HEBREWS STUDY PART 12: DISCIPLINE – HOLD FAST!

THE BOOK OF HEBREWS

REMEMBER … THE REWARD (10:32-39)

“But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly, by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. 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 an abiding one.” (10:32-34)

The Hebrews addressed in these verses were so closely identified with Christians (becoming sharers) that they even experienced suffering, reproaches, and tribulations because of it. It is possible even for an unbeliever to have a kind of “first love” for Christ as they are sometimes strongly be drawn to Him intellectually and emotionally. The unbelieving Jews addressed in this passage were so attracted and enlightened.

They were well on their way to believing, but they had not believed. Now they are told to complete the process by putting their full trust in Jesus Christ. They had the prospect of a better possession and an abiding one.

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

They needed endurance and patience. Everything they did was not for nothing, but it was not enough. They had not done the will of God fully, because they had not trusted in His Son fully. And until then, they could not receive what was promised. They knew the promises, but they did not receive them.

“For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay. But My righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.” (10:37-39)

The Lord will come back for the faithful. In the meanwhile, the way to become righteous is by faith and the way the righteous should live is by faith. Good works play an important role in the life of the believer, but only faith will bring salvation and the preserving of the soul. We are not of those who shrink back to destruction.

HOLD FAST IN HOPE (10:23)

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

A person who genuinely trusts, cannot help being hopeful and will hold fast. Holding on does not keep us saved, any more than good works will make us saved, but both are evidence that we are saved. Holding on is the human side of eternal security. The Reformers called it “the perseverance of the saints.” God’s sovereignty does not exclude man’s responsibility. Jesus not only said, “No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44), but He also said, “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine” (John 8:31).

In the parable of the sower, Jesus illustrated four different kinds of response to the gospel. Some people are so far from wanting salvation that the devil simply takes away the seed of God’s Word before it has time to germinate at all. Others respond joyfully at hearing the Word, but their “belief” lasts only until the first temptation. Still others believe until they run into a few problems. True believers, however, “are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance” (Luke 8:15).

A true believer will be around in the end. He may become discouraged or frustrated, and occasionally fall into a sinful habit. But he will hold fast the confession of his hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.

God’s answers may seem to be a long time in coming, and our waiting may be uncomfortable or even painful. But He will always do just as He has said He will do. The reason we can hold fast to our hope without wavering is that He who promised is faithful.

RUN FOR YOUR LIFE (12:1-3)

“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, 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. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart.” (12:1-3)

Effective teaching often makes use of figures of speech. Paul was particularly fond of the figure of the race. He uses such phrases as “run in a race” (1 Cor. 9:24), “running well” (Gal. 5:7), and “run in vain” (Phil. 2:16). “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable” (1 Cor. 9:24-25). Paul did not pursue comfort, money, great learning, popularity, respect, position, lust of the flesh, or anything but God’s will. This is also the figure used by the writer in Hebrews 12:1-3. In these few verses we see various aspects of the race, as they are compared to the faithful life in Christ.

In 12:1, the words “let us” may be used to refer to Jews who have made a profession of Christ but have not gone all the way to full faith. They have not yet begun the Christian race, which starts with salvation. The truths, however, apply primarily to Christians, who are already running.

A race is not a thing of passive luxury, but is demanding, sometimes gruelling and agonizing, and requires our utmost in self-discipline, determination, and perseverance. To stand still or to go backward is to forfeit the prize. Worse yet is to stay in the stands and never participate at all, for which we forfeit everything—even eternal heaven. Endurance is steady determination to keep going. There will be obstacles and there will be weariness and exhaustion, but we must endure if we are to win. God is concerned for steadfastness.

Many of the Hebrew Christians to whom the letter was written had started well. They had seen signs and wonders and were thrilled with their new lives (Heb. 2:4). But as the new began to wear off and problems began to arise, they began to lose their enthusiasm and their confidence. They started looking back at the old ways of Judaism, and around them and ahead of them at the persecution and suffering, and they began to weaken and waver.

Ours is not a race of works but a race of faith. Our competition is against Satan, his world system, and our own sinfulness, often referred to in the New Testament as the flesh. Second, our strength is not in ourselves, but in the Holy Spirit; otherwise we could never endure. We are not called on to endure in ourselves, but in Him. That is why our protection against Satan’s temptations is “the shield of faith” (Eph. 6:16). As long as we are trusting God and doing what He wants us to do, Satan and sin have no power over us.

The cloud of witnesses are all those faithful saints just mentioned in chapter 11. We are to run the race of faith like they did. They have proved by their testimony, their witness, that the life of faith is the only life to live. Nothing is more encouraging than the successful example of someone who has “done it before.”

An encumbrance is simply a bulk or mass of something that weighs us down, diverts our attention, saps our energy, dampens our enthusiasm for the things of God. It keeps us from running well and therefore from winning. For these Jews, the main encumbrance was Judaistic legalism, hanging on to the old religious ways. These Jewish believers, or would-be believers, could not possibly run the Christian race with all their excess baggage. “But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again?” (Gal. 4:9).

If there is one particular sin that hinders the race of faith it is unbelief, doubting God. Unbelief easily entangles the Christian’s feet so that he cannot run. When we allow sin in our lives, especially unbelief, it is quite easy for Satan to keep us from running.

JESUS, THE PERFECT EXAMPLE

Jesus was “tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). He knew the Father in everything He did and He obeyed. “I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 5:30). Whatever the prospect of hardship or suffering, He trusted His Father. His Father’s will was what He lived by and died by. If Jesus’ perfect faith had not led Him to the cross, our faith would be in vain, because there would then be no sacrifice for our sins, no righteousness to count to our credit.

He is also its perfecter, the One who carries it through to completion. He continued to trust His Father until He could say, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). In faith, Jesus endured the cross, despising the shame. It accomplished exactly what it was meant to accomplish, because, from birth to death, His life was totally committed into His Father’s hands. There has never been a walk of faith like Jesus’.

THE END OF THE RACE

No one runs a race without some expectation of reward. If you do not have something important to look forward to at the end of this race, you will likely not start it and will certainly not finish it.

Jesus ran for two things, the joy set before Him and sitting down at the right hand of the throne of God. In His high-priestly prayer Jesus said to His Father, “I glorified Thee on the earth, having accomplished the work which Thou hast given Me to do. And now, glorify Thou Me together with Thyself, Father, with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was” (John 17:4-5). Jesus gained His reward by glorifying His Father while on earth, and He glorified God by totally exhibiting the Father’s attributes and by fully doing the Father’s will.

The prize true Christians are to running for is not heaven, as heaven is already ours. Like Jesus, we run for the joy of exaltation God promises will be ours if we glorify Him on earth as His Son did. We glorify God by allowing His attributes to shine through us and by obeying His will in everything we do. When we anticipate the heavenly reward of faithful service, joy will be ours now. What gives us joy in this life is confidence of reward in the next.

Even if we must suffer for the Lord, we should be able to say with Paul, “I rejoice and share my joy with you all” (Phil. 2:17). And though, like Paul, we are not yet perfect, we should also forget what is behind and reach forward to what lies ahead, pressing on “toward the goal of the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (3:13-14). We should be able to look forward to the day when our Lord says to us, “Well done,… enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:21). “In the future,” the apostle says, “there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim.4:8). And when we get to heaven, we can join the twenty-four elders in casting our “crowns before the throne, saying, ‘Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power’ ” (Rev. 4:10-11). We rejoice that one day we will “live together with Him” (1 Thess. 5:10), but we should also rejoice that we can live like Him right now.

We do not live in our own power but in His, just as on earth He did not live in His own power but in the Father’s. We can say with Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20).

FALLING SHORT OF GOD’S GRACE (12:12-17)

Nothing in Scripture is more important than doctrine. Apart from doctrine there could be no basis for obedience, faith in God or love of God, since we would know nothing about Him. But Scripture contains much more than doctrine, as it also contains exhortation for living out the truths we learn. Knowing and believing are one side of the coin; living and obeying are the other.

The basic thrust of Hebrews 12:12-17 is clearly exhortation. Strengthen, make straight, pursue, and see to it are all terms of exhortation. Its purpose is to encourage living up to the truth. Teaching sound doctrine that is not applied is worthless, and exhortation that is not based on sound doctrine is misleading.

Verses 12-17 give three exhortations: for continuance, for diligence, and for vigilance. They are addressed first of all to believers, although they apply to unbelievers as well.

CONTINUANCE

“Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, 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.” (12:12-13)

These verses resume the race metaphor. The primary reference here is to professing Christians, those who have identified themselves with the church but who are not saved. They have the appearance of being in the race of faith but are not.

The first thing that happens to a runner when he starts to tire is that the arms begin to droop and then the knees begin to wobble. But if you concentrate on the drooping or the wobbling, you are finished. The only way you can hope to continue is by focusing on the goal. When we experience spiritual hands that are weak and knees that are feeble, our only hope is in “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (12:2). One of the surest ways to encourage ourselves is to give encouragement to someone else.

And make straight paths for your feet refers to staying in your lane in the race, not losing concentration on the goal. “Let your eyes look directly ahead, and let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you. Watch the path of your feet, and all your ways will be established. Do not turn to the right nor to the left; turn your foot from evil.” (Proverbs 4:25-27)

When we run, we leave a track behind us, which will also either lead or mislead others. Lame could apply to weak, limping Christians, who are easily tripped up or misled. It is certainly true that our weaker brothers will be among the first to be hurt by our poor example (see Rom. 14). The writer of Hebrews was warning believers about the danger of misleading lame, uncommitted unbelievers and of causing them to apostatize back into Judaism.

A poor testimony can cause an already limping unbeliever to be put out of joint, completely dislocated spiritually. Directly and indirectly, our testimony should glorify God and therefore be the best possible influence on those around us. God wants unbelievers healed, to be saved.

DILIGENCE

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

A person who is not saved cannot pursue either peace or sanctification. Only the Christian has the ability, through the Holy Spirit, to live in peace and in holiness. “‘There is no peace,’ says my God, ‘for the wicked.’” (Isa. 57:21) Because we are at peace with God, we should be peacemakers. Because we are counted righteous, we should live righteously. Our practice should match our position.

If we love men, we will be at peace with them. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Rom. 12:18). We have an obligation to live peaceably, whether or not those around us treat us peaceably.

Sanctification has to do with our love for God. It speaks of the pure, obedient, holy life we live set apart for God’s glory, because of that love. When we love Him, we will want to be like Him, and when we are like Him, others will see Him in us and be attracted to Him. Love toward men and love toward God are inseparable.

When unbelievers see a Christian’s peacefulness and holiness, they may become attracted to the Lord. Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Our love for each other is a testimony to the Father and to the Son. It is a means of drawing people to Christ, apart from whom no one will see the Lord.

VIGILANCE

“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.” (12:15)

We are also to look out for, oversee, those in our midst, especially within the church, who may not be believers. The first purpose of our oversight should be to win the unsaved to Christ. We are actually exhorted and commanded, to make every effort to see to it that no one comes short of the grace of God.

The second purpose for vigilance is to prevent bitterness. The root of bitterness refers to a person who is superficially identified with God’s people, and who falls back into paganism. But he is no ordinary apostate. He is arrogant and defiant concerning the things of God. We should be on guard against such apostates, lest they cause trouble, and by it many be defiled. A person in the root of bitterness, however, is a corruptive influence, a serious contamination in the Body.

PREVENT SHALLOW SELFISHNESS

“That there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. 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.” (12:16-17)

Perhaps the saddest and most godless person in Scripture outside of Judas is Esau as the Bible strongly condemns them. Wilfully they turned their backs on God and the things of God. Esau was not only immoral, but he was also godless. Christians are to be vigilant that no persons such as Esau contaminate Christ’s Body. See to it… that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau.

When Esau finally woke up to some extent and realized what he had forsaken, he made a half-hearted attempt to retrieve it. Just because he sought for it with tears does not indicate sincerity or true remorse. He found no place for repentance. He bitterly regretted, but he did not repent. He selfishly wanted God’s blessings, but he did not want God. He went on sinning wilfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth.

ENCOURAGE IN LOVE (10:24-25)

“And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near.” (10:24-25)

A further positive response to the gospel is fellowship in love. One of the best ways to hold fast to the things of God is to be in the fellowship of His people, where they could love and be loved, serve and be served. The day drawing near is referring to the coming of the Lord.

THE DISCIPLINE OF GOD (12:4-11)

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

All the Jews to whom the book of Hebrews was written were undergoing persecution because of their break with Judaism. Those who had made mere professions of faith were, under this pressure, in danger of reverting to Judaism, of apostatizing. The true believers were in danger of having their faith seriously weakened by adopting again the rituals and ceremonies of the Old Covenant. One of the reasons Jesus “endured such hostility by sinners against Himself,” was that His followers might “not grow weary and lose heart” (12:3).

Some of their suffering was deserved and was intended for their spiritual discipline and growth. The emphasis of this passage is on the heavenly Father’s use of discipline in the lives of His children.

God uses hardship and affliction as a means of discipline. We must realize that there is a great difference between God’s discipline and His judgmental punishment. Though we deserve God’s wrathful punishment because of our sin, we will never have to face it, because Jesus endured it for us.

We experience some of God’s discipline as the direct result of our sin, but the punishment is corrective, not judgmental and not the sort that unbelievers receive. Through the prophet Nathan, God told David that because of his sin, “Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife” (2 Sam. 12:10). Yet David was a better man because of God’s discipline. God had a purpose in the discipline—to draw His servant closer to Himself, to convince him not to sin again, and to help him grow and mature.

It is often hard for us to see the good in God’s chastening us. But we know that, because He is our loving heavenly Father, He will not do anything to harm us, although it may hurt. It does however do us good as it restrains us from repeating the sin.

Sometimes God disciplines in order to prevent sin. He puts “fences” around His children to protect them. What seems to us a terrible inconvenience or hardship may be God’s loving hand of protection. Our sickness, lack of business success, or other problems may be God’s way of keeping us from something much worse. If God’s children accepted His preventive discipline more willingly and gratefully, He would have much less need for administering His corrective discipline.

Besides punishing and preventing, God’s discipline also educates us for better service and better living. Sometimes God can get our attention better through affliction than through blessing. Discipline can also teach sympathy for others.

By God’s own declaration, Job was “blameless, upright, fearing God, and turning away from evil” (Job 1:1). Yet God allowed him to suffer pain, loss, grief, sickness, and ridicule that make Paul’s thorn in the flesh, whatever it was, seem insignificant by comparison. Just as Paul’s thorn, Job’s afflictions were messengers of Satan and came upon him with God’s approval (1:12; 2:6). Job went through his horrible sufferings and “did not sin with his lips” (2:10).

FORGETTING GOD’S WORD

“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.” (12:5)

When God’s Word is neglected it is forgotten. Sometimes the answer or the help we need is in a truth we learned a long time ago but have let slip away. Here the Jews were reminded that they had also forgotten the teaching from Proverbs 3:11-12 about God’s discipline. They had forgotten more than simply divine truths, they had forgotten the exhortation of their heavenly Father.

The first thing that can keep God from accomplishing what He wants in our lives is to regard lightly His discipline. Our reactions cannot be right if our view of what is happening is not right. Our focus is more than often so much on the experience itself, rather than on our heavenly Father and on what He wants to do for us through the experience.

We can also become callous to God and His Word and not recognize God’s hand in our experience or treat God’s discipline lightly by complaining. When we are calloused, God’s discipline will harden us instead of softens us. We can prevent God from accomplishing His desired result through discipline by questioning. Our questioning God implies that He is not justified in doing what He is doing to us.

Perhaps the greatest danger in regarding God’s discipline lightly is carelessness. When we do not care about what purpose God has in the discipline or about how we can profit from it, His discipline cannot be effective. Some people become so overcome by their problems that they give up; they become despondent, depressed, faint. They become spiritually inert, unresponsive to what God is doing or why. The cure for hopelessness is hope in God. The child of God has no need to faint because of God’s discipline. God gives it to strengthen us, not to weaken us, to encourage us, not to discourage us, to build us up, not to tear us down.

PROOFS IN DISCIPLINE

“For those whom the LORD loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives.” 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? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.” (12:6-8)

PROOF OF GOD’S LOVE

The first thing we should think of when we are suffering is our Father’s love, for those whom the LORD loves He disciplines. God loves His children and is bound by His own nature and His own covenant to do them only good. Therefore, whatever we receive from God’s hand, including discipline, is from God’s love. We benefit in all these ways, and many more, when we accept His discipline. “For the Lord will not reject forever, for if He causes grief, then He will have compassion according to His abundant lovingkindness. For He does not afflict willingly, or grieve the sons of men” (Lam. 3:31-33). He will not discipline us beyond what we need or can bear, any more than He will allow us to be tempted beyond what we can endure (1 Cor. 10:13).

PROOF OF OUR SONSHIP

All men are subject to God’s punishment, but only His children receive His discipline. We can know we are God’s children by His leading us (Rom. 8:14) and by the witness of His Spirit to our spirits (8:15-16). We know from the fact that we have trusted in Jesus Christ that we are God’s children. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12). We also know from our discipline that we are His children, because He scourges every son whom He receives. Not a single one of His children will miss out on His loving discipline. Whom He receives is exclusive. Only those He receives through their faith in His Son are His children.

Scourges means that God’s discipline can sometimes be severe, especially when our disobedience is great. To us as parents, the Bible teaches, ““He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently” (Prov. 13:24; cf. 23:13-14). We can be certain that because God will always love us, He will also always discipline us, as His children, while we are in this life. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?

When we look at how well many unbelievers are doing and then at how much trouble we are having, we should take this as evidence that we belong to God and they do not. If they are without discipline, they are illegitimate children and not sons.

PRODUCTS OF DISCIPLINE

“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? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. 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.” (12:9-11)

You do not know what victory is until you have fought a battle. God’s discipline produces life and holiness. Since we respected our earthly fathers even while they were disciplining us, shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? A Christian’s persistent rebellion against God’s discipline can cost him his life because of his stubbornness.

“Those who love Thy law have great peace, and nothing causes them to stumble” (Ps. 119:165). No one lives so well as the believer who loves God’s law and will, who receives everything from his Father’s hand willingly and joyously.

God’s primary desire for us is that we be holy as He is holy (1 Pet. 1:16), that we may share in His holiness. The Lord never makes such mistakes with His children. His discipline is always proper, always at the right time, of the right sort, and in the right degree. It is always perfectly for our good, that we may share His holiness. The only way we can be separated from sin, and thereby partake of His holiness and be filled up with His fullness, is “to become conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29)—which requires that we accept His discipline as a son. Positionally we already are holy, because we are justified. But practically our holiness is just beginning, which is the work of sanctification—making us holy.

If discipline was pleasant, it would have little corrective power. “Afterwards . . . yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” It builds our character and our faith, our love and our righteousness.

(MAIN SOURCE: MACARTHUR NEW TESTAMENT COMMENTARY – JOHN MACARTHUR)

 

HEBREWS STUDY PART 11: CHRISTIAN BEHAVIOR

THE BOOK OF HEBREWS

CHRISTIAN BEHAVIOR: IN RELATION TO GOD (13:10-21)

SEPARATION

Hebrews 13:10-14 are among the most difficult in the book of Hebrews. They are subject to many interpretations and applications, and we therefore cannot be dogmatic in the views presented.

“We have an altar, from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. 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. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate.” (13:10-12)

This hardly can describe Christian worship. There is also no eating or sacrificing of animals at the heavenly altar. Others believe the altar is a figure of Christ, whose body we are to eat and whose blood we are to drink (John 6:53-58). But still the questions remain about who is not allowed to eat and about the sacrificial animals.

We most probably refers to the writer’s fellow Jews. The priests serve at this altar in the Tabernacle, or the Temple. On the Day of Atonement, they are not allowed to eat the sin offering. The bodies of the animals used for this sacrifice are taken outside the camp and burned.

In this view, an analogy is given for Christians. As the priest of old could not have a part in the sins of the people, so the believer should be outside the camp of the world, no longer a part of its system, standards, and practices. It is simply a picture of Christians, following their Lord, separating themselves from the things of sin. As our Lord was crucified outside the walls of the city of Jerusalem, so we are to be spiritually outside the walls of sinning people.

“Hence, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach.” (13:13)

As Christians, we must be willing to go out from the system, to bear the reproach and the shame that both the sin offering and Christ Himself bore, and to be rejected by men.

God sends us into the physical world, the world where people live. What we are to be separate from is the world system, the way the world’s people live (cf. 1 John 2:15-17). Paul had a great deal to say about separation. “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?” (2 Cor. 6:14-15).

After the incident with the golden calf in the wilderness, and before the Tabernacle was built, Moses set a tent outside the camp, “a good distance from the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting. And it came about, that everyone who sought the LORD would go out to the tent of meeting which was outside the camp” (Ex. 33:7). Whenever Moses entered the tent, the “pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent; and the LORD would speak with Moses” (v. 9). Those who wanted to approach God had to go outside the camp, because Israel for the most part, siding with the world system, had rejected God.

Whether the analogy is of the Old Testament sacrifice being taken outside the camp, of Christ’s being crucified outside the gates of Jerusalem, or of the tent of meeting being outside the camp, the basic point seems to be that of separation.

For the Jews to whom Hebrews was written, separation from the world system meant separation from Judaism.

SACRIFICE

“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. And do not neglect doing good and sharing; for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” (13:15-16)

Sacrifice was extremely important to the Jew. Christ offered the one and only sacrifice for sin. He demands the sacrifice of our praise and of our doing good (works) in His name. He demands sacrifice not in the form of a ritual or ceremony, but in word and in deed—in our praise of Him and in our service to others. He wants only the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. “I will give thanks to the LORD according to His righteousness, and will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High” (Ps. 7:17). The Christian’s sacrifice of praise is to be offered continually.

Praise of God in word and deed are inseparable. Lip service must be accompanied by life service. “Little

children,” John says, “let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth” (1 John 3:18). John warns us that “the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20). In other words, if our praise of God in word is not accompanied by doing good and sharing, it is not acceptable to Him. Worship involves action that honours God.

SUBMISSION

“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.” (13:17)

The most obvious submission seen in this text is that given to church leaders. Someday God will rule all the earth through His Son, the King of kings, but in the meanwhile, He rules His church through godly men. Submission to these men, therefore, is submission to God. “But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work” (1 Thess. 5:12-13). The priority of every pastor, every elder, every church leader, is to care for the spiritual welfare of the congregation, for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account. It is a sobering responsibility to be a leader in Christ’s church. To cause our leaders grief is harmful to ourselves as well as to them and to the church as a whole. It is unprofitable for you.

But God mediates his earthly rule, secular and spiritual, through various men. Even pagan rulers who have no use for God are nevertheless used by Him. “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God” (Rom. 13:1).

SUPPLICATION

“Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a good conscience, desiring to conduct ourselves honorably in all things. And I urge you all the more to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner.” (13:18-19)

To pray for our leaders in the church is to serve and to please God. Prayer makes things possible; it moves the hand of God. Church leaders are made of the same stuff as those they serve. They have sins, weaknesses, limitations, blind spots, and needs of all sorts, just as everyone else.

Paul did not hesitate to ask for prayer. “Pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel” (Eph. 6:19). How much more do God’s ordinary ministers need the prayer of their people.

The writer asks for prayer because we are sure that we have a good conscience, desiring to conduct ourselves honorably in all things. God is sovereign, but prayer makes things possible that otherwise would not be possible.

THE POWER OF GOD

“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, 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.” (13:20-21)

These verses are really a benediction and could stand without comment. We not only need to know God’s will; we need to have His power. We need the God of peace to equip us in every good thing to do His will. Christian growth and obedience are by God’s power, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ.

The greatest display of divine power in the history of the universe was at the resurrection of Jesus Christ, when God brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant.

All we have to do is open the channel of our wills and let God’s power work through us. “Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food, will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness” (2 Cor. 9:10). We can work out our salvation because God is at work in us “both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13). Because Christ does the work, He deserves the credit and praise, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

CHRISTIAN BEHAVIOR: IN RELATION TO OTHERS (13:1-3)

“Let love of the brethren continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body.” (13:1-3)

Paul wrote: “In all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, sound in speech which is beyond reproach, in order that the opponent may be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us” (Titus 2:7-8). Hebrews 13 gives some of the essential practical ethics of Christian living that help portray the true gospel to the world, that encourage men to trust in Christ, and that bring glory to God.

Unfortunately, throughout the history of the church, the mean, prejudiced, and immoral lives of professed Christians have given the world an excuse not to be attracted to the claims of Christ. We who are true Christians have a serious responsibility to live spotlessly to the glory of God, so that unbelievers never have a just reason for criticizing the way we live, because how we live is a reflection on our Lord. “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). Jesus, of course, had in mind true good works, not hypocritical pretence. Good works that are self-conscious and hypocritical are not hard to spot. They do not impress God or unbelievers.

Ethics has to do with standards of conduct (behavior) or moral judgment. There can be no ethics without doctrine. You cannot reasonably require a certain type of living or morality from a person without underlying, under-girding, and universal moral principles that determine those standards. Otherwise you have no ethics at all, only a moral free-for-all, which is exactly what many people are advocating and exemplifying today.

Love itself needs a standard. Without a standard, one person’s idea of love often will be different from—and frequently contradictory to—someone else’s. Every moral command in the New Testament presupposes faith in Christ. You cannot possibly live up to God’s standards without God.

SUSTAINED LOVE

LOVE FOR THE BRETHREN

The primary moral standard of Christianity is love, and the particular love exhorted here is love of fellow Christians. Brotherly love is the natural outflow of the Christian life. “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Pet. 1:22-23). One of the by-products of obeying God’s truth is increased love for fellow believers.

Since we were given brotherly love when we were given spiritual life, we should exercise this love. Our primary concern should not be to look for blessings or to ask for blessings but to use our blessings (cf. Eph.l:3). Paul appeals to brothers in Christ to be diligent “to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). “Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more” (1 Thess. 4:9-10).

The basic principle of brotherly love is simple and is explained by Paul. “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor” (Rom. 12:10). Put in its most basic form, brotherly love is caring for fellow Christians more than we care for ourselves.

Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). In effect, God has given the world a right to evaluate us on the basis of our love for each other.

“We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death” (1 John 3:14). Loving fellow Christians also reveals our true identity and provides a sure proof of salvation is found in our own hearts. We have no better evidence that we are a child of God—because we love His other children, our brothers and sisters in Christ. “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16). “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me” (Matt. 25:40).

It is also characterized by practical commitment. “Whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:17). John continuous, continues, “Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. We shall know by this that we are of the truth, and shall assure our heart before Him” (vv. 18-19).

LOVE FOR STRANGERS

Our first responsibility is to our brothers in Christ, but our responsibility does not end there. “While we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Gal. 6:10). “All men” includes even our enemies. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:43-44).

A stranger, by definition, is someone we do not know personally. Consequently, it is easy to be deceived when helping a stranger. If we help in good faith, God will honour our effort. Love is often taken advantage of, but this is a cost that it does not count.

In the ancient world hospitality often included putting a guest up overnight or longer. Christians are certainly to be no less hospitable. For by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.

SYMPATHY

Sympathy is closely related to sustained love. It is easier to help others when we ourselves have needed help. It is easier to appreciate hunger when we have been hungry, loneliness when we have been lonely, and persecution when we have been persecuted. The point is that we should do our best to identify with those in need, to try to put ourselves in their places. We know that if we were starving, we would want someone to feed us, and that if we were imprisoned, we would want to be visited.

Hebrews 13:3 also warns against spiritualizing the Christian life. Our true home is heaven, but we are still in the body. We still get hungry, we still get lonely, and we still hurt, physically and psychologically. Our own troubles should make us more sensitive, hospitable, and loving, not less.

CHRISTIAN BEHAVIOR: IN RELATION TO OURSELVES (13:4-9)

“Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge. Let your character be 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,” so that we confidently say, “The LORD is my helper, I will not be afraid. What shall man do to me?” Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever. 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 thus occupied were not benefited.” (13:4-9)

SEXUAL PURITY

MARRIAGE IS TO BE HONOURED

Paul warns that in the last days apostate teachers will “forbid marriage” (1 Tim. 4:3). But God holds marriage not only to be permissible, but honourable, and we are to have the same high regard for it. The Holy Spirit honoured marriage by using it to picture the church in the New Testament.

Marriage is, amongst other things, provided as a means of preventing sexual sin. “Because of immoralities, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband” (1 Cor. 7:2)

Marriage can be held in honor in many ways. One is by the husband’s being the head. God is glorified in a family where the husband rules. “Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman” (1 Cor. 11:3). “The husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church” (Eph. 5:23). “You husbands likewise, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with a weaker vessel, since she is a woman; and grant her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Pet. 3:7).

God is serious about sexual purity. Part of our moral responsibility to ourselves is to be sexually pure. The world today is obsessed with sex as never before. Sexual activity apart from marriage is considered acceptable and normal by more and more people. Some of the more obvious results of such views are the heartbreaking increases in extramarital pregnancies, forcible rapes, illegitimate births,  abortions and in venereal diseases of all sorts. Judgment already exists in the broken homes, the venereal disease, the psychological and physical breakdowns, and the murder and other violence that is generated when passion is uncontrolled. It is not possible to live and act against the moral grain of the universe established by God and not suffer terrible consequences.

When Christians are immoral, the immediate consequences may even be worse, because the testimony of the gospel is polluted. “But do not let immorality or any impurity or greed even be named among you, as is proper among saints” (Eph. 5:3).

SATISFACTION WITH WHAT WE HAVE

“Let your character be 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,” so that we confidently say, “The LORD is my helper, I will not be afraid. What shall man do to me?” (13:5-6)

You do not have to acquire a lot of things to be covetous. In fact, you do not have to acquire anything at all. Covetousness is an attitude; it is wanting to acquire things, longing for them, setting our thoughts and attention on them—whether we ever possess them or not. Covetousness and greed follow a principle of increasing desire and decreasing satisfaction, a form of the law of diminishing returns. “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves abundance with its income. This too is vanity” (Eccles. 5:10). The more you get the more you want. When we focus on material things, our having will never catch up with our wanting. It is one of God’s unbreakable laws.

A Christian should be free from the love of material things. Love of money is sin against God, a form of distrust. For He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.” Among other things, loving money is trusting in uncertain riches rather than the living God (1 Tim. 6:17), looking for security in material things instead of in our heavenly Father. “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed,” Jesus warned, “for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). Greed has kept many unbelievers out of the kingdom, and it has caused many believers to lose the joy of the kingdom, or worse.

Be content with what you have. We confidently say, “The LORD is my helper, I will not be afraid. What shall man do to me?” Discontentment is one of man’s greatest sins. Contentment is one of God’s greatest blessings. If we really believe that God is good, we know He will take care of us, His children. “Your Father knows that you need these things” (Luke 12:30). We know with Paul that “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). It is the worldly, including the wealthy worldly, who are poor, and it is believers, including poor ones, who are rich. Our treasure is in our homeland, in heaven, and we should set our minds “on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2).

STEADFASTNESS IN THE FAITH

“Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever. 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 thus occupied were not benefited.” (13:7-9)

The primary appeal of this passage is for Jews who had heard and professed the gospel not to return to legalism. Just as those who led {us} who spoke the word of God, and just as Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, so we should be in our doctrine and practices. We are not to be carried away by varied and strange teachings.

One of the saddest things in the world is for a Christian to get drawn into false doctrine and be rendered ineffective, to lose his joy, reward, and testimony.

Jews were used to having religious regulations for everything, and it was hard for them to adjust to freedom in Christ. It was difficult for them to accept the truth Paul expresses in 1 Corinthians 8:8, that “food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat.” All their lives they had been taught and had believed that what you ate and did not eat was extremely important to God. Even how it was prepared and eaten was important. Now they are told that those who were thus occupied were not benefited. Spirituality comes not by foods. As Christians, our hearts are only strengthened by grace.

“But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods, which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.” (1 Tim. 4:1-5)

(MAIN SOURCE: MACARTHUR NEW TESTAMENT COMMENTARY – JOHN MACARTHUR)

HEBREWS STUDY PART 10: MORE ON FAITH

FAITH THAT DEFEATS DEATH (11:20-22)

“By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, even regarding things to come. By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff. By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel, and gave orders concerning his bones.” (11:20-22)

Matthew Henry said, “Though the grace of faith is of universal use throughout the Christian’s life, yet it is especially so when we come to die. Faith has its great work to do at the very last, to help believers to finish well, to die to the Lord so as to honor Him, by patience, hope and joy so as to leave a witness behind them of the truth of God’s Word and the excellency of His ways.”

“Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His godly ones” (Ps. 116:15). The three patriarchs mentioned in Hebrews 11:20-22 illustrate the power of faith in facing death. What makes the dying faith of these three men so significant is that, like Abraham, they died without seeing the fulfilment of God’s promises. They passed them on to their children by faith. They had not seen the land possessed, the nation established, or the world blessed, but they saw the promises, and that was enough. They knew by faith that God would fulfil the promises because they knew He was a covenant-keeping God and a God of truth.

A Christian who fears death has a serious weakness in his faith, for to die in Christ is simply to be ushered into the Lord’s presence. “For to me, to live is Christ,” Paul says, “and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). For those who believe, “Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54).

MOSES: THE DECISIONS OF FAITH (11:23-29)

Life is made up of decisions, of which many are difficult. You can note the maturity of a Christian by the decisions he makes. Right choices are made on the basis of right faith. Everything in a believer’s life is an opportunity to glorify God. The first man to choose was Adam. He made the wrong choice and started the tragic chain of wrong choices that has plagued his descendants ever since.

Speaking to Israel in the wilderness, God said, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants” (Deut. 30:19). Moses lived most of his life before the covenant of Mt. Sinai, with its system of commandments and rituals. But both before and after Sinai he lived by faith, not by works. Because Moses received the covenant from God at Sinai, the Jews always associated him with God’s law.

The life of Moses illustrates both positive and negative decisions of faith, the things it accepts and the things it rejects.

“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.” (11:23)

Pharaoh gave an edict that all male babies were to be drowned in the Nile. His parents first hid him for three months, and then put him in a waterproofed basket and placed him in the Nile near the place where Pharaoh’s daughter bathed. He was found by the princess and taken to be raised as her own child. Moses’ sister, Miriam, was watching and persuaded the princess to get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the infant. Miriam, of course, got her mother, who was then able to raise her own son almost as if he had been at home.

His parents were not afraid of the king’s edict. “Moses . . . was lovely in the sight of God” (Acts 7:20). Not only Moses’ parents, but also God Himself, had a special affection for this child. They were somehow aware of God’s special concern, for by faith in God they hid him and opposed Pharaoh’s order. It was for God’s sake, as well as for Moses’ and their own sakes, that the baby was protected.

Moses’ parents were willing to risk their own lives to follow God’s way. Their decision was clear: save the child, whatever the consequences. It took considerable faith to put Moses in the basket and to trust Pharaoh’s daughter. Yet they willingly let him go, entrusting him to God. He needs our obedience, not our help, not our counsel. He makes the plans; we walk in them by faith.

“By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.” (11:24)

For forty years Moses had been a prince of Egypt. He could enjoy everything Egypt had to offer. But his training in Egypt never blunted his knowledge of the hope of Israel and of the promises of God. By faith Moses . . . refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.

We learn from Stephen that Moses knew he had a mission to perform for God and for his people. “And he supposed that his brethren understood that God was granting them deliverance through him; but they did not understand” (Acts 7:25). He renounced the world’s power, honor, and prestige for the sake of God, and knew that for so doing he would gain immeasurably more than he would lose, for he was looking to the reward (v. 26). Moses gladly joined with God’s chosen people, though they were slaves, rather than take advantage of the prestige and privileges of Egypt and be unfaithful to God.

“Choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God, than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin.” (11:25)

Moses knew God was calling him to give his life for his people. He had a choice. He could have obeyed or disobeyed. He made a conscious choice to endure ill-treatment with the people of God, rather than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin.

“Considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward.” (11:26)

Moses had all the things the world holds dear. Considering involves careful thought, not quick decision. Moses thought through his decision, weighing the pros and cons. He weighed what Egypt had to offer against what God offered.

In the eyes of the world no reproach (being ridiculed and persecuted) would be worth sacrificing riches for. Yet Moses believed that the worst he could endure for Christ would be more valuable than the best of the world. It is interesting that the writer of Hebrews speaks of Moses’ considering the reproach of Christ, since he lived nearly 1500 years before Christ. Moses suffered reproach for the sake of Jesus Christ, the true Messiah, because he identified with Messiah’s people, Israel, and purpose long before Christ came to earth. Moses would have agreed with what Peter wrote: “If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Pet. 4:14). Moses rejected the treasures of Egypt and took his stand with God’s Anointed.

God’s reward is always greater than the world’s. Moses surely saw the reward of a blessed life, but the emphasis is best seen as being on the eternal reward. That is the attitude every Christian should have about Christ. We should be willing to forsake and hazard all we have for the sake of God’s will, knowing with Moses and with Paul that our “momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17; cf. Rom. 8:18).

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

The first time he left Egypt, Moses was fleeing from the pharaoh, who wanted to kill him for slaying the Egyptian slavemaster (Ex. 2:15). The second time he left Egypt, another pharaoh wanted to keep Moses from taking the children of Israel with him. Moses was doubtlessly tempted to fear the wrath of the king when he left Egypt, but he did not. He knew he had an invisible but powerful means of support, as seeing Him who is unseen. He continued to say what God wanted him to say and do what God wanted him to do. He knew that, no matter what happened, whatever he had to face, he would be held up and strengthened and rewarded. He chose to focus his sights on God rather than on a monarch in Egypt.

Fear is a great pressure, and all of us are tempted at times to bend when standing for the Lord requires us to say or do something that is unpopular or dangerous. But true faith does not fold under the world’s pressure. When we are afraid of the world, when we are afraid of what people will say or do, we are exposing ourselves to God’s displeasure and discipline for lack of faith.

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

True faith accepts the Lord’s provision as well as His plan. The tenth and last plague that God sent on the Egyptians was the death of all firstborn (Ex. 11:5). To protect the Israelites from this plague the Passover was instituted, in which a lamb’s blood was sprinkled on the doorposts and lintels of their houses (12:7). Obviously, the blood itself had no power but sprinkling it as God had commanded was an act of faith and obedience and the blood was symbolic of Christ’s sacrifice by which He conquered death for all who believe in Him. The people of Israel, including Moses, did not understand the full significance of the ceremony, but they knew it was part of God’s plan. Faith always accepts God’s provision, no matter how strange and pointless it may seem to human understanding.

“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.” (11:29)

Faith also accepts God’s promise. When Moses and his people got to the Red Sea, Pharaoh and his army were not far behind. From all they could see they were trapped; there was no escape. At first the people lost heart. Moses then told them, “Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the LORD which He will accomplish for you today; . . . The LORD will fight for you while you keep silent” (Ex. 14: 13-14). For a while at least they trusted God, and by faith they passed through the Red Sea as though they were passing through dry land. They believed Moses’ promise from God and started walking across the seabed as soon as the waters were parted.

The people had no guarantee except God’s word that He would not change His mind or forget them. For the faithful, God’s word is always enough. The test of faith is trusting God when all we have are His promises. When the waters are piled high all around us and problems and dangers are about to overwhelm us, this is when faith is tested, and when the Lord takes special pleasure in showing us His faithfulness, His love, and His power. When we have nothing but His promise to rely on, His help is the nearest and His presence the dearest to those who believe. When we truly believe God, we will know that in everything He has our best interest at heart, and we will always decide for Him.

THE COURAGE OF FAITH (11:30-40)

Faith is unconditional confidence in what God says, strictly on the basis that He has said it. The faith illustrated in Hebrews 11 is that which takes the bare word of God and acts on it, risking all. Looking for signs and wonders and explanations that we can understand or glory in is not faith. “Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed” (John 20:29).

For a Jew to become a Christian in the first century was nearly always costly. It often cost him his friends, family, synagogue privileges, job, social status, and community respect. Sadly, some were trying to take the voyage of the New Covenant while keeping their boats securely tied to the dock of the Old. Such reluctant Jews are being shown in this chapter that God’s faithful followers in the Old Testament were not like them. Faith is proved when it faces disaster, trial, persecution, and ridicule—and still stands unwavering. Faith is the source of courage. Certainly, Moses demonstrated this courage in facing Pharaoh.

Faith it conquers in struggle, continues in suffering, and counts on salvation. The only effective weapon we have in struggle is faith.

JOSHUA AND THE ISRAELITES AT JERICHO

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

Forty years had passed since Israel had crossed the Red Sea by faith (v. 29).  Nothing in that forty years was worth mentioning in a chapter on faith. Also, when they arrived, the real obstacle was not Canaan but unbelief. But as Israel came to Jericho, she showed faith again.

Jericho was the first obstacle in Canaan. The walls of Jericho were massive structures, designed to protect it from the strongest enemy attack, and its soldiers were well-trained and well-armed. All the Israelites had to do was march around the city once a day for six days, with seven priests in front carrying rams’ horns before the ark. The seventh day they were to march around seven times, with the priests blowing their horns. When the priests finally made one loud blast, all the people were to shout, and then “the wall of the city will fall down flat” (Josh. 6:3-5). The people obeyed in faith, and the walls fell as predicted. Psychologically they demanded a great amount of courage. The Israelites believed Joshua’s report from the Lord, and they immediately began to prepare for the marching (Joshua 6:8).

They could however take absolutely no credit for themselves. All God wanted from them was faith, and this they gave, for by faith the walls of Jericho fell down. In the fall of Jericho we see the faith that risks. The people of Israel were willing to do everything and to risk everything, because they believed God. If we trust the Lord and demonstrate our trust by courageously continuing to do what the Lord has called us to do, in God’s time the obstacle will fall.

RAHAB

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

Rahab was an unlikely candidate for the faithfuls’ hall of fame. For one thing, she was a prostitute. For another, she was a Gentile, and a Canaanite at that. She was, in fact, an Amorite, a race that God had long before marked for destruction (Gen, 15:16). Yet that is how God’s grace works. His mercy is open to all who will receive it, and His grace has always been wider than Israel, even in Old Testament times.

She found herself in the midst of her fellow inhabitants of Jericho, who were disobedient and unbelieving. They had wanted to kill the Israelite spies, but Rahab had welcomed the spies in peace. She welcomed God’s people. She believed, and confessed, “The LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath” (Josh. 2:11).

She staked her life on the fact that God had said He would save and protect His people, Israel, and she wanted to be on His side. She had faith’s courage. For her faith, she and her family were spared. She became the mother of Boaz, who married Ruth, the great-great-grandmother of David, and she thereby came to be an ancestor of Jesus (Matt. 1:5).

OTHERS

“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, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 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.” (11:32-34)

They were all rulers of one kind or another but none of the men is praised for his office. All are praised for what they accomplished by faith.

Gideon defeated the Midianites and the Amalekites. With 300 men, while they were “as numerous as locusts; and their camels were without number, as numerous as the sand on the seashore” (Judg. 7:12). Only a fool would have attempted such a courageous approach to battle apart from God’s direction and power.

Barak is unknown in Scripture outside the brief account in Judges 4-5 and the mention of his name in Hebrews 12:32. According to the Lord’s instruction, Deborah asked Barak to assemble an Israelite force of only 10,000 men, to fight against the Canaanites who were powerfully armed. Barak was told in advance that the glory of victory would not be his, but God’s. Not only did the Lord fight the battle for His people, but he allowed a woman to kill Sisera, the great commander of king Jabin, so that Barak would have even less cause for claiming credit for himself (Judg. 4:9). Barak was not concerned about Sisera’s power, because he had God’s power. By such courageous faith he conquered kingdoms.

Samson is not most remembered for his faith, but for his physical strength and personal gullibility. He never doubted that God was the source of his power, of which his hair was only a symbol. Samson was a judge of Israel and was given the special task of opposing the Philistines, who then ruled over Israel. It was the Spirit that strengthened him in his amazing one-man battles (Judg. 13:25; 14:19; 15:14; 16:28).  He faced the Philistines not in the courage of physical prowess but in the courage of faith. We are inclined to judge Samson by his weaknesses. But God commends him for his faith.

Jephthah preceded Samson as judge of Israel, and his responsibility was to subdue the Ammonites, one of Israel’s many enemies. Despite his foolish vow (Judg. 11:30-31), Jephthah’s trust was in the Lord, and his power was from the Lord (vv. 29, 32). Even people of faith make mistakes, and God still honoured Jephthah for his faith.

David’s trust in the Lord began when he was a boy, tending sheep, killing lions and bears, and taking on Goliath with a slingshot. He faced Goliath in utter confidence that the Lord would give him power to defeat this giant. God called him “a man after My heart, who will do all My will” (Acts 13:22). He pleased God because of the courage of his faith to trust Him and do His will.

Samuel‘s great foes were idolatry and immorality. He had to stand up in the middle of a polluted society and fearlessly speak God’s truth. His severest opponents frequently were his own people. It often takes more courage to stand up against our friends than against our enemies. He continued faithful to God throughout his life. In the courage of faith, he ruled and prophesied.

CONTINUING IN SUFFERING

“Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, in order that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. 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 (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.” (11:35-38)

Elijah brought back to life the child of the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:8-23), and his successor, Elisha, did the same for a Shunammite woman’s son (2 Kings 4:18-37). These mothers and these prophets believed God for resurrection, and He performed it.

Many of the afflictions mentioned in Hebrews 11:35-38 were however long-term, or even lifetime. God gave power through faith to see some of His people through these problems, rather than letting them to escape these problems. He will give them victory, too, but it may only be spiritual—the only kind of victory He guarantees. Where there is need for more courage there is need for more faith.

When it is suffered because of God’s Word and standing for Him, God’s people will take torture, not accepting their release, in order that they might obtain a better resurrection. In faith, they are willing to accept the worst the world has to offer, which is death, because of trust in the best God has to offer, namely resurrection.

The many kinds of suffering mentioned in these verses give a summary of the many and varied kinds of affliction God’s people face and are often called to endure for Him. They courageously and uncompromisingly suffered for the Lord because of their faith. Physical deliverance or not, they would not forsake their trust in God.

The world is not worthy of having such people in its midst, just as these people did not deserve the sufferings they received. For its inflicting the suffering, the world will be judged and punished; for their enduring the suffering the faithful saints will be resurrected and rewarded. They knew with Paul that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18), and they looked forward with Peter to “an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven” (1 Pet. 1:4).

God does not promise His saints deliverance from all suffering. To the contrary, Jesus told us to take up our crosses and to follow Him (Mark 8:34), and that “if they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). Both Paul (Phil. 3:10) and Peter (1 Pet. 4:13) advise us to rejoice in our sufferings for Christ’s sake.

COUNTING ON SALVATION

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

True faith has the courage to count on salvation and to live in hope. They had abiding confidence that one day God would do the necessary thing to redeem them and reward them. What happened to them before that time was not consequential. They did not receive what was promised but they had gained approval through their faith. Their faith was not in some immediate fulfilment, but in the ultimate fulfilment of the promises.

The ultimate promise was of a redeemer, the Messiah, and of His covenant that would bring righteousness before God. “As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful search and inquiry, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow” (1 Pet. 1:10-11). All these, from Enoch through the prophets, had that courageous faith which counts, without reservation, on final salvation.

Many of them never received the land but they knew that God had provided something better for us, that is for those under the New Covenant, which is why apart from us they should not be made perfect. Until Jesus’ atoning work on the cross was accomplished, no salvation was complete, no matter how great the faith a believer may have had. Their salvation was based on what Christ would do; ours is based on what Christ has done. Their faith looked forward to promise; ours looks back to historical fact. “Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed” (John 20:29).

(MAIN SOURCE: MACARTHUR NEW TESTAMENT COMMENTARY – JOHN MACARTHUR)

HEBREWS STUDY PART 9: WHAT IS FAITH?

THE BOOK OF HEBREWS

WHAT FAITH IS (11:1-3)

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval. 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.” (11:1-3)

This chapter deals with the primacy and the excellency of faith, and fits perfectly into the flow of the epistle, that the new is better than the old.

First-century Jews saw everything as a matter of works. By the time of Christ, Judaism was no longer the supernatural system God had originally given. It had been twisted into a works system, and in many ways, it became a religious cult built on ethics. As this chapter makes clear, from the time of Adam on, God has honoured faith, not works. The way back to God, as far as man’s part is concerned, is by faith—it has always been by faith and only by faith.

In Old Testament times, believers had to rest on the promises of God regarding the coming Messiah and the future, and they believed it, as incomplete and vague as many of those promises were. The promises were so real to them, they lived by them. Faith gave them present assurance and substance to what was yet future.

True faith is an absolute certainty, often of things that the world considers unreal and impossible. If we follow a God whose audible voice we have never heard and believe in a Christ whose face we have never seen, we are specially blessed (John 20:29). We live in the certainty that whatever discomfort or pain we may have to endure for Christ’s sake on earth, will more than be compensated for by an eternity of unending bliss, of pleasure we cannot now imagine.

Man’s natural response is to trust his physical senses, to put his faith in the things he can see, hear, taste, and feel. But senses may lie, while God cannot lie (Titus 1:2).

Conviction of things not seen implies a response, an outward manifestation of the inward assurance. The natural man cannot comprehend this kind of spiritual faith. Because he has no spiritual senses, he does not believe in God or the realities of God’s realm. Yet there is a sense in which all men live by faith as the capacity for faith is created in us. As examples, we trust the surgeon to operate on us and the restaurant to prepare our food. But spiritual faith is radically different from natural faith in one important way. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). Just as natural trust comes by natural birth, so spiritual trust comes from God.

God did not just create the world, by His word and not out of visible things, but the worlds, which designates the physical universe itself and also its operation, its administration. The understanding of creation comes entirely by faith and for this reason, many unbelievers and most philosophy and science believe in things such as the theory of evolution. “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men” (Col. 2:8). “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him. For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God” (1 Cor. 2:9-10).

ABEL: WORSHIPING IN FAITH (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, 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.” (11:4)

The primary meaning of Hebrews 11:4 has to do with Abel’s speaking to later generations of believers and potential believers. He still speaks. Dead men are not silent, but still speak to those who will listen. Abel lived in a far distant age, with far less light from God than we have, and yet, his faith speaks to us. He is the first in a long line of faithful persons who can teach us about the life of faith. The Jews had to be shown that, from the very beginning, faith has been the only thing that God will accept to save fallen man.

Because he believed, he offered a better sacrifice. Because he offered a better sacrifice, he obtained righteousness. Because he obtained righteousness, he is for all the ages a living voice saying, “Righteousness is by faith.”

Cain and Abel would know nothing about the need for worship or sacrifice, much less the way, had they not been told by God—perhaps through their parents. It is especially significant that the first recorded act of worship was sacrifice, a sin offering. The heart of the New Covenant is Jesus’ perfect, once-for-all sacrifice on the cross.

Here is where the life of faith begins, with a sacrifice for sin. It begins with believing God that we are sinners, that we are worthy of death, that we need His forgiveness, and that we accept His revealed plan for our deliverance.

Abel was of God; Cain was of Satan (1 John 3:12). Cain believed in God, else he would not have brought Him a sacrifice. But he did not believe God the way he should and therefore actually became “the father of all false religion.” He did not mind worshiping God, as long as it was on his own terms, in his own way. And God rejected his sacrifice and rejected him. Proverbs 14:12 says: “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” “Woe to them!” Jude says, “For they have gone the way of Cain” (v. 11). Paul says of such people that, “they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God” (Rom. 10:2-3).

In Abel’s sacrifice, the way of the cross was first prefigured. The first sacrifice was Abel’s lamb—one lamb for one person. Later came the Passover—with one lamb for one family. Then came the Day of Atonement—with one lamb for one nation. Finally came Good Friday—one Lamb for the whole world.

The only thing that obtained righteousness for Abel was that, in faith, He did what God told him to do. Abel was sinful, just as Cain was, but he had the kind of faith that allows God to move in on our behalf and make us righteous. Obedience does not bring faith, but faith will always bring obedience and the desire to live righteously.

We cannot claim to have faith in God and then continually disregard His Word. James wrote: “What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him? … Faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself” (James 2:14, 17). James however, does not teach salvation by works. The Christian, in fact, is “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).

Abel was counted righteous, not because he was righteous, but because he trusted God, and no mentioning was even made that he receive the Holy Spirit, as do believers today.

ENOCH: WALKING IN FAITH (11:5-6)

“By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death; and he was not found because God took him up; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God. 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. (11:5-6)

The second hero of faith is Enoch. Whereas Abel exemplifies worshiping by faith—which must always come first—Enoch exemplifies walking by faith. Revelation in Scripture is progressive. Abel received some revelation, and Enoch received more.

God intended works to be a result of salvation, not a way of salvation. Also, we cannot know God by sight. “No man has seen God at any time,” Jesus said (John 1:18). Without faith it is impossible to please Him. The first step of faith is simply to believe that He is. The witness of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of believers gives infinitely proof of God’s existence.

But it is not enough simply to believe that God exists. We must recognize God as a personal, loving, gracious God to those who seek Him. For three hundred years Enoch had fellowship with the true God, a God whom he knew to be just, merciful, forgiving, caring, and very personal.

We must also believe that He rewards those who seek Him. The reward that God gives for faith is salvation. “Whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you” (Matt. 6:33). For faith we receive forgiveness, a new heart, eternal life, joy, peace, love, heaven—everything! When we trust in Jesus Christ, we become mutual heirs with Him.

Believing that God exists is the first step toward faith. Believing that he rewards those who trust in Him is the first step of faith. Trusting fully in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is only the beginning of the faithful life in God. To continue pleasing God, we must fellowship with Him, commune with, “walk” with Him—just as Enoch did. Walking with God is pleasing God. “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16).

Walking with God is a walk in faith and a walk by faith. “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith” (Col. 2:6-7). Because of his faith, Enoch was reconciled with God; and because he was reconciled with God, he could walk with God. Because Enoch walked with God, he must have had a nature corresponding to God’s. Walking with God implies moral fitness as well as a judicial dealing with sin. We could not have a new nature unless God took away sin. Because a person walks with God means that his sin has been forgiven and that he has been justified, counted righteous by God. Only when sin has been dealt with can we move into God’s presence and begin walking with Him. Walking with God implies a surrendered will.

The New Testament refers to this sort of living as walking in the Spirit. We are to live continually in the atmosphere of the Spirit’s presence, power, direction, and teaching. The fruit of this walk in the Spirit are: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23). If we want to know how to walk, we need simply to look at Jesus. He was continually about His Father’s business, and only His Father’s business. He constantly walked with God.

Jude’s report of Enoch’s preaching contradicts any notion that Enoch lived in an easy time for believing. He was surrounded by false teachers and false teaching.

He pleased God so much that God just reached down and lifted him up to heaven. God just took him up without him even experiencing death.

When we get to heaven, we will walk with Him forever. Christ speaks of our fellowship with Him in heaven as a walk: “They will walk with Me in white; for they are worthy” (Rev. 3:4). Enoch is a beautiful picture of believers who will be taken up directly to heaven when our Lord returns for His bride, the church. Just as Enoch was translated to heaven without seeing death, so also will be those of God’s people who are alive at the rapture. “Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:17).

NOAH: OBEYING IN FAITH (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.” (11:7)

If a person trusts in God and is saved, Satan then tries to convince him of one of two extremes—that he must do good works to keep his salvation (legalism) or that, now that he is saved by faith, he can forget about good works (license).

But “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). True faith always has actions to support its claim. If you really believe in God, there will be evidence of it in the way you live, in the things you say, and in the things you do. For all the saints listed in Hebrews 11, their genuine faith was made known in something they did. Faith cannot be seen except in the things that it does. Noah, perhaps more than any other person in history, illustrates the work of faith through obedience.

“Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God” (Gen. 6:9). Noah’s faith was extremely impressive because of his absolute trust in God and because of his unhesitating and persistent obedience for 120 years.

When God told Noah that He was getting ready to destroy the world because of its wickedness and instructed him to build an ark (Gen. 6:13-14), Noah dropped everything and started building. Noah, who had but a fraction of the divine light that we have, did not argue, quibble, make excuses, complain, or procrastinate.

Noah was warned by God about things not yet seen. By faith Noah . . . prepared an ark. He had nothing to go on but God’s word, which for him was more than sufficient.

It is just as important for us “to build the ark” He gives us as it was for Noah to build the one God assigned him. And, like Noah’s, when we build it in faith, according to God’s plan and by His power, it will accomplish what God wants it to accomplish. Noah believed God’s word about the coming judgment, and about the promise to save him and his family. He did not pick and choose what to believe and what to obey.

He was such a man of God that his very life was a rebuke to the wicked people that surrounded him.  By faith Noah. . . condemned the world. “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen.6:5). Against that wicked, cruel, and dark world, Noah’s life and testimony shined in glistening condemnation. He basically rebukes the world just by his living.

Noah’s obedience included to warn the rest of the world of God’s message of coming judgment. He did this throughout the 120 years that he used to build the ark. In 2 Peter 2:5, he is called “a preacher of righteousness.” At the same time God was preparing judgment He was also preparing a way of escape, but they would not take heed. The people had ample warning of judgment, and they also had ample knowledge of the truth.

Perhaps the saddest lesson from Noah’s day is that men have not changed in their attitude toward God since then and will not change until the Lord returns. “For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days which were before the flood they were eating and drinking, they were marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matt. 24:37-39).

In his day a remnant found grace, just as a remnant believes today. In Noah’s day or shortly before it, Enoch was translated, picturing the rapture of believers when the Lord returns, which could be in our day. We can be as sure as they should have been that judgment is coming, because God has promised it just as clearly and men deserve it just as much. Someone has said, “If God doesn’t destroy our world, He’ll have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.” The next judgment will be different in two ways, however. First, it will not be by flood (Gen. 9:15) but by fire (2 Pet. 3:10). Second, it will be the last. And again, the only security is refuge in God’s ark, Jesus Christ.

Noah was the first person in Scripture to be called righteous. All who believe in God are righteous, as Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us by faith (Rom. 3:22). God looks at believers through the lens of His Son, and He sees us as He sees the Son. Thousands of years before Jesus became incarnate, God looked at Noah and saw the Son, because Noah believed.

ABRAHAM: THE LIFE OF FAITH (11:8-19)

There are only two ways to live. One way, by far the most common, is to live by sight, to base everything on what you can see. This is the empirical way. The other way, far less common, is to live by faith, to base your life primarily and ultimately on what you cannot see.

The life of faith has some specific ingredients, which are pointed out in this text as reflected in the life of Abraham. The Jews needed to realize that Abraham was more than the father of their race; he also was the father of everyone who lives by faith in God. It was necessary to show these Jews, from the Old Testament itself, that Abraham was not righteous in himself through his works but was counted righteous by God because of his faith.

When Stephen was preaching to the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, he began by showing how Abraham had obediently trusted God by leaving his homeland and believing God’s promises of blessing (Acts 7:2-5). In his powerful argument in Romans for justification by faith, Paul uses Abraham as the central illustration (Rom. 4). Abraham is the classic example of the life of faith.

The New Testament makes it clear that Abraham was the first true man of faith. Since his time, everyone who trusts in God, Jew or Gentile, is spiritually a child of Abraham. “Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham” (Gal. 3:7; cf. v. 29).

“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.” (11:8)

It was not Abraham’s plan to leave Ur and then Haran, and eventually settle in the land of Canaan. In fact, when he left Ur he had no idea where he was going. But when he was called, he immediately responded.

Abraham was a sinful heathen who grew up in an unbelieving and idolatrous society. He was raised in a home that was pagan (Josh.24:2). But when God spoke to him, he listened; when God promised, he trusted; when God commanded, he obeyed. Isaiah refers to Abraham as “the rock from which you were hewn” and “the quarry from which your were dug” (Isa. 51:1-2), reminding his fellow Jews that God sovereignly condescended to call Abraham out of paganism and idolatry in order to bless him and the world through him.

When any person comes to Jesus Christ, God demands of him a pilgrimage from the system of the world and his old pattern of living into a new kind of life, just as Abraham’s faith separated him from paganism and unbelief and started him toward a new land and a new kind of life. Salvation brings separation from the world. The Lord works in the heart the total willingness to leave behind everything that is not pleasing to Him. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2; cf. 2 Cor. 6:14; Gal. 1:4). Worldliness is not so much what we do as what we want to do. It is not determined so much by what our actions are as by where our heart is.

“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; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (11:9-10)

Abraham was immediately willing to give up his homeland and everything he knew. But faith also has a time for waiting and for being patient. Dwelling in tents was not considered permanent residences. Near as it was, the land was still only a promise. He lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land and he had to be patient. It was promised but never possessed and he never owned more than a small plot in which to bury Sarah (Gen. 23:9-20). He never saw God’s promise fulfilled but he patiently waited.

The secret of Abraham’s patience was his hope in the ultimate fulfilment of the promise of God. His ultimate Promised Land was heaven, just as ours is. He was patient because his eyes were on the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. As important as the earthly land was to him and to God’s promise, he looked up toward the heavenly land, which he knew he would inherit without fail. Only the heavenly minded will have the patience to continue faithful in God’s work when it becomes hard, unappreciated, and seemingly unending. That is why Paul tells us to set our minds “on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2).

“By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised; therefore, also, there was born 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.” (11:11-12)

Faith sees the invisible, hears the inaudible, touches the intangible, and accomplishes the impossible. Faith was active in the miracle of Isaac’s birth. From the human standpoint, it was impossible for Abraham and Sarah to have a child. Not only had Sarah always been barren (Gen. 16:1), but by the time she was 90 years of age she was far beyond the proper time of life for child-bearing. Yet at that age she conceived and gave birth to the promised son (Gen. 21:2).

The Genesis account gives no indication that Sarah ever showed much faith in God. Both Abraham and Sarah, on different occasions, had laughed at God’s promise of a son in their old age (Gen. 17:17; 18:12), but Sarah had even taken matters into her own hands by persuading Abraham to have a son by her maid, Hagar (16:1-4). She did not trust God’s promise and her impatience was costly as seen in the account of Ishmael.

If we study Hebrews 11:11 carefully, I believe we discover that the faith mentioned here does not apply to Sarah but rather for her. The faith was Abraham’s, not Sarah’s. Through Abraham’s faith God miraculously fulfilled His promise.

Abraham had children upon children, the whole of the people of Israel. Every Jew that ever has been and ever will be born is a result of Abraham’s faith.

“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. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. 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.” (11:13-16)

Not Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob, ever possessed the Promised Land. In fact it was almost 500 years after Jacob died that Israel first began to possess Canaan. All these died in faith, without receiving the promises. God had given them no word as to when or how the promises would be fulfilled. He only gave the promises, and that was enough.

They walked on it and pastured their flocks on it and raised their children on it, but they were not impatient to possess it. It was enough to possess it from a distance, because their primary concern was for a better country, that is a heavenly one. In the meantime they were quite happy to be strangers and exiles on the earth. It is people of such faith that God blesses. He is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them, called heaven.

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

If Noah illustrates the duration of faith, Abraham shows the depth of faith. The proof of Abraham’s faith was his willingness to give back to God everything he had, including sacrificing the son of promise, Isaac. Abraham knew that the covenant, which could only be fulfilled through Isaac, was unconditional. He knew, therefore, that God would do whatever was necessary, including raising Isaac from the dead, to keep His covenant. He considered that God is able to raise men even from the dead. Somehow, he knew that he would have his son back, even if it would have been through resurrection. As it turned out, because he did not actually die, Isaac became only a type of the resurrection.

(MAIN SOURCE: MACARTHUR NEW TESTAMENT COMMENTARY – JOHN MACARTHUR)

HEBREWS STUDY PART 8: MORE ON THE NEW COVENANT

THE BOOK OF HEBREWS

IT ALL STARTED WITH THE SECURITIES OF GOD’S PROMISE (6:13-20)

The writer of Hebrews has been urging the Jews to completely abandon the Old Covenant and to commit themselves entirely to Jesus Christ in the New Covenant. But, as the writer says very clearly here, the substance, even of the Old Covenant was faith, as far as man’s part was concerned.

Probably the most outstanding example from the Old Testament, of trusting God is Abraham, who lived thousands of years before Christ came to earth. He, in fact, is called “the father of all who believe” (Rom. 4:11; cf. Gal. 3:7). The father of the Jews is also the father of the faithful. In Romans 4 we see that he was saved by faith even before the Old (Mosaic) Covenant was given, and before he was circumcised, which was the mark of the covenant God made with Abraham.

The Lord promised Abraham that He would give the land of Canaan to him and his descendants and that through Abraham all the families of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 12:1-3). God’s integrity and faithfulness are the real theme of Hebrews 6:13-20.

This passage in Hebrews gives us four reasons for trusting God: His Person, His purpose, His pledge, and His Priest.

1 HIS PERSON

“For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying “I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply you.” And thus, having patiently waited, he obtained the promise.” (6:13-15)

By the very nature of His person, God cannot lie and if He makes a promise, He keeps it. Since, therefore, God has promised that all who come to Him through His Son will be saved, it is impossible for anyone who trusts in Christ not to be saved or to lose salvation once it is attained.

A legitimate question, then, is, Has God kept this promise to Abraham? Millions of the physical descendants of Abraham are still in the world today. Not only that, but many more millions around the world are Abraham’s spiritual descendants. God has indeed kept His promise to Abraham.

2 HIS PURPOSE-TO REDEEM A LOST WORLD

“Saying, “I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply you.” (6:14)

Abraham had not asked God to send him to Canaan or to bless the world through him. It was God’s purpose and plan. The Abrahamic covenant, with its promise, was unconditional. Although Abraham was obedient and had faith, God had a predetermined purpose for Abraham.

From his descendants was to come the nation of Israel, God’s earthly, historical channel of revelation and redemption. The Old and New Covenants, the law, the prophecies, the priestly sacrifices—all came through Israel. The Messiah Himself was a Jew, the truest Jew of all. God’s plan of redemption was to be carried out through these specially chosen people. “Salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22).

To Israel, this message: “The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers” (Deut. 7:7-8).

The point of this for Hebrews 6:13-20 is that God’s promise did not depend on anyone’s faithfulness but His own. Abraham, his descendants, and all the world through them would be blessed.

PURPOSES FOR ISRAEL

The chosen nation of Israel was supposed to proclaim the true God, reveal the Messiah, be God’s Priest nation, preserve and transmit Scripture, show the blessedness of serving God and show His faithfulness. Over and over they failed God, but He never failed them.

God is still not through using her for this purpose. Speaking of the last times, Paul writes, “And thus all Israel will be saved; just as it is written,. . . so these also now have been disobedient, in order that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy” (Rom. 11:26, 31). Those who claim that all the unfulfilled promises to Israel are fulfilled in the church impugn God’s Word and His faithfulness. She has been, still is, and will yet be a living illustration of His faithfulness.

God cannot not stop using her without violating His unconditional promise to Abraham, which would be impossible because it was contrary to His nature. God’s promise to those who believe in Christ is, in fact, an extension of His promise to Abraham. “They are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; . . . That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants” (Rom. 9:6, 8).

3 HIS PLEDGE

“Since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, … For men swear by one greater than themselves, and with them an oath given as confirmation is an end of every dispute. 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.” (6:13b, 16-17)

God, of course, did not need to make an oath. His word is every bit as good without an oath—as ours ought to be (Matt. 5:33-37). But to accommodate to the weak faith of men, God swore His promise on Himself.

“In order that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have strong encouragement, we who have fled for refuge in laying hold of the hope set before us.” (6:18)

The two unchangeable things are God’s promise and His pledge, His promise and His oath. The hope set before us is Jesus Himself, and the gospel He has brought. Paul speaks of his Savior as “Christ Jesus, who is our hope” (1 Tim. 1:1). In Colossians he speaks of the gospel as our hope (1:5).

4 HIS PRIEST

“This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” (6:19-20)

As our High Priest, Jesus serves as the anchor of our souls, the One who will forever keep us from drifting away from God. Jesus’ entering within the veil signifies His entering the Holy of Holies, where the sacrifice of atonement was made. Under the Old Covenant it was made yearly by the high priest. Under the New is has been made once for all time by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

ROLL-OUT OF THE NEW COVENANT (9:15-28)

“And for this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, in order 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.” (9:15)

Christ, because of His sacrificial death, had become the mediator of a new and better covenant. By God’s standard of righteousness and justice, the soul that sins must die (Ezek. 18:4). He became the bridge between God and men.

Old Testament believers were saved on the same basis as believers today are saved—by the finished work of Christ. Part of Christ’s work as mediator of the New Covenant was the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant. Christ’s atoning death was retroactive. Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) also pictured symbolically what Christ’s atonement actually did. It, too, was retroactive. When the high priest sprinkled the blood on the mercy seat, the unintentional sins of the people were covered for the previous year.

By their obedient faith in God they were “credited,” so to speak, with what Jesus Christ, their promised Messiah, would one day do on their behalf and on the behalf of all sinners who have ever lived and who will ever live. In a deeper sense, the sacrifice had already been made in God’s mind long before it was made in human history, because Christ’s “works were finished from the foundation of the world” (Heb. 4:3; cf. 1 Pet. 1:19-20; Rev. 13:8). From the human perspective, however, the Old Testament saints could only look forward to salvation.

The eternal inheritance that the Old Testament saints could not receive without Christ’s death was salvation, the total forgiveness that alone could bring total access to God. They could not be faulted, of course, for having a limited understanding of the Messiah, for God had only given limited revelation.

NECESSITY OF MESSIAH’S DEATH

A TESTAMENT DEMANDS DEATH

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

A testament, by its very nature, requires the death of the testator. The basic meaning of covenant corresponds closely to that of our present-day will. Its benefits and provisions are only promises until the person dies. God gave a legacy, an eternal inheritance, to Israel in the form of a covenant, a will.

FORGIVENESS DEMANDS BLOOD

“Therefore even the first covenant was not inaugurated without blood. 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, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant which God commanded you.” And in the same way he sprinkled both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry with the blood. And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (9:18-22)

Blood is a symbol of death, and therefore follows closely the idea of a testator’s having to die in order for a will to become effective. Even before the old priestly sacrifices were begun, the covenant itself was inaugurated, or ratified, with blood. Among other things, the great amount of blood that was spilled in the time of Moses was a continual reminder of the penalty of sin, namely death.

Jesus said, “This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26:28). He was to ratify the New Covenant through His own blood, just as the Old Covenant was ratified by Moses with the blood of animals. It is however important to note that it was not Jesus’ physical blood that saves us, but His dying on our behalf, which is symbolized by the shedding of His physical blood. If we could be saved by blood without death, the animals would have been bled, not killed, and it would have been the same with Jesus. Since the penalty for sin is death, nothing but death, symbolized by shedding of blood, can atone for sin.

“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.” (9:23)

The copies of the things in the heavens were the things of the old economy. They were but sketches, or outlines, of the realities of heaven. It was necessary for these copies to have sacrifices. It was therefore necessary for the better covenant, the better economy, to have better sacrifices.

“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; nor was it that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood not his own. 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.” (9:24-26)

As previously mentioned in our study, Christ did not go into an earthly Holy of Holies, but He went into the presence of God—the heavenly, real Holy of Holies. He did it for us.

If Jesus’ sacrifice had not been once and for all, He would have had to suffer continuously from the foundation of the world, since the time Adam first sinned. But His one sacrifice of Himself was made at the consummation of the ages at Calvary. He put away sin. He did not simply cover sin, as the old sacrifices had done.

JUDGMENT DEMANDS A SUBSTITUTE

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

All men have to die, and our death is by divine appointment and after death comes judgment. God’s judgment demands that men pay or have a substitute pay for their sins. Jesus Christ was also divinely appointed to die once, but He will never face judgment. He took our sins upon Himself, He took our judgment upon Himself. God “made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor.5:21). He died the one death that judgment demanded.

If the former high priests did anything wrong, or failed to follow God’s precise instructions on the Day of Atonement, they would die. If the people were so eager to see the former high priests reappear from the earthly Holy of Holies, how much more should Christians look eagerly for their great High Priest to reappear from the heavenly Holy of Holies? This will occur at the Second Coming (Rev. 19:11-16).

When He comes back, our salvation will be full. When He appears a second time to those who expect Him, it will not be to deal with sin. It will be without reference to sin.

RECEIVING CHRIST (10:19-22)

When a person knows the truth of the gospel, he either goes on to believe or he falls back into apostasy. Hebrews 10:19-25 is speaking to the one who makes a positive response to the claims of Jesus Christ and therefore mentions the word “brethren” right at the beginning of the passage. A positive response results in salvation.

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

In Christ’s shed blood, His perfect sacrifice, we have confidence to enter the holy place, into God’s very presence. The blood of Jesus Christ counts for everything, and the person who trusts in His atoning work can come with complete boldness before God, claiming all the blessings and promises in His Son. Through His shed blood, satisfied God’s justice in our behalf, so that we can now claim God’s mercy and grace.

He has torn the veil of the Holy of Holies in two. The old way could not even bring man into God’s symbolic, ceremonial presence, much less into His real presence. When Jesus’ flesh was torn, so was the veil that kept men from God. Jesus’ death conquered death and gives everlasting life. When the physical veil of the earthly Temple was torn in two during Jesus’ crucifixion, the spiritual veil, so to speak, of His flesh was also torn.

He is now our great priest over the house of God. He does not merely provide the way to God; He also takes us with Him to God and ministers for us in heaven.

“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.” (10:22)

Coming to God with full assurance requires a sincere heart and commitment that is genuine. “‘Judah did not return to Me with all her heart, but rather in deception,’ declares the LORD” (Jer. 3:10). But a day was to come when His people would change. “I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the LORD; and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with their whole heart” (Jer. 24:7). From the earliest days of the Old Covenant, God had demanded a sincere heart. “You will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul” (Deut. 4:29).

Faith in Jesus Christ must include our own decision, but it must proceed from God’s decision. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). Salvation is a gift of God, and part of that gift is saving faith itself. God plants in the heart the desire and the ability to believe, and the ability to receive the gift of salvation.

When we come to God in faith, our hearts should not only be sincere but also sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. This figure is taken from the sacrificial ceremonies of the Old Covenant. The priests were continually washing themselves and the sacred vessels in the basins of clear water, and blood was continually being sprinkled as a sign of cleansing. But all the cleansing, whether with water or blood, was external.

Only Jesus can cleanse a man’s heart. By His Spirit He cleanses the innermost thoughts and desires. God is satisfied with the sprinkling of the blood of Christ, and sin is removed, and our consciences are free. We are changed on the inside as we are washed by the Word and born again.

The other part of the cleansing does not refer to baptism, but has to do with our living, with how the Holy Spirit changes our lives. He begins to change us on the inside

Faith cannot begin until a person realizes his need for salvation. The first feeling of need may only be for a purpose in life or a sense of need for forgiveness and removal of guilt, for inner peace. People came to Jesus for many reasons, some of them rather superficial. Felt need is essential, but inadequate on its own.

A person does need the gospel truth (1 Cor. 15:1-5) that he is lost in sin and needs the Lord Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. He must know the gospel. The idea of “blind faith” sounds spiritual, but it is not biblical.

The climax of faith is commitment. A believer must totally commit his life to the Lord Jesus Christ. Only then is faith, saving faith.

APOSTASY: REJECTING CHRIST (10:26-33)

This part deals with those who had heard the gospel, had come face-to-face with the claims of Christ, had been associated to some extent with His church, but had gone away. They had made a superficial commitment of faith in Him and had identified themselves visibly with the true church. But their enthusiasm was cooling and the cost of being a Christian was becoming too high. They were in danger of becoming apostate.

This passage contains by far the most serious and sobering warning in Hebrews as it deals with apostasy. Apostasy is the sin of rejecting the gospel, for which there is no forgiveness. “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us.” (1 John 2:19)

Apostasy is not a sin of ignorance, but of rejecting known truth. Judas Iscariot is, of course, the classic apostate. He had the perfect evidence, the perfect light, the perfect example. For some three years he lived with Truth incarnate and Life incarnate, yet he turned his back on the One who is truth and life.

Paul speaks of a large falling away when he cautions the Thessalonians not to be misled about the coming of the Lord, “for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first” (2 Thess. 2:3). He said said that apostasy is going to be a characteristic of the last days. “The Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron” (1 Tim. 4:1-2). In the end times, the times in which I believe we are now living, apostasy will only become worse and worse.

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

Here is possibly the clearest and most concise scriptural definition of apostasy—receiving knowledge of the truth, that is, the gospel, but wilfully remaining in sin. An apostate is well acquainted with the gospel and knows more than enough to be saved. They are bred almost without exception within the church, in the very midst of God’s people. The process of falling away may be gradual, but at some point, a conscious decision is made to leave the way of God, and reject the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The reference here to sinning wilfully is not to sins of ignorance or weakness, but to those that are planned out, determined, done with forethought. A true believer may sometimes lapse into sin and stray from intimacy with the Lord and with His people, but he will eventually come back. He will be under conviction and be robbed of joy and peace and of many other blessings.

“If we are faithless, He remains faithful; for He cannot deny Himself (2 Tim. 2:12-13). If a true believer falls short in his faithfulness to the Lord, the Lord still will not fail in His faithfulness to the believer, for He has promised never to let us go.

Hard times are not for the self-willed unbeliever who is simply using the church for business, or social, or other personal reasons—or who may have been raised in the church and has simply never gotten out of the habit of attending. Persecution, sometimes as mild as criticism, is usually enough to break that habit.

Holding on to the old religion, or simply the old lifestyle, can eventually bring a person to apostatize. Many of the unbelieving Jews addressed in the book of Hebrews were very much in this danger.

THE RESULTS OF APOSTASY

The apostate no longer has a sacrifice that can atone for his sins and he is therefore, beyond salvation. It leaves only sin, the penalty for which is eternal death.

“But a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.” (10:27)

Since apostasy is the worst sin, it will have the worst judgment. Judgment is certain and terrifying. The fury of a fire from Him is consuming. In explaining the parable of the tares, Jesus said to His disciples: “The tares are the sons of the evil one; and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. Therefore just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt. 13:38-42)

DEGREES OF SIN AND JUDGMENT

“Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled underfoot 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? For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.” And again, “The LORD will judge His people.” It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (10:28-31)

Jesus made it clear that judgment, like guilt, is in proportion to sin. “That slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, shall receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few” (Luke 12:47-48).

The person who sinned under the Old Covenant was guilty and deserving of punishment. Every Jew knew the severity of breaking Mosaic law. If such disobedience was affirmed by the proper witnesses, the penalty was death. But the worst offender in that age cannot compare with the person who has heard the gospel of Jesus Christ and yet rejects Him. Such persons will find themselves in the Judas section of hell, enduring much severer punishment.

Apostasy involves total rejection of the godhead—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is not possible to reject one without also rejecting the other. Therefore, to trample under foot the Son of God is the same as to trample under foot the Father.

The man who has been led by the Spirit of grace in the pre-salvation work of redemption and has been energized by Him toward repentance (John 16:8-11), thus also insults the Spirit by turning from Christ.

(MAIN SOURCE: MACARTHUR NEW TESTAMENT COMMENTARY – JOHN MACARTHUR)

HEBREWS STUDY PART 7: OLD VS NEW COVENANT

THE BOOK OF HEBREWS

MOUNT SINAI AND MOUNT ZION (12:18-29)

It was evident to many of the Jews that being godly in a godless society was costly and it causes them to fear. This passage gives a warning of something far more fear-inspiring than what any human persecution can inflict, namely God’s judgment.

Every man will either be judged by the law or by grace, by his own works or by Christ’s work, by the provisions of Sinai or by the provisions of Zion. Their fear should not be of coming to Mount Zion but of turning back to Mount Sinai. The contrast is vivid.

MOUNT SINAI—THE FEAR OF THE LAW

“For you have not come to a mountain that may be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, 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 should be spoken to them. For they could not bear the command, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it will be stoned.” And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, “I am full of fear and trembling.” (12:18-21)

The Old Covenant was associated with Mount Sinai because that is where God spoke to Moses when the covenant of law was instituted. It was also a covenant of judgment and of fear. That is not the place to which the New Covenant brings us.

May be touched does not refer to permission but possibility. The people were forbidden to set foot on the mountain of Sinai and were under penalty of death. The earthly mountain symbolized the earthliness of that covenant, as contrasted with the heavenly Jerusalem (v. 22). It was given was to be obeyed in more physical, tangible, picturesque, and symbolic ways.

It was to be a day unique in human history. The demonstration of power was through the physical means of thunder, lightning, thick clouds, loud trumpet sounds, fire, smoke, and violent trembling of the earth (Exodus 19:16-18). The primary purpose of all these signs was to convince the people of the absolute unapproachableness of God. Sinful man could not come near Him and live. “They trembled and stood at a distance,” and pleaded with Moses, “let not God speak to us, lest we die” (Exodus 20:18-19). At this, Moses assured them that they had no reason for being terrified unless they disobeyed. “Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin” (Exodus 20:20). If they had the proper fear of God by honouring His holiness and obeying His law, they had no reason to fear His wrath.

Since no man in himself can fulfil its demands, no man in himself can escape its punishment. The symbols of Sinai are darkness, fire, trembling, and trumpets of judgment. The purpose of Sinai was to bring the people face to face with their own sinfulness, with no place to hide. Every sinner who stands at the foot of Sinai is paralyzed with fear. So terrible was the sight, that Moses said, “I am full of fear and trembling.”

“For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them’ ” (Gal. 3:10).

MOUNT ZION—THE GRACE OF THE GOSPEL

“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, 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 righteous men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.” (12:22-24)

The mountain of the New Covenant is Mount Zion, representing the heavenly Jerusalem. Opposite to Sinai, it is not touchable, but it is approachable. Sinai symbolizes law and Zion symbolizes grace. No man can be saved by the law, but any man can be saved by grace. The law confronts us with commandments, judgment, and condemnation. Grace presents us with forgiveness, atonement, and salvation.

Zion is open to all, because Jesus Christ has met all terms and will stand in the place of anyone who will come to God through Him. Zion symbolizes the approachable God. Sinai was covered by clouds and darkness; Zion is the city of light. “Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God has shone forth” (Ps. 50:2). Sinai stands for judgment and death; Zion for forgiveness and life.

The Jews to whom Hebrews is speaking, were already on the gracious mountain of God, already in the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. As Christians, we are already citizens of heaven, where we now spiritually dwell (Phil. 3:20).

THE HEAVENLY CITY

The city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, is heaven itself. That is where our treasure is, our inheritance is, our hope is. Until the Lord takes us there to be with Himself, however, we cannot enjoy its full citizenship and blessings. For now, we are ambassadors on earth. Sinai is the mountain of bondage. Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, is the mountain of freedom.

THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY

The general assembly refers to the myriads of angels, rather than to the church of the firstborn. When we come in Jesus Christ to Mount Zion, we come to a great gathering of celebrating angels, whom we join in praising God. Contrary to what some churches teach, we are not to worship angels. We join them in worshiping God, and God alone. “Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize,” Paul warns, “by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels” (Col. 2:18).

THE CHURCH OF THE FIRSTBORN

The church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven is the Body of Christ. The firstborn are those who receive the inheritance. As believers, we are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ,” who is “the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom. 8:17, 29). Jesus tells us that we should not rejoice in the great works that God may do through us but that our “names are recorded in heaven” (Luke 10:20). Our names are enrolled in heaven in “the Lamb’s book of life” (Rev. 21:27).

THE SPIRITS OF RIGHTEOUS MEN MADE PERFECT

The spirits of righteous men made perfect are Old Testament saints, those who could only look forward to forgiveness, peace, and deliverance. When we come to heaven, we will join Abel, Abraham, Moses, David, and all the others in one great household of God (cf. Matt. 8:11). They had to wait for us (Heb. 11:40), in the sense that they had to wait for Christ’s death and resurrection before they could be glorified. In heaven we will be one with them in Jesus Christ. He is the mediator of a new covenant. First John 3:2 sums up the ultimate end of this truth: “we shall be like Him.”

THE SPRINKLED BLOOD

To come to Christianity is to come to the sprinkled blood, the atoning blood, through which we have redemption, “through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:7), and by which all who “formerly were far off have been brought near” (2:13). The sprinkled blood of Jesus far surpasses the sacrifice of Abel (Heb. 11:4) and speaks better than the blood of Abel. Abel’s sacrifice was acceptable to God because it was offered in faith, but it had no atoning power.

RESPONDING TO THE GOSPEL

“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 shall we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven. 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.” And this expression, “Yet once more,” denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, in order that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. 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; for our God is a consuming fire.” (12:25-29)

“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” (Heb. 1:1-2). If men were held accountable for heeding God when He warned them on earth, from Mount Sinai, how much more will they be held accountable now that He warns from heaven, from Mount Zion?

The unbelieving Israelites who ignored God at Sinai did not enter the earthly Promised Land, and unbelievers today, Jew or Gentile, who ignore God when He speaks through His Son from Mount Zion will not enter the heavenly promised land. Whether God speaks from Sinai or from Zion, no man who refuses Him will escape judgment.

At Sinai, God shook the earth. From Zion He is also going to shake the very heavens, the entire universe. The writer quotes from what the Lord had predicted through Haggai, “Once more in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land” (Hag. 2:6; cf. Isa. 13:13). The sun will become black, the moon will become like blood, stars will fall to earth, the sky will split apart like a scroll, and every mountain and island will be moved out of its place (Rev. 6:12-14). Everything physical (those things which can be shaken) will be destroyed. Only the eternal things will remain.

Peter tells us that at that time, which “will come like a thief,. . . the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up” and “the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat!” (2 Pet. 3:10,12).

But some things are unshakable, and these will remain. God has prepared “a new heaven and a new earth,” which will include “the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:1-2). This is the kingdom we receive. It is a kingdom which cannot be shaken. It is eternal, unchangeable, immovable. We will never be taken from it, and it will never be taken from us. For this amazing blessing in Christ, we should show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe.

The closing verse of chapter 12 is perhaps the severest warning in the book of Hebrews: for our God is a consuming fire. If you have truly come to Zion and received all its blessings, it is inconceivable that you would want to hold on to Sinai in any way.

CHARACTARISTICS OF THE OLD AND THE NEW COVENANT (9:1-14)

In Hebrews 9:1-14 the Old and New Covenants are further contrasted. The first part of the passage (vv. 1-10) outlines, or summarizes, the characteristics of the Old, whereas the second part (vv. 11-14) outlines the characteristics of the New.

CHARACTERISTICS OF THE OLD COVENANT

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

The first covenant was not worthless or pointless, as it was given by God. Through it He prescribed certain kinds of worship and a special place in which to worship, but it was temporary, as signified by the earthly character of the sanctuary.

THE OLD SANCTUARY

“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. And behind the second veil, there was a tabernacle which is called the Holy of Holies, 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. And above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat; but of these things we cannot now speak in detail.” (9:2-5)

The tabernacle was the first sanctuary and also the most temporary and the earthiest. Fifty chapters in the Bible focus on the Tabernacle (see especially Ex. 25-40). It is actually a giant portrait of Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ said, “I am the way” and “I am the door.” Just as there was only one entrance to the Tabernacle, there is only one way to God—the only Way and the only Door, Jesus Christ.

The first article of furniture in the outer court was the bronze altar. The bronze altar is again a perfect picture of Jesus Christ, who Himself was a sacrifice for sin.

The next piece of furniture in the court was the laver or basin, where the priests would wash their hands, and even sometimes their feet, as they went about the bloody services of sacrifice. Here is a picture of Jesus Christ as the cleanser of His people.

The holy place took up two-thirds of this area, and the holy of holies was a perfect cube. Only priests could go into the Holy Place, in which were three pieces of furniture. On the left, there was a solid gold lampstand having seven branches, each filled with the purest olive oil. On the right was the table on which was the sacred bread. Only the priests could eat the loaves.

To the center of the Holy Place was the altar of incense. On this altar were placed the burning coals from the bronze altar in the courtyard, where sacrifice was made.

Everything in the outer courtyard was connected with salvation and the cleansing of sins. Jesus accomplished His sacrificial work on earth, outside God’s heavenly presence. The outer court was accessible to all the people, just as Christ is accessible to all who will come to Him. But in His heavenly sanctuary He is shut off from the world, temporarily even from His own people. From His heavenly place now, Jesus lights our path (pictured by the golden lampstand), He feeds us (pictured by the table of sacred bread), and He intercedes for us (pictured by the altar of incense).

Behind the second veil, there was a tabernacle which is called the Holy of Holies, into which only the high priest could enter, and that but once a year, on the Day of Atonement. There was only one piece of furniture, the ark of the covenant. In it were three very precious articles: a golden jar holding manna, Aaron’s rod which budded, and the tables of the covenant. On the lid was the mercy seat, on which were the cherubim of glory, angelic figures made of solid gold. It was between the wings of those angels, on the mercy seat, that God met men. “And there I will meet with you; and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel” (Ex. 25:22). If God and man were to meet it could only have been there, and only the high priest could do so.

The ark represents Jesus Christ, the true mercy seat. When we meet Jesus Christ as Savior, we are ushered into the presence of God, into the true Holy of Holies. God now communes with men in His Son, by whom the veil was torn in two.

THE OLD SERVICES

“Now when these things have been thus prepared, the priests are continually entering the outer tabernacle, performing the divine worship, but into the second 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.” (9:6-7)

The priests were continually in and out of the Holy Place, ministering in behalf of the people. In this they picture Jesus Christ, who does not cease enlightening and feeding and interceding on our behalf. Nothing, however, pictures Christ so perfectly as the work of the high priest in the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). The Day of Atonement was intended to make sacrifice for all those sins that had not yet been covered during the daily sacrifices. Unlike Christ, the high priest also had to sacrifice for his own sin.

After finishing all these sacrifices, the high priest took off the robes of glory and beauty and went and bathed himself completely. He then put on a white linen garment, with no decoration or ornament at all, and performed the sacrifice of atonement. In this ritual, the high priest symbolized Jesus Christ, who, in His true and perfect work of atonement, stripped off all His glory and beauty and became the humblest of the humble. He dressed Himself in human flesh, pure but plain and unadorned. In all of His humility He never lost His holiness.

There were always two goats (Lev. 16:5). One was marked for the Lord and the other for Azazel, for the scapegoat. Azazal was a demon or evil spirit to whom, in the ancient rite of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), a scapegoat was sent bearing the sins of the Jewish people. The goat designated for Jehovah was then killed on the altar. Its blood was carried into the Holy of Holies for the sins of the people.

He then placed his hands on the goat that remained, the scapegoat, symbolically placing the sins of the people on the goat’s head. That goat was taken far out into the wilderness and turned loose, to be lost and never to return.

The first goat represented satisfaction of God’s justice, in that sin had been paid for. The second represented satisfaction of man’s conscience, because he knew he was freed of the penalty of sin. Still again we see Christ. In His own death he paid for man’s sin, thereby satisfying God’s justice, and He also carried our sins far from us, giving us peace of conscience and mind. He satisfied both God and man.

THE OLD SIGNIFICANCE

“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, which is a symbol for the present time. Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience, since they relate only to food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until a time of reformation.” (9:8-10)

In the illustration of the old sanctuary and its services, the Holy Spirit is teaching at least three things. First, the worship of God was limited in the Old Covenant as only the high priest could come only so close. Second, the cleansing accomplished was incomplete. There was no freedom of conscience, no assurance of cleansing. Third, the Old Covenant was temporary, and all had to be repeated.

Without a Redeemer, it is impossible to access God. Also, even with all the ceremonies and rituals, perfect cleansing from sin could not be accomplished. The way into the heavenly Holy Place could not be opened while the first Tabernacle was standing.

Only the New Covenant in Christ set things right, and the old symbols, the old forms, were meant to serve only until the time of reformation.

CHARACTERISTICS OF THE NEW COVENANT

THE NEW SANCTUARY

“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.” (9:11)

The old Tabernacle was designed by God, but it was made by men, out of material from the present physical creation. The new sanctuary, however, is made by God, in heaven, and of heavenly materials. Heaven is His dwelling place, His throne, and His sanctuary (Acts 7:48-50; 17:24). Christ ministers for us in heaven, in the throne room of God at God’s right hand. Unlike the Old covenant priests, our heavenly Priest takes His people with Him all the way into the sanctuary. “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20).

THE NEW SERVICES

“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.” (9:12)

Christ does three things, primarily. First, His service is in His own blood, not that of sacrificial animals. The Sacrificer was the Sacrifice. Second, He made His sacrifice only once, and that once was sufficient for all people of all time. Third, He obtained permanent, eternal redemption. He cleansed past, present, and future sins all in one act of redemption.

THE NEW SIGNIFICANCE

“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, 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?” (9:13-14)

The purpose of the old sacrifice was to symbolize, externally, the cleansing of sin. The purpose of the new sacrifice, however, was to cleanse actually, internally (where sin really exists). He through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, provided the cleansing of our consciences from dead works to serve the living God. In Christ, we are not cleaned-up old creatures but redeemed new creatures (2 Cor. 5:17). A sacrifice that has been offered once and for all, that is complete and perfect and eternal.

THE NEW COVENANT – A HEBREW PERSPECTIVE (8:1-13)

The primary focus of Hebrews 8 is on the New Covenant.

“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.” (8:1)

The Levitical priests never sat down. “And every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins” (Heb. 10:11). The priest’s job was never done, because the sacrifices he offered were never permanently effective. When Jesus Christ offered His sacrifice, however, He sat down (cf. 1:3). He was qualified to sit down because His work was done.

Christ sat down at the right hand of the throne of thrones, God’s heavenly, eternal throne. Even

more amazing is that, as believers, we will one day be invited to sit on that same throne. “He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Rev. 3:21).

“A minister in the sanctuary, and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man.” (8:2)

The sanctuary in which Jesus is a minister is infinitely superior to the one in which the Jewish priests ministered. Jesus does not minister in an impressive temple as the priests did. Jesus’ sanctuary is in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man and which can never rot or crumble or be destroyed.

True” is used here as opposed to the shadowy or unreal. Certain Greek mystical philosophers held that everything we see and hear, and touch is but a shadow or reflection of a “real” counterpart in another world. The earthly priesthood is only an inadequate shadow of the real priesthood.

“For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices; hence it is necessary that this high priest also have something to offer.” (8:3)

Jesus’ sacrifice and His atoning work is finished, but not His priestly ministry.

The gift offerings were given to represent personal dedication, commitment, and thanksgiving to the Lord. The blood offerings, on the other hand, were for cleansing from sin. Jesus has already ministered the one final blood sacrifice for the cleansing of sin that is sufficient for all people for all time.

But the need for His redeemed people to come to dedication and commitment and thanksgiving is not over. Just as no Israelite could offer either a gift or sacrifice to God except through a priest, so Christians cannot do so except through their High Priest. “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Col. 3:17; cf. Eph. 5:20).

It is obviously necessary, then, for Jesus to continue to minister in our behalf. He continually brings the gifts—the worship, the praise, the repentance, the dedication, the thanks—of the hearts of His people before the Father.

“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; 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.” (8:4-5)

During His earthly ministry, Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead, preached on the hillside and in the synagogue, forgave sins, and called Himself God’s true Son. But He never claimed the right to minister in the Temple. God never mixes the shadow with the substance, He ministers the new offerings in the new, heavenly sanctuary—built by God, not men (v. 2).

The Tabernacle built under Moses’ direction according to the pattern was not the original model, the type, that set the pattern for the more elaborate Temple and then the immeasurably still more elaborate heavenly sanctuary. The earthly was but a shadow.

“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.” (8:6)

Mediator means someone who stands between two people and brings them together. In religion a mediator represents both God and men. The Israelite mediators could not bring men and God together and were also only shadows.

The New Covenant not only has a better Mediator but better promises. As far as God’s covenants are concerned, it is always His promises that are significant.

“For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second. 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; 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. 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 upon their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be My people. And they shall not teach everyone his fellow citizen, and everyone his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for all shall know Me, from the least to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” When He said, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.” (8:7-13)

The Old Covenant was not false, but it had faults. Hebrews 8:8-12, with the exception of the first few words of verse 8, is a direct quotation from Jeremiah 31. Yet millions of Jews even today are hanging on tenaciously to the Old Covenant, even though their own Scriptures, through their own beloved prophet, have been telling them for well over 2,000 years that a new one was to come.

MADE WITH ISRAEL

I will effect a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah (v. 8; cf. v. 10). God has never made a covenant with Gentiles. The New Covenant is not made with the church, as some seem to think. It is made with the same people the Old Covenant was made with: Israel. Gentiles can be beneficiaries of the New Covenant, just like they could be beneficiaries of the Old (cf. Gen 12:3), because all the nations of the world were to be blessed in Abraham. But both covenants were made with Israel alone. Israel as a nation rejected God by rejecting His Son. But God has never rejected Israel, nor has He transferred His covenant with her to anyone else. “Salvation is from the Jews,” Jesus said (John 4:22).

“You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:6). Her calling was not ultimately conditional on her obedience or her faithfulness. Her blessedness was. She lost many blessings because of disobedience, but she never lost the calling (Rom. 11:29). She broke all the covenant laws, but she could not break the covenant. Jews today are still breaking the covenant laws and losing the covenant blessings.

When Gentiles are saved they become descendants of Abraham-spiritual descendants. “Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘All the nations shall be blessed in you’ ” (Gal. 3:7-8). “And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3:29).

“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 upon their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” (8:10)

Formerly God’s law was given on stone tablets and was to be written on wrists and foreheads and doorposts as reminders (Deut. 6:8-9). Even when the old law was given, of course, it was intended to be in His people’s hearts (Deut. 6:6). But the people could not write on their hearts like they could write on their doorposts. Now, however, the Spirit writes God’s law in the minds and hearts of those who belong to Him. in the New Covenant true worship is internal, not external, real, not ritual (cf. Ezek. 11:19-20, 36:26-27; John 14:17).

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

Every believer has a resident Helper, a resident Teacher, a resident Friend. “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:26).

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

Under the Old Covenant, sin were only covered, foreshadowing and anticipating true forgiveness in Jesus Christ. But for those who belong to His dear Son—whether they believed under the Old Covenant or under the New—God forgets every sin.

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

In sharing the gospel with Jews, one of the biggest stumbling blocks for them is the idea that the Old Covenant with its laws and ceremonies is done away with. The old sacrificial system actually was over when the veil was split in two and Christ’s sacrifice was complete (Matt. 27:50-51; Mark 15:37-39; Luke 23:44-46).

(MAIN SOURCE: MACARTHUR NEW TESTAMENT COMMENTARY – JOHN MACARTHUR)

HEBREWS STUDY PART 6: NEGLECTING SALVATION

THE BOOK OF HEBREWS

THE MARK OF TRUE BELIEVERS

We can know that we are really part of God’s house if we are “holding fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.” The one who falls away never belonged in the first place (cf. 1 John 2:19). “If you abide in My word,” Jesus said, “then you are truly disciples of Mine” (John 8:31). Apparently, there were many Jews who had fallen away when the book of Hebrews was written.

THE TRAGEDY OF NEGLECTING SALVATION (2:3)

This passage addresses those that are well aware of the good news of salvation provided in Jesus Christ but are not willing to commit their lives to Him. Therefore, they drift past the call of God into eternal damnation.

TEACHING DEMANDS A RESPONSE

Despite the rejection of His own people, their hardness of heart, and their history of persecuting God’s messengers, Jesus nevertheless ached for the salvation of the Jews. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling” (Matt. 23:37). On another occasion he told His Jewish listeners, “You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me, that you may have life” (John 5:39-40). He had a compassionate concern that His hearers respond.

WARNING TO THE INTELLECTUALLY CONVINCED

“How shall 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.” (2:3)

This warning cannot be directed to true reborn Christians or to those who have never heard the gospel. It was therefore directed to the non-Christian Jews who were intellectually convinced of the gospel but who failed to receive it for themselves. They were not willing to confess Him as Lord and Savior. The message, of course, is not restricted to Jewish nonbelievers.

DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS (3:7-19)

“Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, “Today if you hear His voice,” (3:7)

To hear the Holy Spirit and know the truth and not accept it brings worse judgment than never to have known it at all. To enforce the warning, the Spirit uses an Old Testament story very familiar to Jews. Hebrews 3:7-11 is a quotation of Psalm 95:7-11 that speaks about the time of Moses and describes Israel’s disobedience and rejection of God in the Exodus wanderings. The basic warning from the psalm (“Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts”) is used three times in Hebrews 3 (vv. 7-8, 13, 15) and once in chapter 4 (v. 7).

The word, “Today,” of course, indicates urgency. “For He says, ‘At the acceptable time I listened to you, and on the day of salvation I helped you’; behold, now is ‘the acceptable time,’ behold, now is ‘the day of salvation’ ” (2 Cor. 6:2). Today signifies the present time of grace. Nobody knows how long that time of grace for them will be before they die.

THE ILLISTRATION OF ISRAEL

“Do not harden your hearts as when they provoked Me, as in the day of trial in the wilderness.” (3:8)

Israel had been in Egypt for more than 400 years, the last 200 years or so as slaves. They left under Moses’ leadership. After they arrived for the trial in the wilderness, God continued to bless them with miracles. After each blessing they were satisfied only for a brief time. They soon started again to complain and to doubt God. They never really believed. For some forty years they wandered around in circles in a barren, desolate, and oppressive land—because of their unbelief.

“Where your fathers tried Me by testing Me, and saw My works for forty years.” (3:9)

The people of Israel kept testing God, and the day of trial lasted forty years. “They tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us, or not?’” (17:7) “Don’t be like these people,” pleads the writer of Hebrews. The one who tests God today does so for the same reason as did the Israelites in Moses day—to put Him off, because they love their sin, their own way, their own plans too much to give them up for God’s.

“Therefore I was angry with this generation, and said, “They always go astray in their heart; and they did not know My ways”; as I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest.’” (3:10-11)

God was extremely angry with Israel’s sin. As the Israelites finally neared the Promised Land, God commanded them to send out twelve men to spy it out before they entered. The majority report was extremely negative and pessimistic. As punishment, God said, “Surely all the men who have seen My glory and My signs, which I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness, yet have put Me to the test these ten times and have not listened to My voice, shall by no means see the land which I swore to their fathers, nor shall any of those who spurned Me see it” (Num. 14:22-23).

If Israel had more than enough evidence to trust God in Moses’ day, how much more do we have today? We have the evidence that Jesus Christ the Son of God died on a cross, rose again the third day, and lives and saves men. The evidence is in, the evidence is secure. Christ, the only begotten Son of the Father, has manifested God. He has declared Him, He has displayed His love, He has displayed His grace, He has sent the Holy Spirit. We do not need a Moses. In addition to all the historical evidence, we have the third Person of the Trinity to reveal Christ.

Even the generation that entered the land never knew God’s rest in the true sense. In A.D. 70 their Temple was destroyed and they have since been scattered across the world. Only in our own day has God begun to gather them back to a homeland. Israel’s final rest will come only in the Kingdom that His Son will build when He returns again.

THE INVITATION: TAKE HEED

“Take care, brethren, lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God.” (3:12)

The readers of Hebrews should not follow Israel’s example. “Brethren” in this verse is not a reference to Christians but rather refers to racial brothers, unbelieving Jews, as the term does throughout the book of Acts.

No matter how close a person may be to accepting Jesus Christ as Savior, if he never comes to Him, he still has an evil, unbelieving heart. His punishment will be all the more severe because of his knowledge of the living God. If you continue to follow your evil, unbelieving heart rather than the gospel, you will forever depart from the living God, and forfeit salvation rest.

THE INSTRUCTION: EXHORT ONE ANOTHER DAILY

“But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (3:13)

They are especially urged to help their unbelieving Jewish brethren by encouraging them not to harden their hearts but to accept Jesus as the Messiah, while the time for grace still exists.

Sin is deceitful and as the old nature constantly suggests that sin is not as bad and that trust in Christ is not as important as the Bible says.

CONTINUANCE IS PROOF OF SALVATION

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

The greatest proof of salvation is continuance in the Christian life. “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19).

THE ISSUE: UNBELIEF

“While it is said, “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts, as when they provoked Me.” For who provoked Him when they had heard? Indeed, did not all those who came out of Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they should not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? And so we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief.” (3:15-19)

The appeal to turn to the Lord without delay is repeated again. The disobedience of unbelief forfeits blessing and brings judgment. Not to trust in Him is fatal.

DULLNESS IN HEARING (5:11-14)

We have come to a section of Hebrews of which there are numerous and often conflicting interpretations, even among evangelicals. The overall passage is 5:11—6:12 and deals with spiritual maturity. The first two parts (5:11-14 and 6:1-8) address unbelievers, whereas the third (6:9-12) is aimed at believers.

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

“Him” refers to Melchizedek, who has first been mentioned vv. 6,10. The writer explains the order of Melchizedek in chapter 7.

The first warning (2:1-4) was about the Jews neglecting the gospel, and the second (3:7-19) was about hardening their hearts to it. The third warning concerns spiritual maturity and the danger of staying with the elemental truths and promises of the Old Covenant. All of these warnings were aimed at unbelieving Jews who knew a great deal about the gospel but who had not gone all the way to accepting it for themselves.

The maturity being called for is not that of a Christian’s growing in the faith, but of an unbeliever’s coming into the faith—into the full-grown, mature truths and blessings of the New Covenant. It refers to salvation, not Christian growth.

God’s revelation to man progresses from the Old to the New Testament. The Old Testament was His elementary, foundational teaching. Everything in the Old testament had purpose and benefit for the times for which it was given. But primarily, they were pictures of things to come, which the people were not then ready to understand. They were symbols and shadows of realities in Christ and the New Covenant (Col. 2:17). These Jews now had to move to the solid food of the New Testament.

DULLNESS PREVENTS UNDERSTANDING

The relation of Melchizedek and his priesthood to Christ cannot be understood by unbelievers. “A natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God … because they are spiritually appraised” (1 Cor. 2:14). There was no use going into the deeper things of the New Covenant at that time, because they had become dull of hearing.

These unbelieving Jews could not truly understand the gospel, of course, until they put their trust in the Bearer of the gospel. The more they hear it without accepting it, the more spiritually sluggish and hardened to it they become.

At one time they had been stirred and moved and open. They were once on the brink of salvation. By now, however, they had sunk into a rather settled state of spiritual stupor.

DULLNESS IS UNPRODUCTIVE

“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.” (5:12)

They had been exposed to a great deal of God’s truth, but because they had never truly accepted it, they had not grown in it—and could not grow in it. These Jews not only were unqualified to teach, but needed to go back to kindergarten.

THE FIRST PRINCIPLES OF GOD’S ORACLES

To the Jews, the oracles of God meant the laws and the mind of God as revealed in the Old Testament. They had had considerable exposure to the New Covenant, but they did not even comprehend the Old, as evidenced by their lack of ability to handle deeper truth about Melchizedek.

“Before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:23-24).

The law was a tutor that taught the first and basic truths about God. In the New Covenant we are not under the tutor anymore. We have “grown up.”

PROGRESS OR REGRESS

These Jews were slipping back into spiritual infancy. By neglect and hardness, they had come to the place where they could only handle milk again. They must be fed again like babies. They would have to start again from the bottom up, gradually increasing their spiritual perception and understanding.

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

A spiritual infant is not accustomed (apeiros) to deeper truths. A spiritual child could get some meaning out of the pictures and types of the Old Testament but not out of the word of righteousness of the gospel.

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

The mature believer has discernment about what is right and wrong, true and false, helpful and harmful, righteous and unrighteous. Judaism is the infancy they are to leave in order to go on to the maturity of manhood by faith in the New Covenant Messiah.

THE POINT OF NO RETURN (6:1-8)

Persistent rejection of Christ may result in such persons’ passing the point of no return spiritually, of losing forever the opportunity of salvation. By not accepting the gospel when it was still “news,” these first century Jews had begun to grow indifferent to it and had become spiritually sluggish, neglectful, and hard. They were, in fact, in danger of going back to Judaism.

“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, of instruction about washings, and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.” (6:1-2)

Leaving and press on to maturity are the first step in these Jews’ becoming spiritually mature. At no time does the Word of God suggest that a Christian drop the basics of Christianity and go on to something else. These Jews therefore had to leave all their ties with the Old Covenant, with Judaism, and accept Jesus Christ as Savior. They needed to abandon the shadows, the types, the pictures, and the sacrifices of the old economy and come to the reality of the New Covenant in Jesus Christ.

“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, 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?” (Heb. 9:13-14).

INCOMPLETE OLD TESTAMENT FEATURES

(A separate part of our study will address the differences between the Old Testament and Covenant on the one hand, and the New Testament and Covenant on the other, in more detail).

REPENTANCE FROM DEAD WORKS

Repentance of sin was preached in the Old Testament, but the doctrine of repentance becomes mature and complete, in Jesus Christ. Now that the New Covenant is in effect, repentance is meaningless without faith in Jesus Christ. “No one comes to the Father, but through Me,” said Jesus (John 14:6).

FAITH TOWARD GOD

Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father, but through Me.” (John 14:6).Peter said, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). There is no way to the Father except through the Son. “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

The Old Testament taught repentance from dead works and faith toward God. The New Testament teaches repentance in faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ, the only Way to God. The distinction is clear. The Jews addressed in this letter believed in God; but they were not saved.

INSTRUCTION ABOUT WASHINGS

(The King James translation (“doctrine of baptisms”) is misleading, especially since everywhere else, including Hebrews 9:10, the same Greek word (baptismos) is translated washings. The passage is not addressed to Christians.)

The Old Testament predicted that one day, ceremonial cleansings would be replaced by a spiritual one that God Himself would give: “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols” (Ezek. 36:25).

LAYING ON OF HANDS

This laying on of hands has nothing to do with the apostolic practices (Acts 5:18; 6:6; 8:17; 1 Tim. 4:14; etc.). Under the Old Covenant the person who brought a sacrifice had to put his hands on it, to symbolize his identification with it (Lev. 1:4; 3:8, 13).

Christians lay hold of Christ by putting your trust in Him.

RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD

The Old Testament doctrine of resurrection is not clear or complete. In the New Testament, resurrection is one of the major and most detailed doctrines. Christ said, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).

ETERNAL JUDGMENT

“God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:14). Again, in the New Testament we are told a great deal more about eternal judgment.

The point of Hebrews 6:1-2 is simply that the unbelieving Jews should let go completely of the immature, elementary shadows and symbols of the Old Covenant and take hold of the mature and perfect reality of the New.

THE POWER

“And this we shall do, if God permits” (6:3)

“No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44). By teacher and seeker alike, God’s sovereignty should always be recognized.

FIVE GREAT ADVANTAGES

“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, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come.” (6:4-5)

1 THEY HAD BEEN ENLIGHTENED

Take notice that this passage makes no reference at all to salvation. Those who have once been enlightened are not spoken of as born again, made holy, or made righteous. The enlightenment spoken of here means to be mentally aware of something and carries no connotation of response—of acceptance or rejection, belief or disbelief.

Seeing God’s light and accepting it are not the same. Consequently, they were in danger of losing all opportunity of being saved, and of becoming apostate. “For if after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment delivered to them” (2 Pet. 2:20-21). Because of their unbelief, the light that was given to save them became a judgment against them.

2 THEY HAD TASTED OF THE HEAVENLY GIFT

The heavenly gift could be one of several things. The greatest heavenly gift, of course, is Christ Himself (God’s “indescribable gift,” 2 Cor. 9:15) and the salvation He brought (Eph. 2:8). Sadly, they only tasted it but did not receive it. Eternal life comes from eating the living bread, not simply tasting it.

3 THEY HAD PARTAKEN OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

Partakers (Greek, metochos) has to do with association, not possession. These Jews had never possessed the Holy Spirit, although they had seen and even participated in numerous signs, wonders, miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit. Thus, they did not have His indwelling.

4 THEY HAD TASTED THE WORD OF GOD

Tasting is the first step to eating. “O taste and see that the LORD is good” (Ps. 34:8). But hey just kept tasting, without swallowing it. Before long, its appealing taste was gone, and they became indifferent to it.

5 THEY HAD TASTED THE POWERS OF THE AGE TO COME

They saw the apostles do signs and wonders like those that will be reproduced in the millennial kingdom of Jesus Christ. How guilty they will stand before God in the great white throne judgment.

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

This warning once again speaks to the unsaved who have heard the truth and acknowledged it, but who have hesitated to embrace Christ. They are in danger of losing salvation—in the sense of losing the opportunity ever to receive it. There is no other salvation message they could hear, no evidence of the truth of the gospel they had not seen. They not only reject the gospel, but crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame.

Many interpreters, however, hold that the passage teaches that salvation can be lost. If true, it would then also mean that once lost, salvation could never be regained. This is wrong as Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:27-29). “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). If by Christ’s death we can be saved, certainly by His life of power and intercession we can be kept saved (Rom. 5:10).

They had turned around and gone back to Judaism. They therefore agreed with those who killed Jesus, and they put Him to an open shame again. Shame here connotes guilt. They declared openly that Jesus was guilty as charged. When a person goes away from Him in full light, he places Him on the cross again, in his own heart, and puts himself forever out of the Lord’s reach. “How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled underfoot 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?” (Heb. 10:29).

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

All those who hear the gospel are like the earth. The rain falls, the gospel message is heard. The gospel seed is planted but some of the growth is false and unproductive and become good only for burning.

A MESSAGE TO THE BELIEVERS (6:9-12)

“But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way. 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. And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” (6:9-12)

After the severest of warnings, comes the most loving of appeals and is speaking of things that accompany salvation. First the writer gives a brief word to the believers, who through faith and patience inherit the promises, and who should be imitated by the unbelievers. (The word “beloved” is never used in Scripture to refer to unbelievers.)

ACCOMPANIMENTS OF SALVATION

Many things accompany salvation. They do not reflect external ceremonial religion but internal regeneration, transformation, new life. Their significance comes not from repeated sacrifices but from the one perfect and complete sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The focus in not just on being enlightened but on being made new.

GOD DOES NOT FORGET HIS OWN

“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.” (6:10)

The proof that the Hebrews addressed in 6:9-10 were true believers was their loving, faithful, and continuing ministry to fellow believers. They had ministered and were still ministering. A Christian’s works are not what saved him or what keep him saved, but they are an evidence of his salvation (cf. John 13:34-35). Our faith is demonstrated by our works (James 2:18, 26).

But an even more significant evidence is love shown toward His name. The key to true Christian service is a burning love for the Lord. To love His name is to have a passionate desire for the glory of all that God is. Speaking of some traveling ministers, John says of them, “For they went out for the sake of the Name” (3 John 7).

God knows who are really His and who are faithful. He will not forget His own or their work for Him and they will not lose their salvation. “A book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the LORD and who esteem His name. ‘And they will be Mine,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘. . . I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him’ ” (Mal. 3:16-17).

“And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, that you may not be sluggish, but be imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” (6:11-12)

Here, writer is again speaking to the unbelievers, those who had made some sort of profession of faith but who were in imminent danger of falling back into Judaism and of losing forever their opportunity for salvation. They should look at the true believers as an example of true faith to become co-inheritance of the eternal promise. Just as they were sluggish in hearing, they were sluggish in believing. The time for accepting Christ is never later; it is always now. “Now is ‘the acceptable time,’ behold, now is the ‘the day of salvation’” (2 Cor. 6:2).

(MAIN SOURCE: MACARTHUR NEW TESTAMENT COMMENTARY – JOHN MACARTHUR)