Beginning in chapter three the author compares Jesus and Moses, setting Jesus forward as the supreme example of faithfulness. The great status of Moses, a revered figure in Judaism, is used to show the incomparable greatness of Jesus. The author begins by addressing the holy brothers. Speakers and writers in the ancient world often addresses religious gatherings as brothers, referring to both men and women. The the writer is encouraging the audience, us included, to focus on Jesus as the primary means of persevering in the faith. Jesus is God’s messenger, literally God’s apostle. This highlights the Son’s role in bearing a proclamation of God’s name and message. Jesus was faithful to God and to the task which the Father had appointed Him, just as Moses had been. Many Jews of the first century regarded Moses as the greatest person in history, of even higher status than the angels. BUT, Jesus deserves far more glory for two reasons. First, a person who builds a house deserves more praise than the house itself. The Messiah is the one who builds God’s house. The implication is that Moses is part of the house, (that is God’s people), that God has built. Second, whereas Moses was a servant in God’s house, Christ as the Son, is heir in charge of the entire house. Sons have much greater status than the household servants. We are part of Christ’s house if we keep our courage. The author could not give unqualified assurance to those who were drifting away from Christ and the church. Those who persevere in the faith have the assurance that they are part of God’s house.
The rest of chapter three, verses 7-19, are presented as a warning. This is the negative example of the Israelites who wandered in the wilderness for forty years and died there. The wilderness wandering represent disobedience to God and it’s consequences. There were many times in the wilderness years that Israel disobeyed. They rebelled and they tested God. Two of those places were Massah and Meribah. In both those places there was a shortage of water, and the people complained bitterly. And then there was Kadesh-Barnea where the disobedient Israelites refused to enter the promised land, even after Joshua and Caleb said God would give then the land He had promised to Abraham some 450 years earlier. This was after the miracles they had witnessed. They tested God’s patience by refusing to trust Him in the wilderness. The essence of their rebellion was that their hearts were always turned away from God. They didn’t even desire to try to obey Him. And the result was that God was angry with them. Rebellion has consequences. God’s anger is not merely an emotional reaction. It is His full displeasure towards sin. God’s oath was that these disobedient Israelites would never enter the promised land, the place of rest from their wanderings.
The author of Hebrews discussed the terms; heart, day, today, hear, enter, rest, unbelief, and oath, all drawn from Psalm 95. Bible teachers of the ancient world would cite and then explain an Old Testament text, often highlighting significant words from the text, just as preachers and teachers do today. The first warning was about the people’s hearts. An evil heart stubbornly sets itself over and against the Lord due to unbelief. This causes a person to turn away from God. By using the word today, the author warns and challenges their hearers to warn each other every day against the power of sin and the tendency it has to harden hearts. Those who persevere in the faith have the assurance that they are indeed part of God’s family. Verse fifteen quotes Psalm 95:7-8. This part of the Psalm sums up the authors own exhortation. This focuses on the importance of listening and responding to God’s voice positively. This warning is followed by a series of short, rhetorical questions. The questions follow the progression of ideas found in Psalm 95. The people of Israel rebelled against God. That made God angry. God made an oath that they would never enter into his promised rest. And theanswers to these rhetorical questions are taken from other Old Testament passages that also focus and on Israel’s rebellion in the wilderness. The answers come from Numbers 14, Deuteronomy 9, and Psalm 106. Again the author is very serious about the cost of rebellion and disobedience to God. Unbelief and disobedience are very closely related in the Book of Hebrews as well as the Old Testament passages that the author uses here. The consequences for the Israelites disobedience was harsh, and fitting.
In chapter four the author transitions to the promise that the faithful will enter into God’s rest and the author urges the audience to take this promise seriously. Simply hearing will not be enough here. It must be combined with faith. To fear God means to experience an appropriate reverence, even awe, for God and His will. It would be the worst of tragedies to fail to experience what God has promised. The Good News here is the message of salvation. The Israelites did not listen to what the Lord said nor did they bother believing or having faith in Him. They did not trust inHis promise. But, people who believe the Good News are the true heirs of God’s rest, the salvation offered through Christ’s sacrifice. Again the author quoted Psalm 95, reminding the people that the unbelieving rebels in the wilderness would never enter God’s place of rest. And since God created everything, entering His rest means means more than just a physical entry into Canaan. The author even quoted Genesis 2:2 to demonstrate that the promised rest was established when God rested at creation. Building on the previous verses the author argues that the promised rest is still available. Those who wandered in the wilderness, even though they heard the good news that the promised land was open to them, failed to enter because they disobeyed God. There is repetition here because the author wants to make it crystal clear that God’s rest is still available, but only to those who have faith in the Lord and trust that what He has promised is true.
The time for entering that rest is today. The logic here is that David wrote much later that the wilderness disobedience so God’s rest cannot be limited to that earlier generation. The words from Psalm 95 are meant to encourage and warn us not to harden our hearts when hearing God’s voice so that we can enter the rest that the people in the wilderness were denied. This opportunity is available today. Joshua is the same name as Jesus. It is translated in the Old Testament as Joshua and as Jesus in the Greek New Testament. The author is making a word play in Jesus’ and Joshua’s shared name. Joshua did lead God’s people into the promised land but God had more in mind when He promised His people rest. God’s ultimate rest is provided by Jesus. His sacrifice functioned as a Day of Atonement sacrifice,and through that sacrifice God’s promised rest for His people is available. The author encouraged the people to do their best to enter into this rest. This meant responding to the Good News with an active obedience to God’s voice through scripture. If we fail to respond we will have an outcome just like the Israelites inthe wilderness who rebelled. We will fail to enter into God’s rest. There is both an individual responsibility and a communal responsibility to obey and the author calls on the people to support each other in that endeavor.
Echoing the call to hear God’s voice is again a quote from Psalm 95. The author gives a beautiful epigram ( a remark that expresses a cleaver idea) on the power and penetration of God’s Word in our lives. That Word is powerful and alive. God’s Word is an active and effective force to be reckoned with. The Word that created and governs the cosmos can also deal powerfully with His people. His word is able to penetrate the darkest recesses of people’s lives, exposing their innermost thoughts and desires. That leaves us naked and vulnerable, helpless and unprotected. The guilty are not able to hide from God’s penetrating words of judgement. And that would be every single one of us. The last two verses conclude the exhortation begun in 3:1 and they introduce the long discourse about Jesus’ role as the High Priest.
Verse 14 summarizes the whole message and challenge of Hebrews, and that is that the high priesthood of Jesus the Son of God is the basis for endurance in the Christian faith. Israel’s high priest was the main leader in the worship of God and the primary mediator between God and the people. The earthly high priest entered God’s presence in the Most Holy Place once a year on the Day of Atonement. By contrast, Jesus our High Priest has entered God’s presence in heaven and he remains there. An enduring commitment to active belief in and allegiance to Jesus is what the author is advocating. Our High Priest understands our weaknesses and our human pull towards sin because He faced the same testings as we do. He was tempted with all the essential aspects of sin, such as lust, greed, unforgiveness, and dishonesty. This makes Him compassionateas our High Priest. But Jesus is not like the earthly high priests because He never sinned. They had to make offerings for themselves before they could make offerings for the people. But Jesus did not sin and He didn’t have to make any offerings except Himself. The verb in the Greek translated “let us come” can also be translated to indicate an ongoing action. So it would be “let us continually come”. As our compassionate High Priest Jesus has opened for us the way to enter boldly into God’s presence where we can receive His mercy and grace.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W