18 – The Abiding High Priest

By chapter 11, the Hebrew writer has concluded his arguments for one to remain faithful. He has warned against apostasy from the sacrificial blood of Jesus with the statement, “The just will live by faith.”10:38 If one would live justified before God, therefore, he must totally trust in God and the current ministry of Jesus Christ on behalf of the sons of God.

The writer concluded chapter 10 with a warning that those to whom he was writing should guard themselves against returning to the futility of animal sacrifices and the inferior Levitical priesthood.   In reaffirming that the justified will live by faith, he wants to remind his readers of the faith that they must maintain. He called on them to “remember the former days in which, after you were enlightened, you endured a great conflict of suffering.”10:32   He thus encouraged them to be “of those who believe to the saving of the soul.”10:39

They indeed needed the following exhortation: For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise.”10:36   Their confidence in the blood sacrifice of Jesus “has great reward.”10:35   But if they allowed their faith to wane in the face of persecution, then there will be no reward, but “a fearful thing” of falling “into the hands of the living God.”10:31

Chapter 11 is the writer’s final exhortation and encouragement to remain faithful. After giving illustrations of enduring faith, he will come to the conclusion, “These all died in faith, not having received the promises.”11:13 But those to whom he was writing had received the promises, and thus, there was no excuse for them.

Several illustrations of faith are presented.   But there is something interesting about many of those he personally named. These heroes of faith lived before the giving of the Sinai law.   “By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice ….”11:4 “By faith Enoch was taken up ….”11:5   “By faith Noah … moved with fear, prepared an ark ….”11:7   “By faith Abraham … obeyed ….”11:8 “Through faith even Sarah herself received strength to conceive seed.”11:11   All these remained faithful though they did not experience the fulfillment of the promises. “But having seen them afar off were assured of them and embraced them ….”11:13

The argument of the Hebrew writer is very powerful. He is writing to Jewish Christians about Gentiles who lived before the existence of the nation of Israel, even before the event of Jesus and the cross. These faithful heroes had not witnessed the dividing of the Red Sea.   They had not witnessed the terrifying event of God descending on Mount Sinai in order to establish a covenant with His people and deliver His commandments. They had not witnessed the enduring youth of Moses as he walked among them for forty years without growing old. The pre-Sinai heroes of faith had no history of how God worked through the judges and prophets of Israel. Their endurance was based solely on their faith in God and His promises. We must conclude that the Hebrew writer wants to somewhat embarrass those of his readership who were thinking about giving up on Christ, even though they had all the knowledge of the Christ.

Those to whom the Hebrew writer addressed his message, as well as we who live today, are totally without excuse if we follow the trail of dogs and pigs back to vomit and mire. The apostate Christian has no excuse for insulting the sacrificial Son of God with a life of denial. With all the miraculous testimony that God has given through Jesus and the apostles, any who would fall from the grace of God after the cross are without excuse. Jesus had this in mind when He said in reference to those Jews who refused to believe in Him, “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin. But now they have no excuse for their sin (Jn 15:22). The Son of God stood before them and worked the supernatural power of God.   And yet, they would not believe.   Paul had the same concept in mind when he wrote of those who refused to listen to the testimony of the created world:

For the invisible things of Him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and divinity, so that they are without excuse (Rm 1:20).

This was certainly in the mind of the Hebrew writer who spoke of those who would turn away from the awesome testimony of God through the resurrected Son. They condemned themselves in following after a dead covenant and law that had long been nailed to the cross. Therefore, “if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.10:26 For those who chose to reject all of God’s historical witness to the sonship of Jesus Christ, the Hebrew writer stated that “… it is impossible … to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.6:4,6

Harsh warnings are in order for those who would fall from their faith that Jesus is the Christ and Son of God. Once one has forsaken his belief that Jesus is the Christ and Son of God, he has denied the foundation upon which Jesus built the church (See Mt 16:18,19). Therefore, what some were contemplating was truly trampling under foot the blood of the Son of God. If one leaves the foundation upon which the church of Jesus Christ is built, then he has left the fold of the saved and returned to a religion that will profit him nothing in reference to eternal existence.

We must not miss this point. Throughout all the arguments of Hebrews, there is one central theme. Peter concurred with this theme in the following statement: And 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).

This is the proposition of Hebrews. All those religions of the world whose adherents do not believe that which was set forth by the Hebrew writer concerning the Son of God, are only the futile efforts of religious people who invent religions that conform to their own desires by seeking to shun accountability for their sins. If salvation were based on ignorance of Jesus, then there would have been no reason for Him to incarnate into this world. If salvation were based on ignorance of Jesus, then one would have to assume the argument that one can be saved through meritorious works, regardless of what he believes. One would have to conclude, therefore, that there is atonement in good works. It is for this reason that the Hebrew writer argues earnestly and convincingly with those who were about to give up the grace that was revealed through Jesus, and return to a meritorious system of law-keeping wherein there never was forgiveness of sins through animal blood.

Those heroes of faith who died without realizing in their lives the promises of God, trusted that God would eventually bring forth the One who would redeem them. They walked by faith in “having seen them [the fulfillment of the promises] afar off,” and thus by faith they “were assured of them and embraced them.”11:13

It is faith that focuses our minds on that which is before us, not on that which is behind. There is a little “Lot’s wife” in all of us, since we often seek to turn back to a life that is consumed with this world. But Jesus warned, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Lk 9:62). In this manner, the heroes of faith that the Hebrew writer uses as an illustration of faith, were those who were determined to look forward, not backward. Because they “confessed that they were foreigners and pilgrims on the earth”11:13 through their faithfulness, they declared “plainly that they seek a homeland.”11:14 “And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they came out, they would have had opportunity to return.”11:15 But they were as Paul:

Brethren, I count not myself to have laid hold. But one thing I do, forgetting those things that are behind and reaching forward to those things that are before (Ph 3:13).

The reason the Christian looks forward is because he desires “a better country.”11:16 It is a heavenly country that will not pass away. Those whose faith keeps them looking forward to the heavenly country, make God proud. “God is not ashamed to be called their God ….”11:16

[Next lecture:  December 31]

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