chain references it provides). Scofield treats 5:11 through 6:12 as a parenthesis. The subject of the Melchisedekian priesthood, having been mentioned in 5:10 is now picked up again in chapter seven being introduced in 6:20. (All of this goes to prove that chapter divisions are not inspired.)
We do not know if the appearance of Melchisedec (Gen.14:18) was a theophany or not. It it was than it was the Lord Jesus Himself for He is the image of the invisible God. (If it was not Christ, then it most certainly typified Him) the reason he is introduced here is that our author is about to bring out his big guns to blow Judaism out of the water! What was more sacred to the Jew than the priesthood? Now he must give it up for something “better”! Christ’s priesthood is not Aaronic but Melchisedekian and in theory when Abraham, the father of Aaron, paid tithes to Melchisedec it was Aaron paying tithes and receiving the blessing (v.7). This may seem to us a stretch, but the apostle sees it as a real proof that Christ is of a different order and confirmed as such by an oath (Psalm 110:4).
Abraham’s protestation to the king of Sodom is an excellent example for us to close with. Should we pray to win the megabucks lottery? Satan might just answer that prayer.....and then where would we be?
Hebrews 8: 2 “The True Tabernacle”
What is the new covenant that the apostle writes of in verse eight? Watch out! For if we are to rightly divide the word of truth as those who take the Bible literally we must look carefully at what is said here. Note it is a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. This does not speak of the covenant of grace which we generally think of when we speak of the New Testament. If we are not careful here we will fall into the trap which our friends the Covenant theologians have fallen, that of confusing Israel and the church. They are separate entities and must be treated as such consistently or confusion is produced.
Without going into a lot of detail it is sufficient to say here that the covenant being spoken of is yet future when all Israel shall be saved and the purpose of mentioning it is simply to point out that the old covenant is decaying, waxing old and is ready to vanish away. Paul in other places has made it clear that the church age was a mystery and did not pertain to Israel at all! The work of the Holy Spirit in the church is indicative of what He will one day do for all His ancient people who are then alive. (10:61) (Jer.31:31-34)
We close on a more uplifting note. That is the viewing of the tabernacle of the Old Testament as a picture of things in the heavens (9:23). Does a woman wear the pattern of a dress? That is all the tabernacle was, a pattern of the true tabernacle which is in heaven. Christ has, as our high priest, entered into the presence of God for us not with the blood of an animal, but with His own precious blood as we shall see more in detail in the next chapter. Let us come boldly to His throne of grace to obtain mercy and find grace to help us in our times of need. (4:16).
Hebrews 9:23 Better Sacrifices
In this chapter we reach the pinnacle of the apostle’s argument. There is a greater tabernacle than the one pitched in the wilderness, there is a greater high priest than Aaron, there is a greater sacrifice than all the bulls and goats that have been offered for all these years and there is blood which is better than their blood. Not that all of these ceremonies were not important, for they were God-given and even then when for so many it was only a formal process yet the true hearted worshiper recognized in them a deeper truth (Ps.51:16 & 17).
We may pass lightly over such statements as these, but we may be certain that early Jewish believers did not! “Who are these Christians who are tearing into everything we have held dear for centuries ripping them to shreds! Can’t we somehow make it easier to believe? Must we be so drastic? How about a little more honey and less vinegar?” – Ah, do we not see how neo-evangelicalism reasons? We must change our music standards if we are to reach the youth. Tozier wrote of the modern smooth cross.
It is no wonder that the church today is so weak for it knows little of the principles that drove the writer of Hebrews. In Acts the preachers pulled no punches and the result was that men who were not truly converted dared not join them (5:13). “ Why not let up a little, Paul, on your opposition to circumcision?” His answer–Galations 5:11.
Hebrews 10:20 “A New and Living Way”
We are still on the pinnacle.
Every year the Jews were to be reminded, especially on the Day of Atonement, that sin had not yet been taken away. In fact by the time Christ came it is quite certain that the system that was ordained to cause them to expect that to happen had itself replaced that expectation. Is this the method by which our God intends to deal with the sin problem? Oh no! That’s not it at all! God has no pleasure in these offerings and sacrifices except that they lead us, as a diligent schoolmaster, to the heart of the plan–to Christ! (Gal.3:24).
In the volume of the book it is written that Christ must come in fulfillment of all these types and shadows. What wonderful words we have here in verse 10. By Christ’s willingness to come into this world to be a sacrifice for our sins He has forever sanctified us! No more lambs are ever( in this dispensation) to be brought to the temple, no more blood is to be shed “for (God) hath made him to be sin for us......that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”
No temple priest had ever sat down while ministering in the tabernacle but Christ sat down on the right hand of God. It is finished! By this one offering He has made us perfect. (Paul said it, “accepted in the beloved”, Eph.1:6).
Now, to complete the picture, we may with boldness enter into the Holy of Holies by His blood for when His flesh was rent for us, the veil in the temple was pulled apart as if God could hardly wait to get His hands on it to destroy it since Adam had been destroyed on the cross. (Col.2:11), and the second man from heaven had now become a Way. (1 Cor.15:45-47).
Hebrews 11:13 “These all died in faith....”
This chapter might well have begun back at verse 38 in the previous chapter “Now the
just shall live be faith: but if any man draw back my soul shall have no pleasure in him.” The latter part of this verse reinforces the warning that is given throughout this epistle aimed at so called converts from Judaism who were not really converted at all. They were the ones in chapter three that were being urged not harden their hearts by unbelief (v.12), those in chapter six who were being warned about “falling away”. Like so many professed believers in our fundamental churches, they had been enlightened, had tasted, had sat under the sound of the word, and been titillated by thoughts of heaven (6:4 & 5). But now they were seen to be slipping (2:1), they were forsaking the assembly (10:25) and it is becoming clear that when Israel came out of Egypt they were that part of the “mixed multitude” that wanted the blessing but had never counted the cost. What was wanting in the mixture was real true faith (4:2), that wonderful true expression of profound belief in the Living God, - FAITH!
Do we need examples, then here they are! Those who will show us what it really means to take up the cross and denying themselves, go forward embracing the promises, persuaded so by them that they were ready and willing to die for them.
In my Bible I wrote next to 11:13 concerning the word “embraced” the words of my good friend Dick Jones, “put your arms around the word of God and say, ‘you cost me a lot but I love you anyway.’ ”
Where has faith led us, what has it cost us, can we inscribe our name beside these “of whom the world was not worthy”? Beware easy believism! It is certainly nowhere in this chapter.
Hebrews 12:3 “Consider Him”
The “cloud of witnesses”, of course, are all of the heroes just mentioned . Let us not
forget that the faith they exemplified produced costly obedience resultant from their taking up the cross. The greatest example is Jesus Who endured THE cross. Considering them and particularly Him should help these wavering, compromising Hebrews who haven’t yet had to shed one drop of blood for the cause! Yes, some are indeed undergoing persecution (Paul knew something of that!), but chastening is normal for some - if indeed you are legitimate.
This is a tough chapter! Just remember the context as you read it, as we have admonished all thru. People who fit into the two categories in Luke 8, shallow soil hearts and thorny hearts - who can tell them apart and without fruit who dares call them true Christians? Hopefully we do not find ourselves here!
Note the opening words of verses 18 and 22 to catch the contrasting scene. Having come by grace (if you have) to this wonderful place in the latter verses, the apostle warns DON’T REFUSE HIM! He Who turned Sinai into fire and smoke has not changed (v.29). There is a new covenant and the blood of a better sacrifice than Abel offered, but the God before Whom Moses did “exceedingly quake and fear” though He speaks from a mount of grace not law, is, nevertheless, “a consuming fire”.
Finally, we may rejoice that our race will end ultimately at the gates of the “city of the Living God” and if we could only hear them, that “innumerable company of angels” are probably cheering us on. We are already there positionally (“are come”) for our names are “written in heaven” as members of the only church there, the “church of the firstborn”. This word is plural in the Greek and refers to us who answer to the type in Exodus of those who were purchased by the blood of the lamb.
Hebrews 13:10 “We have an altar....”
The “camp” here refers to Judaism as we hear a final plea to those who would receive this epistle that they come out and be separate. The Jews instead of executing our Lord Jesus themselves by stoning Him as they did Stephen, they turned Him over to Rome which took Him outside the gates of Jerusalem to crucify Him. The apostle pleads with the Hebrews that they leave Judaism behind and come out to Christ bearing His reproach.
Eating the sacrifice was a distinct act of the priests by which they identify with the offering and were considered to be partakers of all the altar represented (1 Cor.10:18). Our writer makes it clear that we have an altar where we eat in identification with Christ our Passover (1 Cor.5:7) even His cross and that those who “serve the tabernacle” have no right to it. Let it be clear, there is no room for compromise.
As we close this epistle let us reflect again on what it cost the disciple of these early days to become a Christian convert from Judaism. A better priesthood, a better sacrifice, a better covenant, a better altar, a better tabernacle, a better city, all these must take the place of the old ways. From this we may understand a little better what it meant to take up the cross and follow Him.
Evidently there were church leaders who were teaching these things and this letter was designed to back them up. (13:7 & 17)
Let us offer the fruit of our lips giving thanks to God for our lot is so easy in comparison.