Hebrews 1:1-2 The New Testament has a higher authority because God spoke it in His Own Son, who is heir of all things, through whom also He made the world and who still upholds all things.

Hebrews 1:1-2 God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son. (New American Standard)

The Two Testaments

These verses contrast the two testaments:

What God spoke long ago in the prophets represents the Old Testament.

Son of manWhat God spoke in these last days in His Son refers to the New Testament, or perhaps more accurately, the Four Gospels.

The writer is saying with this contrast that the Four Gospels have a much higher authority because God spoke it in His Own Son, who is heir of all things, through whom also He made the world and who still upholds all things (Hebrews 1:2-3).

Hebrews frequently quotes the Old Testament.  It uses the Old Testament to show that the Four Gospels have a much higher authority.  For this reason the writer starts in Hebrews 1:1 by affirming the Old Testament as the Word of God.

New TestamentSome Bible interpretations effectively classify the Four Gospels as part of the Old Testament, while the New Testament letters are used as the basis for Christianity.  But Hebrews tells us that the four gospels are the foundation of the New Testament.

 

 

God Spoke

In these verses it is God that spoke; not the prophets and not His Son.

We should be amazed that the infinite and eternal God should speak to man; a speck of dust floating in the unending expanse of the universe.  But this reflects His love for man; “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16).

God exists outside the limits of space, time and matter. If God had not spoken, we would have known anything about Him, and we would have floating around in this immeasurable universe without hope. But God has spoken, and we therefore do have hope.

The fathers include Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  They are also the spiritual fathers of Gentile Christians believers (Rom. 4:16; Gal. 3:29).

Last Days

Last DaysThe phrase last days is commonly understood as meaning ‘recently’.  However, Jesus said, His disciples believed and the entire New Testament—including Hebrews (9:26; 10:25, 36-37)—teach that the Lord is coming soon.  The phrase “these last days” therefore indicates the writer’s belief that his generation was to be the last generation before Christ’s return.  Please see Why did He Not Return in the First Century as He promised?

His Son

Even though 1:2 says that God “has spoken to us in His Son”, the writer and his readers had not actually heard Jesus (2:3).  They were second-generation Christians.  Hebrews was written more than 30 years after Christ’s death.

The title “His Son” (1:2) signifies His unique relationship to God, just like the title “Son of man” designates His relationship to man.

Jesus as babyGod created everything through His Son (1:2).  His Son therefore always existed.  To become a human being, His Son emptied Himself of glory, power and even wisdom.  He became a helpless human baby, had to develop like any other human being, and was utterly dependent on God.

The most wonderful event ever in the existence of mankind is that the Son of God should have come from heaven to teach mankind.  But equally amazing is how few listened to Him when He was on the earth, and how few still regard Him today.

Conclusion

This letter to the Hebrews does not have an introduction like we would find in other letters.  In Hebrews the first three verses serve as an introduction, but also immediately confront the reader with the main theme of this epistle, which is the superiority of Christ, and therefore the higher authority of His message.

This is a summary.
To read the full article, see God Spoke.

Hebrews 1:1-2 God spoke long ago in the prophets. In these last days He has spoken in His Son.

What God spoke to us in His Son has a much higher authority than the Old Testament.

 

Hebrews 1:1-2 God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son.

God … spoke

God spoke – In 1:1 God spoke in the prophets and in 1:2 God spoke in the Son, but in both verses it is God that spoke; not the prophets and not His Son.

If God had not spoken, we would have been without hope.God exists outside the limitations of our physical space, time and matter. He cannot be seen by our eyes or measured in a laboratory. He said,

My thoughts are not your thoughts“My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, … For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

We are not equipped to know anything about God.  If God had not spoken, we would have been without knowledge of Him or without hope. But God has spoken, and we therefore do have hope.

Long ago to the fathers in the prophets (1:1)

The letter to the Hebrews was written for Jews.The letter to the Hebrews is very Jewish in nature.  It has a strong focus on:

Moses (3:1-6);
The Exodus generation (3:7-4:11);
The Jewish sacrificial system (4:14-10:31);
The Old Testament heroes of faith (chapter 11) and;
The “heavenly Jerusalem” in contrast to Mount Sinai (12:18-24).

On the basis of this strong Jewish emphasis it is usually concluded that the letter was addressed to Jews who converted to Christianity, or even that it was addressed to a Jewish synagogue of which some members have accepted Jesus as Messiah, but others not.

 The writer of Hebrews admits the Old Testament as the Word of God.  Both the writer and the intended audience were trained in the Jewish Scriptures.  The writer in 1:1 affirms the Old Testament as the Word of God.  His ultimate purpose was to show the superior claims of the gospel, and to lead them away from confidence in the Old Testament rites, but he will use the Old Testament to substantiate his arguments.  Therefore he first affirms their belief in the inspiration of the prophets.

God elected AbrahamThe fathers also belong to Gentile Christians.The fathers include Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Gentile believers may correctly assume that “the fathers” belong to them as well, for Abraham is the spiritual father “of us all,” that is, of all true believers:

so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law (the Jews), but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all” (Rom. 4:16)

if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3:29).

God spoke … in many portions (KJV – parts) (1:1)

Law of Moses

God did not speak through the prophets all at once.  In the 39 books of Old Testament, God revealed Himself in many portions.

God spoke … in many ways (1:1)

By whom did He speak? – Sometimes the Spirit spoke directly to His servants; sometimes through angels, or sometimes God even appeared Himself as the Angel of Jehovah, as to Abraham in Genesis 18.

How did He speak? – His methods of communication include direct Still small voicecommunication, dreams, visions and impressions.  Elijah, for example, once stood upon the mountain before Yahweh,
and there was a great and strong wind which rent the mountains, and broke the rocks into in pieces; but Yahweh was not in the wind.
Then there was an earthquake; but Yahweh was not in the earthquake.
Then there was a fire; but Yahweh was not in the fire.
Then Yahweh spoke to Elijah is a “still small voice” (1 Kings 19:11-12).

In what form did He speak? – The forms in which His word is delivered include prophecy, poetry, proverbs, historical events and religious ordinances.

In these last days (1:2)

Last DaysThe early church expected Jesus to return soon. – The phrase “last days” is commonly interpreted as meaning ‘recently’.  However, Jesus said, His disciples believed and the entire New Testament teaches that the Lord is coming soon.  The author of Hebrews similarly wrote:

Now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (9:26)

all the more as you see the Day approaching. …   For in just a very little while, He who is coming will come and will not delay” (10:25, 36-37).

The phrase “last days” elsewhere in the New Testament also implies the last days before Christ’s return:

Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking” (2 Peter 3:3)

Mockers’and it shall be in the last days,’ God says, ‘that I will pour forth of My spirit on all mankind’” (Acts 2:17)

But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self” (2 Timothy 3:1-2)

It is therefore proposed that the phrase “these last days” indicates the writer’s belief that his generation was to be the last generation before Christ’s return.  Please see Why did He Not Return in the First Century as He promised?

God … has spoken unto us (1:2)

This does not mean that the writer and/or his readers had actually heard Jesus, for they did not (2:3).

We should be astonished that the infinite and eternal God should speak to man; a speck of dust floating in the unending expanse of the universe.  But it reflects God’s love for mankind; “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16).

In his Son (1:2)

Son of manTo become a human being, His Son emptied Himself of glory, power and wisdom.  Jesus said, “before Abraham was born, I am” (John 7:58). The Son shared the Divine glory before the world was, but He “emptied Himself” (Phil. 2:7) when He came into the world. That means that He laid aside His glory and power, and even His wisdom, “taking the form of a bond-servant” (Phil. 2:7).  He became a helpless human baby, had to develop like any other human being, and was dependent on God for everything.  He said, “the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing” (John 5:19), and “I cast out demons by the Spirit of God” (Mt. 12:18).  But even though Christ emptied Himself, He remained Who He previously was before.  These things we have to accept by faith, for we are unable to understand it.

The title “Son” signifies His unique relationship to God, just like the title “Son of man” designates His relationship to man. The Jews understood the title “Son of God” to mean equality with God:

Jesus and the PhariseesJesus said, “My Father is working until now” (John 5:17).  “For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.” (v18).

John 10 records Jesus saying “I am the Son of God” (v36).  For that reason the Jews wanted to stone Him, saying, “because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God” (v33).

The most wonderful event in history – The most wonderful event ever in the existence of mankind is that the Son of God should have come from heaven to teach mankind.  Yet, equally amazing, how few listened to Him when He was on the earth, and how few still regard Him today.  People have no interest in Him, and refuse to listen to what He has to say about of the unseen and eternal world.

New TestamentThe New Testament is God’s message in His Son.  The Four Gospels—the first four books of the New Testament—record God speaking to us in His Son, but Acts and the New Testament letters interpreted and elaborated what Jesus taught.  Therefore the entire New Testament may be considered to be what God “has spoken to us in His Son”.

The gospels are the foundation of the New Testament.  Some Bible interpretations view the gospels effectively as part of the Old Testament, and teach that the New Testament letters represents true Christianity.  But according to Hebrews the foundation of Christianity is what God spoke to us in His Son.

The New Testament has a much higher authority than the Old Testament.  The Old Testament contains solemn messages to mankind which God gave to the prophets, endowing them with more than human wisdom and eloquence. But how much more important is the message which is brought by his own Son?  Throughout the letter, the writer contrasts the old and the new and elevates the new above the old.  In the current verses the old is how God revealed Himself through the Old Testament prophets, and the new is how He revealed Himself through His Son.  With this contrast the writer is saying that, what God has spoken to us in His Son, has a much higher authority than the Old Testament, and therefore imposes on us the highest obligation to attend to what He has said.  This is the main message of Hebrews 1:1-3.

The New Testament clarifies many issues that were unclear in the Old.  There is a great variety of subjects which we now, with the benefit of Christ’s teachings, see clearly, which were very imperfectly understood by the teaching of only the Old Testament prophets. Among them are the following:

(a) The character of God:

No one has seen GodNo one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” (John 1:18)

Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him” (Mt. 11:27)

(b) How man may be reconciled to God: Even the sins committed under the first covenant are taken away through the sacrifice of His Son (Heb. 9:15; 10:4; 11:40; Rom. 3:25).

But I say to you
Sermon on the Mount

(c) God’s moral principles: Prophets had delivered many moral principles of great importance, but the purest and most extensive body of moral principles on earth are found in Christ’s teachings.

(d) The future state:  Jesus revealed the doctrine of the resurrection of the body and the certainty of a state of future existence.  What the Sadducees previously were able to dispute, is stated irrefutably in the New Testament.  The Saviour raised up more than one to show that it was possible; and He was Himself raised, to put the whole matter beyond dispute.  He also revealed the certainty of future judgment of all mankind.

Conclusion

Hebrews does not have an introduction like we would find in other letters.  The first word in Paul’s letters, for instance, is always his own name, followed by the name of the church or individual to whom he wrote.

In Hebrews the first three verses serve as introduction, but also immediately confront the reader with the main theme of the entire epistle, which is the superiority of Christ and His message.  The first three verses argue that Christ is superior to the Old Testament prophets, for He is God’s Son—the exact representation of God’s nature—and through Him God made everything and through Him God still upholds everything.  But that is not the writer’s ultimate goal.  His real message is that Jesus’ message, as recorded in the New Testament, is superior to the Old Testament prophets.

Hebrews 10:26 – If we go on sinning willfully, after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.

Jesus has offered one sacrifice for all sins of all time.  By that single sacrifice He has made His people perfect for all time.  However, they may still fall away.  Christians continue to sin; sometimes unintentional and sometimes the lust of the body makes them do things which they deeply regret.  But they remain “perfect”, to use terminology from Hebrews, in spite of such sins.  However, if a Christian goes on sinning willfully, after receiving the knowledge of the truth. then it becomes impossible to renew him again to repentance. 

Hebrews was written to protect Christians against this danger.  It advises them to draw near to the throne of grace to receive mercy and grace in time of need.  The main aim of Hebrews is to give us confidence in God; to teach us to trust God, so that we would know that He sympathizes with our weaknesses.

Previous articles

This is the fifth and last in a series of articles on the teachings in the letter to the Hebrews on Christ as our high priest.

The first article explains How Jesus became high priest:  God perfected Jesus through suffering.  Jesus offered Himself without blemish to God, making purification of sins through death.  Jesus then sat down on His Father’s throne and became our high priest in the tabernacle in heaven.

The second article describes Jesus as a better high priest, for the Levitical priesthood was merely a copy and shadow of the tabernacle in which Jesus serves, and for that reason was unable to do away with sin.  “Perfection”—a word which Hebrews uses for being put right with God—is only possible only through Jesus.

The third article analyzes the role Jesus plays as our high priest.  He is sympathetic and merciful, appearing before God for us.  God promised, “their lawless deeds I will remember no more”.  Our high priest Jesus guarantees that promise.

The large middle section of Hebrews (4:14 to 10-31) discusses Jesus as our high priest.  This section starts and ends with similar phrases.  This was how ancient writers indicated that a portion of text forms a discrete unit.  This technique is called an inclusio.  The fourth article analyzes these two bookends, which also serve as a summary of that entire section, and which urges us to draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, for Jesus is faithful and sympathetic with our weaknesses.

Purpose

The purpose of this fifth and last article is to ask why Hebrews advises us to draw near to God through Jesus.  This may seem like a dumb question, for obviously we must seek God.  However, the writer has already indicated that “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (10:10).  What further need is there to ”draw near … to the throne of grace”?  What do we need more grace for?

A study of Hebrews 10 (actually from 9:25 to 10:22) will provide answers.  Below the principles in 9:25-20:22 are presented in a sequence which seems to be logical.

Animal sacrifices were offered time after time, but Jesus died once only.

Animal sacrifices were offered:

9:25often … year by year”;
10:1continually year by year”;
10:3year by year”;
10:11daily … time after time”;

But Jesus offered a single sacrifice:

9:28Offered once to bear the sins of many
10:10the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all
10:12He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time
10:14one offering

In the next section Hebrews argues that Jesus’ sacrifice, which was offered once only, is sufficient.

Jesus’ sacrifice does take sin away, something which the animal sacrifices were unable to do.

Animal sacrifices cannot take sin away:

10:1The 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” (cf 10:2)

10:4It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins”.
10:11can never take away sins

Make perfect” (10:1) means the same as “put away sin” (9:26).  Other phrases used by Hebrews as synonyms for “make perfect” are “cleansed … no longer have had consciousness of sins” (10:2) and “take away sins” (10:4).

The writer goes further and say that the fact that the animal sacrifices are offered over and over proves that they cannot take away sin (10:2-3).

But Christ’s offering does take away sin:

Put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (9:26).

In 10:1 the writer states that the Law (of sacrifices) is only a shadow of the good things to come, and therefore can never make perfect those who draw near.  10:5-9 implies that Christ’s sacrifice is the reality of which the “Law” was a shadow.  This is further proof that the reality (Christ’s death) is able to take away sin.

Jesus has “offered one sacrifice for sins for all time” (10:12). 

He offered one sacrifice for the sins of all ages, including sins committed prior to the first covenant, sins committed under the first covenant and sins committed under the new covenant.  His sacrifice is sufficient even for the sins of His enemies, but will benefit only “those whom He foreknew” (Rom. 8:29).

By His once for all sacrifice He made His people perfect for all time.   

10:10We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all”.
10:14By one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (10:14).
10:18Where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin”.
10:2The worshipers, having once been cleansed, … no longer have … consciousness of sins

Sanctified – The word “sanctified” (10:10 – NIV “holy”) is often used with reference to spiritual growth, but Hebrews uses “sanctified” as a synonym for “put away sin” (9:26), “take away sins” (10:4) or “make perfect” (10:1). The unusual use of familiar words contributes significantly to our difficulty in understanding Hebrews.

10:2 – The statement in 10:2 is made in the context of the animal sacrifices, but the implication of the context is that this applies to Christ’s sacrifice of Himself.

But we still sin – Perfected people continue to sin, but since that “one sacrifice” is “for sins for all time”, even their future sins have been taken care of.  They remain “perfect” even when they sin.

When were they made perfect? – Since Jesus perfected them by His “one offering”, they have been perfected when He died; not when they repented.  The also applies to the Old Testament saints; they were also perfected when He died: “so that apart from us they would not be made perfect” (11:40).  “Those who are sanctified” are therefore perfected as a group; not a one by one.

But people that have been sanctified by His blood can still fall away.

Many believe that, once a person is saved, that person will always remain saved.  But this is not what Hebrews teaches.  As indicated by the verses quoted below, Hebrews teaches that it is possible for Christians to fall away.  Each of the verses below contains either a promise (orange font) or a warning (blue font), but in each case the promise or warning is conditional, as indicated by the underlined text:

3:6 We are God’s house, “if we hold fast … until the end”.
3:14We have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast … until the end”.
10:35-36 You have need of endurance, so that … you may receive what was promised”.
10:38 If he shrinks back, My (God’s) soul has no pleasure in him”.
10:39 We are not of those who shrink back to destruction”.
10:26-27 If we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries”.
10:29 “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?

Destruction (10:39) – Consume (10:27) – Similar to Paul, Hebrews does not preach eternal punishment in hell.  See Eternal Life and Death in Paul’s Letters.

The danger – The traditional view is that the danger, which motivated the writer of Hebrews to write his letter, was that his readers were Christian Jews and that they were in danger of falling back into mainstream Judaism, but this is never explicitly stated as such in Hebrews.  The warnings in Hebrews are always against sin in general.

Were they really Christians? – The Calvinistic explanation of these verses is that these people never really were Christians, but it is difficult to support this view from the verses quoted above.  For instance, the person, who the writer had in mind, “was sanctified” by the blood of the covenant (10:29).  This person therefore previously was in a right relationship with God; he was a real Christian.  But if this person “go on sinning willfully”, he will end up in “the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries” (10:26-27).

As further evidence that Hebrews teaches that real Christians can fall, consider 6:4-6:

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
, and
+     have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and
then have fallen away,
it is impossible to renew them again to repentance
”.

The phrases in bold indicate that these people were once sanctified by the blood of the covenant.  Particularly the word “renew” means that the person had repented before.

The purpose of the current article is not primarily to argue against the once saved, always saved doctrine.  The purpose is simply to understand what the writer thought, for unless we understand his anxiety, namely that some of his Christian brethren might fall away, we would be unable to explain why he asks his readers to draw near to the throne of grace.

Once a Christian has fallen away, he is impossible to renew to repentance.

6:6 “It is impossible to renew them again to repentance
10:26-27If we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries”.

Three kinds of sin

Willful sins – Three kinds of sin may be identified.  The word “willfully” (10:26) implies a high handed or defiant form of sin – sins that reject God’s covenant.

Unintentional sins – 9:7 refers to “sins … committed in ignorance”.  The Old Testament refers to unintentional sins (for instance Leviticus 4:1).

Sins I hate – But there remains a third kind of sin which is not willful nor intentional. Romans 7 helps us to understand the sins which Christians do not commit “willfully“, which means that they do not want to do these things.  Paul wrote in Romans 7 (orange bold emphasizes what Paul wants to do):

14 For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. 16 But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good.

19I practice the very evil that I do not want”.

21 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. 22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.” (Rom. 7:21-23)

In these verses Paul distinguishes between two parts of man:

▬ the “inner man” (v22) or “mind” (v23);
▬ the “flesh” (v14) or “the members of my body” (v21)

In the case of Christians, these two parts are controlled by two different laws:

The law of my mind” (v23) is the “law of God” (v22).  In his “inner man” or “mind” Paul does not want to sin, for “I agree with the Law” (v16).

But the “flesh” or “members of my body” are controlled by the “law of sin” (v23).  This law is “waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin“.

Consequently, although the Christian does not want to, he still sins:

Rom. 7:15I am not practicing what I would like to do”.
Rom. 7:15I am doing the very thing I hate”.
Rom. 7:16I do the very thing I do not want to do
Rom. 7:19I practice the very evil that I do not want
Rom. 7:21me, the one who wants to do good

This distinguishes a Christian from a non-Christian: Because of the lusts of the body both the Christian and non-Christian sin, but the Christian, in his “inner man” or “mind”, does not want to sin.

The writer of Hebrews is not troubled by sins “committed in ignorance”.  He is also not concerned with sins which “I do not want to do” (Rom 7:16).  “Perfected” people (Heb. 10:14) remain “perfect” even when they sin unintentionally and when they do things which they really do not want to do.  But the Christian who “go on sinning willfully”, which means that, in the “inner man” or “mind”, he wants to sin, which means that he does not agree with God’s law (Rom. 7:16), thereby regards “as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified” (10:26, 29).  He rejects that sacrifice.  Then no sacrifice remains.  And since no means remains whereby the person can be “perfected”, there only remains “a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries” (10:27).

Conclusion

This is why Hebrews was written; the writer was concerned that some of his Christian brethren might fall away.  They were in great danger.  To protect them from this danger, he advises them, “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” (4:16).  The word “confidence” is key to the understanding of Hebrews.  The main purpose of Hebrews is to give us that confidence; to teach us to trust God, to know that “since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered” (2:18), He sympathizes with our weaknesses (4:15).

TO: General Table of Contents

Draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, for Jesus is our high priest.

The large middle section in Hebrews presents Jesus as our high priest.  The introduction and conclusion of this section are in many respects similar and also summarize the main points of the entire section.   Christians must draw near to God’s throne and they may do so with confidence, for Jesus is faithful, sympathizes with our weaknesses and appears as high priest for us before God.

Previous articles

This is the fourth in a series of articles on the teachings in the letter to the Hebrews on Christ as our high priest.

The first article explains How Jesus became high priest.  God perfected Jesus through suffering.  Jesus offered Himself without blemish to God, making purification of sins through death.  Jesus then sat down on His Father’s throne and became our high priest in the tabernacle in heaven.

The second article presents Jesus as a better high priest, for the Levitical priesthood was merely a copy and shadow of the tabernacle in heaven, and therefore was unable to do away with sin.  “Perfection”—a word which Hebrews uses for being put right with God—is possible only through Christ.

The third article analyzes Jesus’ role as our high priest.  He is sympathetic and merciful, and appears before God for us.  God promised, “their lawless deeds I will remember no more”, and our high priest Jesus guarantees that promise.

Inclusios

Bible writers were not able to add section headings to their writings.  When the Bible was written, people did not even insert spaces between words.  Instead of section headings, they used repetition: They marked out sections of text by starting and ending a section with similar phrases.  Theologians call this technique bracketing or inclusios or bookends.  Since inclusios serve as section headings, they help us to understand the message better.

The purpose of this fourth article is to discuss the two bookends.

Possibly the best example of such an inclusio in Hebrews is 4:14-16 and 10:22-24; the start and end of the section on Jesus as our high priest.  Note the many similarities between these two sections of text:

4:14-16Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 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. 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.

10:19 Since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, … 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,26 but if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins”.

For the sake of simplicity, these two sections of text are referred to as bookends in this article.

The text has been color coded to show the similarities.  Both:

  1. Start with a similar phrase:
    ▬ “Therefore, since we have a great high priest” (4:14, 16);
    ▬   “Since we have … a great priest” (10:19, 21);
  2. Say we must “draw near with” “confidence” (4:16; 10:19) or “in full assurance of faith” (10:22),
  3. Provide explain why we can be confident.
  4. Provide advice; what we must do.
  5. Provide explain why we must draw near.

These two bookends therefore not only identify 4:14 to 10-31 as a discrete unit within Hebrews, they also serve as a summary of that entire section.  Below the main principles contained in these two bookends are discussed.

Why we can approach God with confidence

The following reasons for our confidence are provided by these bookends:

4:15 He sympathizes with our weaknesses, for He has been tempted in all things as we are.

10:19-20 He created for us on the living way into the tabernacle in heaven by His death.

10:23He … is faithful”.

The living way into the tabernacle, which He created for us by His death, is symbolic language.  It simply means that His death made it possible for us to approach God through Christ.

That He sympathizes with our weaknesses, because “He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered” (2:18), should also not be taken literally.  Jesus was not more sympathetic with sinners after His life on earth than what He was before He became a human being.  To understand what this means:

▬ Remember that the earthly tabernacle, with all its ceremonies, was a symbol of reality (8:5; 9:8-9; 10:1).

▬ For that reason, and because his Jewish Christian readers were familiar with the earthly tabernacle, the writer explains the unseen but real events in heaven, which we only dimly understand, by using the terminology of the earthly tabernacle and its ceremonies.

▬ Therefore, since the high priests of old “can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided” because they knew what it was like to be tempted (5:2), the writer similarly describes our high priest Jesus as sympathetic “with our weaknesses, for He has been tempted in all things as we are” (4:15).

His sympathy and “the living way”, which He created for us into the tabernacle, may seem very dissimilar, but actually are similar.  His sympathy and “the living way” are simply two different ways of saying that we are welcome to approach God through Jesus.  Furthermore, both are the consequence of His life on earth:

4:15We do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are

10:19-20 He created the living way into the tabernacle for us by His death.

The entire purpose of Hebrews

It may be correct to say that the entire purpose of Hebrews is to give us the certainty that we may approach God, knowing that we will receive “mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (4:16) for He loves us and have sympathy with our weaknesses.  Note that the words underlined in the verses below all relate to this certainty we may have:

4:16Let us draw near with confidence”.
6:18We who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us”.
6:19This sure and steadfast hope is our anchor of the soul”.
7:19Bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God
10:22Full assurance of faith

What Hebrews advises us to do

The ultimate purpose of the letter to the Hebrews is reflected in the “let us” passages, of which there are many (4:1, 11, 14-16; 6:1; 10:22-24; 12:1, 28; 13:13, 15), but only the ones quoted below form part of the middle section of Hebrews (4:14-10:31), which discusses Christ as our high priest:

4:14 Let us hold fast our confession”.
4:16Let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace”.
10:22Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith.”.
10:23Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering”.
10:24Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds”.

All five these “let us” recommendations are from the two bookends, which confirms that these two bookends really are intended to bracket this large section of text (4:14 to 10:31).

Both bookends recommend the readers to “draw near” (4:16; 10:22) “to the throne of grace” (4:16).  Somebody once said that the entire letter to the Hebrews is an interpretation of Psalm 110.  In verse 1 of that psalm Jesus takes His seat at God’s right hand and verse 4 declares Jesus to be priest forever.  The writer of Hebrews combines these two events.  In other words, Jesus became high priest when He sat down on His Father’s throne.  On this basis we can conclude that the tabernacle in heaven is where God’s throne is.  Therefore, when 10:19 says that “we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus”, this is the same as saying “we have confidence” to “draw near”.

Why we must draw near?

Both bookends also explain why we must draw near:

4:16so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need
10:26For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins”.

Putting these two statements together, we must draw near to find help against sin in our lives, for “He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted” (2:18).  However, the writer has already indicated that “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (10:10).  What further need is there to ”draw near … to the throne of grace”?  Why would we still need more grace?  This is explained in the next article in this series: Impossible to renew them again to repentance.

NEXT: Impossible to renew them again to repentance

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