C. Gospel fellowship in the flesh (2:10-13):
Verse 10 is the “gospel verse” of Hebrews. Paul had revealed to the Colossian saints in reference to the now crowned King that “all things were created through Him and for Him” (Cl 1:16). Therefore, it was appropriate “for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things,” to be the origin also of eternal salvation for those who would seek to be His brethren whom He would bring into eternity. In order to do this, the Son could not remain in the “form of God,” but had to empty Himself into the flesh of man for an offering for the sins of those whom He would bring into eternal glory (Ph 2:5-8).
Those who are sanctified—that is us—and the One who sanctifies—that is Jesus—are brothers because of the love offering of the Father. The love offering of the Son brought us into brotherhood with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Because we have been cleansed of sin by His blood, He can now have a brotherhood relationship with us. This relationship could exist only when the sin that separates us from God was washed away by the blood offering of the Son of God (See Is 59:1,2; compare At 22:16).
It is not, therefore, that we seek to establish conditions for ourselves in order to have a relationship with God. It is He who sought to establish a relationship with us. Through the offering of His Son He has accepted us. It is our responsibility to accept His acceptance of us through our obedience to the gospel of His Son.
In the prophetic context of Psalm 22, David rejoiced in his willingness to proclaim the name of the Father in the assembly of Israel when the Israelites came together for their feasts of celebration. The Hebrew scribe applied the statement to the Son of Man who would joyfully proclaim the name of the Father in the midst of His assembly (church) of the sanctified (See Ep 5:19; Cl 3:16).
The declaration and celebration of brotherhood between the resurrected Son, and those who were sanctified by His suffering, can be possible only on the foundation of the gospel of grace that was revealed through the suffering Servant, who at the time of writing, was the crowned King.
Because His brothers had previously risen from the grave of baptism, having washed (cleansed) away their sins in their obedience to the gospel (At 22:16), they were claimed as brothers by the Sanctifier. Our trust is now in Him, not in ourselves. Our righteousness is from Him, not from ourselves in our former religiosity wherein we sought to self-sanctify ourselves through works of merit. “Therefore, having been justified by faith [in Him], we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rm 5:1).
D. Gospel deliverance (2:14-18):
In order to accomplish all the preceding, there was the necessity of incarnation. Brotherhood between God and man could never have been pronounced from heaven, or made possible on earth, without the demonstration of incarnation on the part of Deity. There had to be an eternal sacrifice on the part of the One who brought all flesh into existence. And since the flesh of bulls, sheep and goats are all created flesh, they could never be a satisfactory offering for the sins of humanity against God (See Hb 10:1-4). The offering of animals was insufficient because animals had no choice in their offering under the Sinai law. The incarnate Son of God, on the other hand, offered Himself (Ph 2:7). Of His own will He made a choice to transition between spirit and flesh in order to be a suitable offering for those who would later seek to transition into eternity.
Therefore, “since the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise partook of the same.” This is the gospel of the incarnation. Before creation, the Father, Son and Spirit determined the totality of the gospel. Since God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are love, then they had to create that which they could love. But in order for those of “flesh and blood” to respond sincerely with love to their Creator, they had to be created free to make all their moral decisions.
There was thus risk in the creation of flesh and blood. The risk was that the created would have the volition to reject the love of the Father, Son and Spirit. And for this reason, the Son had to volunteer Himself as the reconciliatory offering to bring “flesh and blood” into fellowship with the Father, Son and Spirit (Ph 2:7).
Since the created were in the bondage of “flesh and blood,” they needed to be delivered from the bondage by death. The good news of the incarnation, therefore, was necessary. But the gospel had to move beyond incarnation. Offering was necessary in order to reveal love (Jn 3:16). Offering was necessary in order to “give aid to the seed of Abraham,” whom we are by faith (Gl 3:7). Aid need not to be given to angels, for they are always in the presence of God (Lk 1:19). Therefore, we needed One to stand in the presence of God on our behalf (1 Tm 2:5). So the crucified and resurrected Christ ascended “to appear in the presence of God for us” (Hb 9:24). He is there as our high priest and mediator.
It was necessary, therefore, that the Son of God would truly give up being in the form of God (Ph 2:6). It was necessary in order that He “be made like His brethren.” This was all necessary in order “that He be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God.” If these things did not transpire in the existence of the eternal Word, then there could have never been an “atoning sacrifice for the sins of the people.”
It is not that the Son of God was incarnate with reservations. He could sin. He could suffer. He could be tempted, as we, to sin against the God of His origins (See Mt 4:1-17). And because He was able in all ways to suffer and be tempted as His brethren in the flesh, “He is able to aid those who are tempted.” He is a Savior who can empathize with our needs. Though He is now our King in heavenly places, He understands our predicament in the bondage of “flesh and blood.”
[THE COMPLETE BOOK OF HEBREWS WILL BE PUBLISHED BY THE END OF MARCH. GO TO www.africainternational.org FOR THE ANNOUNCEMENT AND DOWNLOAD OF THIS VERY INSPIRING DEVOTIONAL COMMENTARY.]
B. Gospel coronation (2:5-9):
It may have been that the readers did not fully understand the atonement of the cross, nor the present gospel reign of King Jesus. So the writer takes their minds back to their marginalization of King Jesus through their exaltation of angels. He reminded the readers that the Father “did not subject the world to come to angels.”
Whenever it is revealed in Scripture that something that is created exists is subjected to someone above creation, then that One to whom all things are subjected is either the Father or Son. Before the gospel coronation of the Son, God the Father was King over all things (See Ps 10:16; 22:27,28; 24:10; 44:4; Is 33:22). But in prophecy during the days of Israel, David spoke of a new King who was coming, and a transition in kingship over all things (Ps 8:6-8).
The “Son of Man” was indeed through incarnation made “a little lower than the angels.” For this reason we believe that no angel was ever incarnate into the flesh of man. Only the Son of Man made this incarnational journey into the flesh of man (Ph 2:5-8). However, though He was lowered to the flesh of man from the spirit in which He, as God, was in eternity, the Father “raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places” (Ep 1:20). In the coronation, the Son was “crowned with glory and honor.” And not only that, the Father “appointed Him over the works” of creation.
In the good news event of the resurrection is the fact that the Son of God had to have been in the flesh of man in order to be raised from the dead. In the coronation, He had to be Deity, for only God can reign over all created things. All things could be subjected only to Him who was the Creator, and thus He was above all that which was created (Cl 1:16).
We must not assume, however, that the incarnate Son reversed His incarnation at the time of His coronation. There is no reference in the New Testament that states that Paul’s revelation of the incarnation of the Son of God into the flesh of man that is revealed in Philippians 2:6,7 was ever reversed when the Son ascended on high (See Jn 1:1,2,14). All we know is that one is an antichrist if he or she does not confess that the Son of God is in the future coming in the flesh. By John’s use of the present tense in the following statement that was written at least sixty years after the coronation of King Jesus, we can only make assumptions as to the present existence of the Son of God:
“For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess that Jesus Christ is coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist” (2 Jn 7).
We know that the Son of God will come in bodily form as He ascended (At 1:11). And John reminded us, “It has not yet been revealed what we will be. But we know that when He appears, we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He is” (1 Jn 3:2). If we will be like Him when He comes, then He evidently will return with flesh and bones as He was at the ascension, or as what Paul reveals we will be when our mortal body puts on immortality in the heavenly body (See 1 Co 15:35-57). However, we must not forget that Paul said that we do not now know Christ according to the flesh (2 Co 5:16). Christ does not have to be in the flesh and bones as He was after the resurrection and at the time of His ascension (Lk 24:39). At His final coming we will see Him as He will be as our resurrected body. These are things that do not confuse our understanding of what He now is as King and Priest. They are things beyond our understanding.
The writer referred his Jewish audience to Psalm 8:6-8. Some would assert that David was speaking in this context of man only. David was certainly referring to man in the original context in which the Holy Spirit first had the statement inscribed by the prophet David. However, the original inscription was a metaphorical prophecy in reference to the Son of God. There was an earthly meaning in reference to man at the time David wrote, but a heavenly fulfillment in reference to the ascended Christ at the time the Hebrew writer wrote. This prophecy was not understood in this manner until the Holy Spirit referred the readers back to His library of Old Testament books and quoted the statement in reference to the coronation of the Son of God.
The preceding understanding is revealed in the fact that “subjection” is in the present tense in reference to something that was happening at the time the Hebrew writer inscribed these words. We note that at this time King Jesus reigns over all things. “You have put all things in subjection under his feet.” Though the created world was subjected to man’s desires and use from the beginning, the living metaphor is now applied to the Son of Man over all things (See Gn 1:26).
The subjection of all things to the kingdom reign of the Son was complete. The Father “left nothing that is not put under Him.” This is more than the Son being the King of a church of disciples. His kingdom reign extends far beyond the church, for His kingdom extends to all that has been created, both visible and invisible (Cl 1:16; 1 Pt 3:22). The readers limited understanding of the kingdom reign of the Son of God may have been one of the causes of their apostasy to make earthly kings, especially the Roman Empire, more important in their theology than King Jesus.
Here is a crucial point to remember in reference to the universal kingdom reign of King Jesus: “But now we do not yet see all things put under Him.” We can see the visible church of disciples who are the submitted subjects of the kingdom. However, this visible church of submitted subjects does not constitute the entirety of the kingdom of the Son of Man. His kingdom reign extends far beyond the church, though we in the flesh, with limited perception, do not see His reign over all things including angels.
We live in a world of rebellion. We live in a world of conflict between good and evil. We do not conclude that this world is out of control, for the writer reassured us previously that everything is under control, for King Jesus upholds all things by the word of His power (Hb 1:3). However, we must not make the erroneous conclusion that social chaos in this world infers that things are out of control of the One who ascended on high.
Jesus is King and head of all the kings of this world. He is Lord of all the lords of this world (1 Tm 6:15). To assume anything contrary to the totality of His kingship is to minimize His gospel reign. To assume that His kingdom is composed only of obedient subjects (the church) is an attack on the present gospel reign of Jesus.
In this context, the limitation of the kingdom reign of King Jesus was one of the points of theology that laid the foundation for the apostasy of those to whom the document of Hebrews was directed. As the writer will reveal later in this document, in their marginalization of the King, they also marginalized the ministry of His present priesthood. And surely, this is what the readers were doing in their comparison of Jesus to angels.
We do not understand why some would believe that angels, as our ministering spirits, would work in the affairs of man for the sake of the saints, while at the same time, Jesus as the King of kings and Lord of lords supposedly cannot. But we do understand. From the corrections that the Hebrew writer made, we conclude that any limitations that we place on King Jesus as He now functions are also limitations of what He now does as our high priest and mediator between God and man (1 Tm 2:5).
So the Hebrew writer gives us a reality shock. We do “see Jesus who was made a little lower than the angels.” But there was a purpose for His “lowering.” The purpose was to bring “many sons to glory.” In order to do this, the atonement of the cross was necessary. His crowning with glory and honor was necessary. All this was necessary in order that “by the grace of God” He “might taste death for everyone.”
[Next in series: February 19]
Erroneous beliefs have consequences. They have consequences because they are carried out in our behavior. Our core beliefs determine our values, and our values determine our behavior. When the mandate was stated in Scripture to “belief on Jesus,” it was assumed that the believer would follow through with gospel behavior.
Emphasis on the gospel according to Hebrews reveals the inner core of our beliefs, and thus our hearts. Legal religiosity deals more with the head, but gospel deals with our hearts. So the Hebrew writer now takes us into the inner sanctuary of our hearts lest we turn away from our gospel commitment that was initiated at the time when our belief in Jesus was carried out in our obedience to the gospel in baptism.
A. Gospel announcement (2:1-4):
Because it is the gospel that motivates correct responses in reference to the commandments of God, “we must give more earnest attention to the things that we have heard so that we do not drift away.” The writer now brings up the example of the Israelites who did not give the more earnest heed to the things that were spoken to them. Being of Jewish heritage, the readers remember their apostate history as a nation in the past.
These statements reminded the readers “not to drift away” from those things that they heard. The assumption is that there is always the possibility of apostasy from our initial commitment to the gospel. For the Christian, obedience to the gospel is never a “once-saved-always-saved” conversion. There are no guarantees on faithfulness that work outside our own volition to remain faithful to our call through the gospel. Faithfulness is never enforced by outside influences, nor by the Holy Spirit inside us. Faithfulness is always the responsibility of the individual.
For example, “The word spoken [to Israel] through angels proved steadfast” (See At 7:53). Under the Sinai law that was delivered to Moses through angels, “every transgression and disobedience received a just punishment.” With disobedience to the word of God through the Sinai law came consequences. Embedded within the Sinai law was the principle that one must be taught obedience to that which was commanded (See Dt 6). Their being taught obedience assumed that if they were not taught, they would fall from the grace of God (See Hs 4:6; 2 Pt 3:18). And this they did.
The above illustration concerning Israel is understood in reference to turning from something that is far greater than the Sinai law. If the readers “neglect such a great salvation” that came to them through the Son of God, then they must not assume that there will be no consequences. Since the message of the gospel was initially spoken from the mouth of the incarnate Son of God, and then was confirmed by the signs that followed, how can we question the truth of the spoken word of the gospel? How can we escape just punishment if every we turn from the gospel?
It was Nicodemus who came in the night and said to the Lord, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him” (Jn 3:2). In the beginning of the gospel, the Christ-sent apostles initially proclaimed the gospel through spoken words. As did Jesus, they too had their message of the gospel miraculously confirmed (See Mk 16:20).
If the truth of the good news was miraculously confirmed and obeyed, then there is no excuse or escape for those who turn from the gospel. It is not that they have revised or changed some outline of law. They have turned from the blood of the Lamb of God who cleansed them.
The writer will not let this point go, for he will return to the subject of apostasy later in the book (See Hb 6:4-6). He will so return because of the eternal consequences of the one who turns from the gospel. His or her example of apostasy would be manifested before the world. In another context, the Holy Spirit gave a commentary on this matter:
“For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb, “A dog returns to his own vomit,” and, “a sow that was washed, to her wallowing in the mire” (2 Pt 2:20-22).
The spoken word of the gospel was miraculously confirmed, not by miracles being worked on the obedient, but on those who had not yet believed. Confirming miracles revealed the power of God in the messengers of God in order that people believe the message. But once they believed, there was no demonstration of miracles among the disciples for the purpose that they continue to believe the gospel. The Spirit correctly assumed that the power of the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension and coronation of Jesus Christ would motivate individuals to remain faithful. These who were on the verge of apostasy in this historical context could not blame God for not working any miracles in their lives in order that they remain faithful.
Once one was obedient to the gospel, then there is no excuse for turning from the heart of God that was revealed on the cross. There is no excuse for rebelling against King Jesus who now reigns. The Hebrew writer continues through his description of the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension and reign of the incarnate Son of God. The good news of the events were miraculously confirmed by the Holy Spirit. There is no desire for repentance on the part of those who have turned their backs on this gospel that God has revealed for the salvation of the apostate. The writer seems to indicate that the potential apostates to whom he is writing had all the blessings in order to encourage them to obey the gospel. However, the lure of legal Judaism was so strong that they were turning their backs on the heart of God that was revealed through the gospel of the Son of God.
It is relevant to mention here that the writer is addressing baptized disciples who had been blessed with the Holy Spirit. From what was transpiring in their lives at this time, the writer made no mention of the Holy Spirit guarding them from their apostasy. He makes no mention of miracles in their lives to encourage their faithfulness. This is significant in reference to our understanding of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
At least we understand from what the writer states in this context that it is not the Spirit’s responsibility to guard us from apostasy. It is not because the writer makes no mention of the Spirit being responsible for their apostasy, or for them to call upon the Spirit to guard them from falling. Neither are there any instructions that they turn to the Spirit for help in reference to their faith in the power of the gospel.
There are no calls for miracles in the lives of the potential apostates in order to keep them faithful. The writer’s efforts to restore those who were wavering is based solely on reminding them of their knowledge of the gospel of God’s grace that was many years before miraculously confirmed to be true. Their problem was that they did not grow in the knowledge of who Jesus now is and the gospel of grace (Hb 5:11,12; see 2 Pt 3:18).
[Next in series: February 17]
B. Gospel authority and reign of the rightful heir (1:5-14):
When comparing Jesus with angels, we must always remember that the Lord Jesus has “become so much better than the angels.” Angels never had a father-son relation as the Father and Son, about which the Father said, “You are My Son … I will be to Him a Father and He will be to Me a Son.” Such statements were never made to angels concerning their relationship with God.
On the contrary, angels are spirits and “His ministers” who have been sent forth for the sake of those who believe. Only this one statement is made in Scripture concerning the ministry of angels in reference to Christians. We would thus be cautious about making too many declarations concerning the ministry of angels and what they do in our lives. Nevertheless, the statement is made, and thus we assume that they are not idle bystanders in reference to their ministry for us. They will do their ministry regardless of our feeble understanding of what and how they do their ministry.
But in reference to the gospel ministry of the Son, it was as Peter announced on Pentecost, “Let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this same Jesus whom you have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (At 2:36). Jesus now functions in a gospel ministry. He was seated at the right hand of God on the throne of authority, which throne receives authority from the throne of God in heaven. It is this authority that God has always exercised over all things. His “scepter [of a king] of righteousness, is the scepter” of the present kingdom reign of the One who was at the time the Hebrew letter was written, “both Lord and Christ.” He still is today (At 2:36).
The writer seeks to prevail upon our minds with the fact that unless we honor the present kingdom reign of King Jesus, the gospel of His reign will have little impact on our behavior. We are less motivated to be obedient subjects of the King if we believe that the King is limited in reign only to the church of obedient subjects. When we realize that Jesus “has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him,” then we too are cut to the heart (See 1 Pt 3:22). Realizing the totality of the gospel reign of Jesus humbles us into submission as loyal subjects. It brings reassurance to our souls to know that all things are under His control.
Therefore, as King, Jesus is above His companions, the angels. He has received all authority in the heavenly realm, as well as on earth (Mt 28:18). Angels have no such place of authority in the realm of heavenly things. In fact, even angels are subjects of His kingdom reign.
In the beginning when creation was first conceived in the mind of God, angels were brought into existence. We do not know if they were created before the creation of the material world, or after. We only know what Paul wrote of this matter to the Colossians: “By Him [the Son of God] all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible” (Cl 1:16). Through the Holy Spirit, Paul revealed that angels were also the result of the creative work of the Son (Cl 1:16). Angels are not incarnate beings, for they are the “invisible” of that which was created. “You, Lord [Jesus], in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth.” No angel ever had the power of Deity to lay the foundation of the world. That which was created had no power to create.
“They [the creation] will perish, but You remain [after they have long passed away] (See 2 Pt 3:10). And according to the second law of thermodynamics, that which was created will wax old. Since that which was created was so created out of that which does not exist (Hb 11:3), then all that was created is not inherently eternal. All that was brought into existence by the Lord Jesus can also be taken out of existence by the same Creator. All material things as gold will perish (1 Pt 1:7). Since we and angels were the product of creation, then neither we nor they are inherently eternal (See Mt 10:28). Our eternal existence is dependant on our being in the presence of Him who is inherently eternal.
But there are those things that are inherently eternal because He is eternal. We “were not redeemed with corruptible things … but with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Pt 1:18,19). “The word of the Lord endures forever” (1 Pt 1:25). These are eternal things. So Peter reminds us that “this is the word by which the gospel was preached” to us (1 Pt 1:25). As opposed to that which is solely of this world, the affect of the blood of Christ will continue into eternity. It is for this reason that through the cross, Jesus “became the author of eternal salvation to all those who obey Him” (Hb 5:9).
“You [King Jesus] are the same” in existence from the beginning of creation. It is not possible for Deity to go out of existence, or to change in nature of existence. Eternality is the definition of God, and thus there is no end of that which God is. Contrary to our need for spiritual growth, there is no need for spiritual growth in reference to the nature of God. Holiness is the nature of His being. He is the spiritual goal to which we strive to grow. “As He who has called you is holy, so you be holy in all manner of behavior” (1 Pt 1:15).
Change in reference to the nature of God would be a logical contradiction concerning His very existence. God is not subservient to the constant changes of man. If there were changes in the nature and character of God, then we would know that we have created a god after our own imagination, for He would be a god who changes. But God is unchangeable, as well as His counsel (See Hb 6:17,18).
We are not puzzled with the Holy Spirit’s statement in Philippians 2:6,7:
“Being in the form of God, [the Son of God] did not consider it robbery to be equal with God. But He made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant and being made in the likeness of men.”
We find no passage in the entire New Testament that states that this voluntary incarnation on the part of the Son of God was reversed. Since He transformed from flesh and blood before the burial, to flesh and bone after the resurrection, we stand with the disciples who witnessed His bodily ascension (At 1:9). If we are alive when He comes again, “we will see Him as He is” (1 Jn 3:2). We can only assume that as He was when the disciples witnessed His body in His ascension, so He will be when He comes again. Therefore, we are not of those about whom John wrote:
“For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess that Jesus Christ is coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist” (2 Jn 7).
Nevertheless, we say these things in view of what Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:16: “Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no more.” We assume that Paul’s use of the word “flesh” is in reference to the incarnation. If so, then in some way the incarnate Son is no longer in the flesh as He functions as our King and Priest. He would thus be in some spirit form, though His equality with the Father and Spirit was given up in the incarnation. This relationship with the Father seems to have been an eternal subjugation on the part of the Son. This relationship seems to be revealed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:3: “The head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God.”
Are these things too difficult to understand by those who are presently in the flesh? Certainly! Nevertheless, we must understand these statements exactly as they read in our text. This is in view of the fact that there are no statements of Scripture that affirm that the incarnate Son will ever return to being equal with God, though He never gave up His divinity. For God to give up divinity is an impossibility.
We would assume that the Son will not for the sake of what the Hebrew writer will later reveal in the following chapter. Of course, our lack of revelation on this matter leaves room for our personal assumptions. Nevertheless, we must remain with what has been revealed without frustrating ourselves with present and future realities in the spiritual realm of which we have little revelation (See Dt 29:29).
His love for us beyond angels is tremendously exemplified if there is anything near the notion of an incarnation of the Son of God that will exist beyond the time when we see Him as He is in His final coming (1 Jn 3:2). His sacrifice was far beyond the suffering of His earthly existence, including the agony of the cross. His incarnational sacrifice was forever. If we would exalt angels to be in status as the incarnate Son of God, then we have denied the gospel of the incarnation.
No angels, therefore, could ever have the following declaration made to them: “Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies Your footstool.” Only our Lord Jesus had enemies, and thus only He heard these words from the Father. Angels have no earthly enemies. This statement, therefore, could never have been made to them. Angels are only “ministering spirits sent forth to minister to those who will inherit salvation.” Any theology, therefore, that would exalt angels above Jesus, or even equate angels with Jesus, is a denial of the gospel.
Our understanding of the gospel must begin with the incarnation of the Word into the flesh of man. His eternality was temporarily suspended while He was in the flesh of man. As God, He could not be terminated, though His flesh as a man could. Nevertheless, as we will be in our heavenly body that is yet to come, so also will the resurrected Jesus in His resurrected body when He comes again (See 1 Co 15:12-58; 1 Jn 3:2). Through the power of the resurrection, He was proved to be the Son of God with power (Rm 1:4). The power that raised Him from the dead is the same power that works today in the transformation of our lives.
Any efforts to equate Jesus with angels is an attack against the resurrection of the body of Jesus. Angels were never incarnate into the flesh of man in a way that they could be rejuvenated through resurrection into a body of flesh and bones in which they would dwell with us throughout eternity. God indeed allowed angels to appear before men throughout history. But we must not believe that they were incarnate into flesh and blood as Jesus at the time of His incarnation. If they had, then such would have been an attack against the unique gospel incarnation of Jesus that both John and Paul revealed (See Jn 1:1,2,14; Ph 2:5-8).
[Next in series: February 13]
All the revelation from God, both written and real, is about bringing all those who have faith in Him into eternal dwelling with Him. This eternal plan of redemption is focused on what God planned to do before the creation in order to introduce into this world the incarnation of Himself for the purpose of taking all believers out of this world.
Deliverance from this world is good news to all of us who all our lives have realized that this life cannot be all there is. God knew that reasonable people would come to this conclusion. So from the very beginning when mankind was created through Adam and Eve, sincere people realized that it is not possible to live without sin against God. With the creation of mankind, therefore, there was need for a divine plan of forgiveness for sin that would eventually be introduced into this world. So the promise of a Seed of deliverance was made (Gn 3:15). In view of the Seed to come, those who put their faith in God waited for the mystery that God would eventually reveal (Gn 3:15).
The promise of the Seed of woman continued throughout history from the time when Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden of Eden until the last century B.C. The fulfillment of the seedline promise was eventually announced with a cry from a babe in a manger in Bethlehem. The good news (gospel) of the incarnate Son of God was finally activated, for the time had been fulfilled (See Lk 2:8-20). Anno domini (A.D.) became a paradigm shift in history.
“When the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under law, in order to redeem those who were under law, so that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Gl 4:4,5).
A. Gospel revelation through the Son (1:1-4):
From the beginning of time, and until the revelation of the Word into the flesh of a babe in Bethlehem, God worked for millennia to prepare the world for the arrival of the One who would redeem souls out of the world. In preparation for the arrival of the incarnate Seed, God, through chosen prophets, laid the foundation of faith for the incarnational birth. He did so through dreams, visions, historical events, and the preaching of the message of His Seed through His chosen people Israel.
When Israel was near unto completing her purpose for existence as a nation, God’s final message to the world was through the incarnate Son of God. So “in the beginning [of the world], was the Word [God the Son], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God [divine/deity]” (Jn 1:1). “All things were made by Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” (Jn 1:3).
“He [the Father] has appointed [His Son] heir of all things.” The reason the Son of God was the heir of all things was logically based on the fact that all things were created by Him (Cl 1:16). And thus, it was only right that all authority over all things eventually be given to the Son. It was also logical that He would be given the right to reign over all things (Mt 28:18; Ep 1:21-23; Ph 2:9-11). Since the Son was the origin of all things, then it was only reasonable to conclude that all things should be brought under His control when He ascended on high.
Through the incarnation of the Word (Jn 1:14), the brilliant identity (glory) of God was revealed to mankind (2 Co 4:4). The Son was “the exact image of His nature,” in that Jesus reflected the spiritual nature of the Father. Since God is love (1 Jn 4:8), then it was necessary that the love of God through the sacrificial offering of the incarnate God be revealed to man in the form of man. To accomplish this objective, the Son of God, “being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God” (Ph 2:6). Therefore, “He made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant and being made in the likeness of men” (Ph 2:7). Subsequently, “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14).
The revelation of the incarnate Word was the “exact image of His [God’s] nature” of love, for God so loved His creation that He was willing to come in the flesh of man in order to bring a resurrected people of faith into His company forever (Jn 3:16).
From the beginning, God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have upheld “all things by the word of His power.” As the Creator, the Son did not create that which would be out of control, or digress into chaos. We must never conclude, therefore, that a chaotic world was created, nor that this world was left to itself to imploded into nonexistence. The world will not be destroyed by any natural catastrophe, or cosmic collision of the heavenly bodies. It will be terminated only when the eternal God determines that it has fulfilled its purpose for its existence (See 2 Pt 3:10-13). Once this world ceases to produce citizens for heaven, then we assume that it will be terminated, for it will have at the time of termination concluded the purpose for which it was created.
The guarantee of our hope is the good news that the resurrected and ascended Word is King of the universe, and thus, all termination of this world is under His control. The present function of His kingdom reign is over all creation. We must view the reign of King Jesus to be far beyond the church of His obedient subjects. If we do not, then these statements of the Hebrew writer make no sense. These statements are not about church (us), but about the totalitarian control of the Son of God over all things. The fact that the universe is not out of control is evidence that His reign is over all that which must be controlled.
When the King has finished the purpose for the creation of both His spiritual and physical kingdom realm, it is then, and only then, that the King will terminate the existing habitat of His reign. It will be then that the prophecy of Paul will become the new reality:
“And when all things are subjected to Him, then will the Son also Himself be subject to Him who put all things under Him, so that God may be all in all” (1 Co 15:28).
But before this finality of world events, the King must accomplish a gospel mission in order to populate His new habitat to come. The gospel mission of the Son was not only to purify us of sin, but also to sit “down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” in order to reign over His present habitat. It was on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 when the first announcement was made of this galactic gospel reign of King Jesus. And when the multitudes who were present on that memorial day heard this, “they were cut to the heart” (At 2:37). It was the gospel of the kingdom reign of the resurrected Jesus that motivated the people to plead for instructions as to how they should submit to the reigning King Jesus. The answer to their pleas was simple: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ” (At 2:38).
The incarnate Word, the Son of God, was the gospel revelation of God’s love for us. It was in His eternal redemptive plan that He became an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Once this mission was accomplished, He was resurrected, and subsequently ascended to the heavenly throne room with authority over all things. “He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” in order to function as our King and high priest.
Because of who the incarnate Word is, and what He did for the redemption of those for whom He offered Himself on the cross, He is now “so much better than the angels.” And because of who, what and where He now is, “He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.”
There are those today who view Jesus as simply a good teacher of the Jews. There are those who have exalted Him only to the status of “prophet.” In the historical context of the audience to whom these words were addressed, it seems that some had moved Jesus into being just another angel of God.
But unless we move beyond Jesus as just a man, and beyond the misconception of Him being just another angel, we will never come to a full realization of who He now is as King of kings over all things (1 Tm 6:15). If our understanding of Jesus can never get beyond His presence with His disciples on the roads of Palestine, we will always have a limited understanding of the power of the gospel. We will know Him only according to the flesh (2 Co 5:16). Now that He as ascended to the right hand of God, if we continue to limit His present kingdom reign we will suck all the power out of the effect of His gospel reign on our hearts.
And herein is the theme the Hebrew writer seeks to promote throughout the remainder of his defense of the gospel. It was the reigning King Jesus who cut people to the heart on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. It is that same power of His present kingdom reign that will cut people to the heart today. This is the continuing power of the gospel in the lives of those who have obeyed the gospel.
Angels announced the arrival of the One who would be the Savior of the World (Lk 2:8-12). But the atoning sacrifice and eternal priesthood of the incarnate and ascended Son of God goes far belonged Jesus in the flesh. Angels were not offered for the sins of the world. Neither has any angel ascended on high. This work and reign belong only to the Christ whom we no longer know according to the flesh.
We may conceive in our own minds the wandering Rabbi Jesus among the Jews two thousands years ago who taught in the synagogues. We may even exalt Him, as the Samaritan women, to being a prophet (Jn 4:19). And then we may elevate Him to being the Messiah in fulfillment of all prophecies concerning the Messiah (Lk 24:47). Jesus was all these things. However, unless we can move our concept of Jesus into being the incarnate and ascended Son of God who now upholds all things by the word of His kingdom power, His power of the gospel will have only a limited affect on our lives. The less we now consider the power that Jesus exercises as our King, the less power His gospel has on our lives.
[Next in series: February 11]
D. The majority rejection:
Hebrews is an apologetic of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. All that the incarnate Word was before and after His ascension is defended vigorously throughout the epistle. By the time the writer comes to the end of his arguments, there should be no question concerning the gospel function of the present reigning King Jesus Christ.
Unfortunately, most Jews at the time the letter was written rejected the arguments of the document. They still do today. It is for this reason that any doctrine that focuses on the restoration of Jews to Israel in the future in order to be established as a nation is devoid of truth. The Jews’ continued rejection of Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah of Israel disqualified them in the first century as the people of God. It still does today. Here is the point: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek [in Christ Jesus]” (Gl 3:27:28). In the eyes of God, national Israel lost her identity when Jesus fulfilled all the prophecies concerning the Messiah. National Israel was only God’s ethnic vehicle to bring all men to Christ. “But now that faith [in Jesus] has come, we are no longer under a headmaster” (Gl 3:25).
There is no Jewish nationalism in Christ. Those Jews who are baptized into Christ can remain Jews by race. However, in the eyes of God, both Jews and Gentiles are one man in Christ (Gl 3:28).
The apostasy that the Hebrew writer addressed was the rejection of Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God. Those who were going into apostasy were actually rejecting the gospel of God’s grace through His only begotten Son.
E. Salvation only in Christ:
The arguments in Hebrews for the Messiahship of Jesus were valid when the letter was first written. They are still valid today. There is absolutely no salvation outside Christ, for only in Christ is there contact with the blood of Jesus. What Peter said two thousand years ago is still true today: “There is salvation in no other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (At 4:12). Nothing has changed in this statement. This is the premise upon which the document of Hebrews was written. It is a document that affirms the gospel of Jesus’ present reign as King, and His present function as our high priest.
In our relationship with the Jesus who is identified by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Hebrews takes our minds beyond the earthly Jesus and His ministry. Paul explained this transition of our understanding of Jesus into heaven in 2 Corinthians 5:16: “Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh [through Matthew, Mark, Luke and John], yet now we know Him no more.”
Since the writing of the document of Hebrews, it is by this revelation that we now know Christ. Our knowledge of Jesus according to flesh was terminated when the disciples saw His body of flesh and bones ascend into heaven (At 1:9). Hebrews takes our knowledge of Jesus on from the ascension into heaven. Therefore, all who would seek a relationship with Jesus today, must define this relationship by their understanding of Jesus through Hebrews.
Some people in their efforts to relate with Jesus limit their relationship by failing to go beyond Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. If one would, as Paul, know Jesus as He now reigns, then their relationship must be based on what we read in the document of Hebrews, which is truly, the continuation of the gospel according to Hebrews. We believe that the Holy Spirit has this in mind as He directs the hand of the holy scribe who wrote this apology of the present ministry of the resurrected and ascended Son of God. We must, therefore, follow the Spirit’s leading as He seeks to define for us the Christ who is now Lord God Almighty over all things (See Is 9:6).
[Next in series: Hebrew 1, February 9]
C. Looming doom:
As we approach this most valuable document in reference to the gospel of the Son of God, a national catastrophe was soon to face the Jews in the near future. We must understand that the prophecy of Jesus concerning the destruction of national Israel was approaching at the time the Hebrew letter was written (Mt 24).
Rome had determined to deal with the “Jewish problem” by subjugating the Jews, even to the point of destroying Jerusalem. And such they eventually did in A.D. 70. But in the few years leading up to this finality in A.D. 70, any Jew who was living in the region of Palestine was greatly intimidated to join the ranks of the Jewish resistance against Rome.
Jewish Christians who were addressed in this letter had been Christians for many years. At the time the letter was written, however, something was bearing on their emotions to the point that they were intimidated to forsake the gospel in order to return to the religion of Judaism. We do not know all the particulars concerning what was causing their imminent apostasy, but one point is certainly clear. There was great social intimidation that moved them to forsake the gospel of Jesus Christ and return to a system of religion that promoted self-sanctification through an earthly priesthood and the blood of animals.
The recipients of the letter were returning to a system of religion from which they had turned many years before in their obedience to the gospel. The political, social and religious environment in which they lived was evidently so strong that they were willing to sacrifice the love of God through Jesus for the cold formalism of Jewish religion. Therefore, we must never underestimate the appeal that self-righteous legal religion has on the souls of men.
At the time of writing, the gospel that was preached to the Jews was in the balance. If the readers’ apostasy to Judaism prevailed among the Jewish Christians who were addressed by the Hebrew document, then Christianity would have been greatly attacked at the very roots of its origins. And if this apostasy prevailed, then many in the world of the Gentiles would consider Christianity to be just another sect of Judaism, a sect that was finally brought back under the control of the religious establishment in Jerusalem.
If the Jewish Christians to whom the Hebrew writer addressed this gospel apologetic accomplished their journey back to Judaism, then the entire Christian Gentile world would question their base in the fulfillment of the prophecies of Jesus as the Messiah and final King of Israel. If He were not the Messiah of Israel, then their faith was vain; they too were yet in their sins. As the Jews, they too would have been subjected to wait again for the fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Redeemer.
If all the Messianic prophecies were not fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, then the Jews had to wait for another Messiah. For such the majority of Jews throughout the world have waited since the Hebrew document was first penned. In some way, the Hebrew writer did not accomplish his goal in the letter, for most Jews in the first century did not accept Jesus as the Messiah. Nor do they today accept Him as the fulfillment of all Messianic prophecies concerning His present kingship and priesthood. Their rejection of Him then and now reveals their rejection of the gospel.
[Next in series: February 7]
B. Religious self-satisfaction:
As all other religions throughout the world, the satisfaction that Judaism brought to the individual was based on the performance of the individual in reference to his obedience to religious rites and rituals. Faith could be based on one’s performance of all the religious rites and rituals that were a part of the religious conglomeration of Judaism. Judaism, therefore, was a religion of self-righteousness. It was a cultic “spiritual narcissism.”
In such a system of religion there is a sense of self-satisfaction because of one’s performance of the religion. Paul later confessed his former attitude in Judaism when he wrote to the Philippians: “Concerning the righteousness that is in law, [I was] blameless” (Ph 3:6). He had formerly boasted that he “advanced in Judaism” (Gl 1:14).
Judaism was subsequently a system of religion that allowed the participants to compete with one another in reference to who was the most righteous by keeping the most rules and works of sanctification. It was a self-fulfilling religion in that it focused the individual on his or her performance. Because it was such a religion, there was a sense of pride in one’s own religiosity. And because there was pride, there was a sense of self-assurance in one’s good deeds.
Herein was the fatal flaw of Judaism, and all similar religions. If one could boast in his own works of righteousness, then there was no need for faith (trust) in God for one’s salvation. In all performance-oriented religions, one believes that his own works of righteous deeds put God in debt to save one eternally. Since many believe that this presumption is supposedly true, then one can boast in his own performance of law and good works. One feels that he can eventually stand in judgment with a sense of accomplishment in good works
Inherent in such systems of religion is competition and intimidation, particularly intimidation. Nicodemus came to Jesus at night because he was intimidated (Jn 3:1,2). Peter withdrew from the Gentiles in Antioch because he was not living straightforward according to the gospel, but momentarily slipped back into his own Jewish religiosity wherein he was intimidated by those Jews who came up from Jerusalem (Gl 2:11-13). It was this system of intimidation that kept everyone in line with the religious customs of the Jews.
It was this same intimidation that evidently faced some Jewish Christians to whom the Hebrew letter was addressed. They were in the process of bowing to intimidation, and thus turning away from the gospel of King Jesus to the bondage of their former Judaism. If the apostle Peter and Jewish Christians in Antioch were intimidated by the Jewishness of the times, then what would happen if Jewish Christians in great numbers in the first century would also succumb to the same intimidation (See Gl 2:11-13)? The Hebrew writer inscribed this gospel defense in order to turn a great number of Jewish Christians from forsaking the gospel in order to return to Judaism.
[Next in series: February 5]
We give credit to the apostle Paul as the choice of the Holy Spirit to inscribe the words of the Hebrew epistle. Because of his religious background, and ministry to the Gentiles, we conclude that the Spirit could have made no better choice. Paul, formerly Saul, was well seasoned in the religion of the Jews. He would eventually write the following statement in another epistle that was inscribed before the one at hand: “I advanced in Judaism above many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions” (Gl 1:14).
Though a graduate with high honors from the school of the Pharisees, Paul experienced the frustrations of the Jewish religious heritage that had been handed to him by his forefathers and was taught to him by his professors. He eventually came to realize “that a man is not justified by works of law, but by the faith of Christ Jesus [who gave Himself for our justification]” (Gl 2:16). Paul realized that there was no power in the self-sanctifying works of a self-proclaimed righteousness that was inherent in the religion that came from his Jewish forefathers (See Rm 10:1-3). He, and thousands of other Jews like him at the time, believed in King Jesus in order that they might receive the justification that comes only through the incarnational blood of the Son of God.
A. The fifth defense of the gospel:
Before the document of Hebrews was written, two epistles had been added to the canon of Scriptures through the pen of Paul that dealt with the foundation upon which Hebrews was written. Both Romans and Galatians set forth arguments that were not only given by the inspiration of the Spirit, but were simply logical deductions of honest believers. Paul persuasively argued in these two letters that it is simply not possible for any man to live without sin in reference to any law, whether from God or man. This fact is axiomatic. It is axiomatic because its truth is self-evident. We are human, and because we are human, and weak, we cannot keep any law perfectly.
However, the religion of Judaism sought to make it so, that is, justification through perfect law-keeping. In order to accomplish this humanly impossible feat, the religious leaders of Judaism throughout the centuries were obsessed with adding legal guards around those laws that they deemed essential in order to be a faithful Jew. For example, they surrounded the Sabbath with a host of trivial rules that one must keep in order to guarantee that he or she did not break the Sabbath. In their thinking, if one kept the trivial laws, he would be guaranteed not to sin against the primary commandment of the Sabbath law. One could stumble in reference to violating the surrounding trivial rules in reference to the Sabbath, but would still be perfect in reference to the Sabbath. Unfortunately, the trivial laws (traditions) became as important as the original Sabbath law (See Mk 7:1-9).
If there were any infractions of one’s efforts to keep any ritual of Judaism, then the religious leaders embedded within their theology a system of self-sanctification. They believed that they could supposedly cleanse themselves when they were stained with sin against their added rites and rituals. The subsequent system of self-sanctification led to a religion of self-righteousness (Rm 10:1-3).
[Next in series: February 3]