Believers in the Lord Jesus Christ will be well acquainted with the truth of Robert Robinson’s hymn, Come Thou Fount, in which he writes, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.” We are tempted to drift, and if we are honest, we will admit that we have a tendency to drift. The world, the flesh and the devil conspire to get God’s children to fall away to unbelief. And unbelief lies at the heart of all sin. Unbelief is the “besetting sin” of which Hebrews speaks (Hebrews 12:1).
This matter of drifting from what we once professed to believe about Christ is a major concern in the New Testament. It appears to be a constant one. Consider just a few sample texts that relate to this issue:
- 1 Corinthians 15:1-2—Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
- 2 Peter 1:10-15—Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. For this reason I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things, though you know and are established in the present truth. Yes, I think it is right, as long as I am in this tent, to stir you up by reminding you, knowing that shortly I must put off my tent, just as our Lord Jesus Christ showed me. Moreover I will be careful to ensure that you always have a reminder of these things after my decease.
- 2 Corinthians 13:5—Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified.
- Matthew 13:18-23—Therefore hear the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside. But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles. Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.
We should note that this concern is not a theoretical or hypothetical one. There is the very real danger of professing believers, who have been gloriously exposed to the gospel of God, finally falling away—like Judas did. There is the danger of actual believers falling away from what they profess to believe for a time—much like Peter did on several occasions.
Demas was once a steadfast fellow worker with Paul. He is mentioned along with Luke in Colossians 4:14 as being present with Paul. He is specifically called one of Paul’s “fellow labourers” in Philemon 24. But in his last inspired letter, the apostle wrote, “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world” (2 Timothy 4:10).
The seven churches in Asia Minor, to whom John wrote in Revelation 2—3, provide further evidence of the reality of falling away.
We conclude, then, that this matter of drifting is a constant, legitimate and serious concern. And for such reasons, it is a pastoral concern. It is precisely the pastoral concern that occasioned the writing of the epistle to the Hebrews.
In this letter, the unidentified author manifests a deep pastoral concern for a flock of Hebrew Christians who were tempted to drift away (see 2:1). He therefore writes to exhort them to persevere in their faith in Christ—to keep believing. “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith,” he writes, “having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (10:22-23). Again, “And I appeal to you, brethren, bear with the word of exhortation, for I have written to you in few words” (13:22). The letter can be divided into four broad sections:
- an exhortation to believe (chapters 1—6);
- an explanation of what to believe (chapters 7—10);
- the Example of those who believed (chapter 11); and
- an exhortation to believe (chapter 12—13).
But what we must grasp is that this pastoral concern for these professing believers was primarily God’s concern. He inspired this anonymous author to write this to the original recipients and to us today. This is God’s pastoral concern for you and me. Just as Jesus was concerned for His immediate disciples and for those who would believe after them (John 17:20), so God was concerned for the original readers of Hebrews as well as for those who would read much later.
Hebrews, then, is an expression of God’s pastoral concern that His people not drift. It is, as this study has been titled, God’s pastoral word.
We saw previously that Jesus Christ is God’s final Word. God spoke to the Jewish fathers by the prophets in the past. He spoke to them about His plan and purpose to save His people. He did so “at various times and in various ways” and through various prophets. He predicted and prepared people for His final Word.
But in these days of fulfilment and finality, He speaks by His Son. The shadow has become substance.
Some, however, were doubting, and with doubting comes drifting. They were questioning whether the new covenant was new in kind (origin) or new in emphasis. Simply put, they were tempted to wonder whether they had been mistaken about Jesus being Messiah. Was their faith vain? Had they believed a lie?
I suspect that many reading this can relate to such questioning. In 1980, God did a great work in my life and brought me back to Himself. I was filled with fervour and passion for the gospel. In fact, I had so changed that my parents came to visit me at university, and later told me that they had come because they were concerned that I might have become involved in a cult! In the spring break of that year, I travelled with a group of fellow Christians to do evangelistic work in another part of the country. As we were driving on the bus, singing songs and having wonderful fellowship, I was suddenly overcome by a dreadful darkness, and wondered, “What if all of this is just an emotional, psychological high?” It was a terrible moment, but thankfully, as I searched the Scriptures, God later removed those doubts and restored to me the joy of salvation.
I share that simply to say that it is not abnormal for Christians to have those moments of doubt. When we experience those doubts, we need to return to the Scriptures in which we will be persuaded about God’s Son.
God has a pastoral concern for His people, and He has given us His pastoral word in the book of Hebrews to ground our assurance in His final Word.
God’s Pastoral Word is for our Perseverance
It is necessary that God’s people persevere. We must reach the finish line. And God’s pastoral word serves to help us persevere. Let’s notice several things about this.
You Must Be Concerned about Perseverance
It has been correctly noted that false assurance is a bigger problem than fluctuating or no assurance. I think any pastor will concur that the most frequent struggle with which a pastor must counsel his flock is lack of assurance. But it is far easier to deal with a believer who lacks assurance than it is to deal with an unbeliever who has false assurance.
We are called by the author of Hebrews to perseverance, not presumption. The author warns in chapters 3—4 that those who have no real relationship with God will not enter His rest. We must face the reality that not all those who profess Christ actually possess Christ—even if they are a part of His visible body.
There is an American pastor who preached at our church’s missions conference many years ago who once pastored a church in the Bible Belt in southern United States. When he first arrived there, he began to do some door-to-door evangelism, but he soon found that everybody he asked had a profession of faith. Many, however, professed to be Christian—but “backslid.” In reality, many of these “backslid Christians” were not believers at all, and so this pastor eventually devised what he termed “backslider’s evangelism.” He began to evangelise in such a way that he would show professing believers that profession was not sufficient in and of itself.
The fact is, there are a lot of people in this world who think they are saved who are in fact not saved. They may have been baptised as an infant, or even as a professing adult in a Baptist Church, but they simply do not possess a real relationship with Christ. This is a constant theme in the New Testament, and a prominent one in Hebrews. Hebrews was given, in many ways, to comfort the disturbed and to disturb the comfortable.
Let me urge you to examine your heart. Are you presumptuous about your salvation or are you actually persevering? Can you say, “I believe; help my unbelief”? Do not be presumptuously comfortable. God is concerned that you be concerned. Eternity is at stake. Do not take the gospel for granted!
You Must Be Committed to Perseverance
There is no more important pursuit than the knowledge of God in the person of Jesus Christ. This is salvation. This is eternal life. “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3). Paul understood this principle and wrote,
But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
The New Testament is concerned that believers be committed to perseverance. It is concerned that we work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12-13). This does not mean that we work for our salvation, “for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure,” but it does mean that we persevere in the faith until the end. Again, this (as we will see in future studies) is a recurrent theme in Hebrews (see 2:1; 4:1; 6:1; 10:22-25; 12:1).
Such perseverance is what underlies taking up our cross. This is why so much of God’s Word is written in the imperative. It is the essence of loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. It is why we call spiritual disciplines “disciplines”! Yes, God works in us, but His preserving grace implies our perseverance. We must finish the race—and we must strive to finish it well.
In all my years of running, I have on two occasions ended up with the letters DNF—“did not finish”—next to my name. The second time quite recently, and that was because of old age! The first time, however, was many years ago when I was still in university. I was having a terrible race, and so I faked an injury and pulled out. My coach was very wise, and he said to me after the race, “Doug, I don’t think you’re injured at all; I think you pulled out because of your pride.” He was right. But as humiliated as I felt at the time, pulling out of a road race due to pride is far less of a problem than pulling out of the spiritual race due to pride! Believers will stumble, and they will fall, but let us remember that “a righteous man may fall seven times and rise again, but the wicked shall fall by calamity” (Proverbs 24:16). You will stumble in the race, but persevere! Get up. Continue running. Finish well.
Pride may prove to be a stumblingblock to perseverance, but thankfully God’s Word is able to exercise precision surgery on this pride to help you persevere (see 4:12).
You Must Be Christ-Focused in Perseverance
Hebrews 12:1-2 exhorts us: “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Edgar Andrews has noted, “There is a great deal of “Christless Christianity” around, that is, a Christianity that has at its core something other than the glorious person and saving work of Jesus Christ.”1 He adds, “That such a glorious Being as the Father holds the Lord Jesus in high esteem should give us a new understanding of the glory of Christ.”2 God’s pastoral word is vital to perseverance, for it points us to His Son. Christ is the Prophet by whom God’s people are delivered and preserved (cf. Hosea 12:13).
Note that the discipline of perseverance is not a “stoic duty.” It is, instead, worshipful devotion. Jesus Christ must be our vision, and in this respect Hebrews does not disappoint. Pressures tend to obscure our vision of Christ, and we need God’s pastoral word to enlighten us.
God’s Pastoral Word Points to Our Pastor
The book of Hebrews—God’s pastoral word—points us to the great Pastor of our souls (13:20), the Lord Jesus Christ.
God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.
We need this word at the beginning of our salvation and all the way to the end of our perseverance. We must be pointed to Christ.
These opening verses offer seven statements or descriptions of Christ, which are further fleshed out throughout the letter. As we will see, these seven descriptions would have been very meaningful to Hebrew Christians, and they ought to be to us too. Such a glorious, exalted vision of Christ as offered in these verses will serve to stoke the fires of our devotion.
Hebrews, in short, points us to Jesus as our great Prophet, Priest and King. We will see this in the sevenfold description of Christ in these verses.
The author writes of Jesus as God’s “Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (vv. 2-3). Consider what these verses say about the person of the Lord Jesus.
He is King
If we will be encouraged to persevere, then we must see Jesus as King. Submission is essential to assurance and perseverance. After all, we are under orders to obey the gospel. Psalm 2 instructs us to “kiss the Son” (v. 10). Belief is revealed in obedience to our King.
Jesus has been “appointed” as “heir of all things” (v. 2). As the firstborn, he inherits it all. The King’s Son gets it all! Jesus was born King (Matthew 2:2; cf. 21:9). As the Son of the great King, it is of the utmost importance how we treat Him. Jesus illustrated this truth in the parable of the wicked vinedressers:
“Hear another parable: There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit. And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them. Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him.
Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?”
They said to Him, “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.”
Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
‘The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone.
This was the Lord’s doing,
And it is marvellous in our eyes’?
Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.”
Jesus Christ is “the firstborn over all creation” (Colossians 1:15) and “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20-28). He alone is worthy of all worship (Revelation 5:1-14). Everything belongs to Him in principle, just as it will actually and finally be His at the end. As Phillips says, “This was God the Father’s appointment, his purpose in creation: that his Son should be blessed and glorified in receiving all things.”3
We must bow to the King, who is subduing all things to Himself. When we realise that He is King, then we will persevere even when it looks as if He is not reigning.
Our problem is often that we expect Him to win and always to look like He is winning. That was the reason that Peter rebuked Jesus in Matthew 16 when He foretold His crucifixion. Peter had just made the wonderful profession that Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (v. 16), but almost immediately rebuked Jesus for suggesting that He would be crucified (vv. 21-23). He believed that Jesus was Messiah and could not fathom Messiah seemingly losing on a cross.
We must understand that, even when we don’t understand what God is doing, and even when it seems that the enemies of Christ are winning, we are required to submit to Him as King of kings. We need the perspective of Jesus as King. As Boice notes,
When we say that Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, what we are really saying is that Christ’s kingdom is of heaven and therefore has an even greater claim over us than do the earthly kingdoms we know so well. . . . Over these is Christ, and we flout His kingship not merely at the peril of our fortune and lives but at the peril of our eternal souls.4
We must realise the great privilege that we have to be in relationship with this King, who has “has the supreme place in all the mighty universe.”5 The seventeenth-century commentator John Trapp says, “Be married to this heir and have all.”6 If you know the King’s Son, you are in a good position! After all, “He is the heir so that he may make us wealthy by his riches.”7 We should be rich in assurance and thus empowered for perseverance.
Not only is Jesus the one who has been appointed heir of all, but He is also the one “through whom also He made the world” (v. 2). Incredibly, “what the Son was to possess he had been instrumental in making.”8
John 1:1-3 speaks clearly to the role of Jesus in creation:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.
Jesus is the King who inherits all because He actually made all. He is the Creator. This would have been an incredible revelation to Jewish ears! They took Genesis 1 literally, and thus this sentence was utterly profound. When we realise that Jesus is the Creator, it is far easier to persevere.
The theory of evolution is a denial of the kingship of Jesus Christ. Why is it that so many young adults lose their faith when they get to university and are inundated with evolutionary teaching? It is because evolution is a direct attack on the Jesus Christ. They are being taught to doubt and are therefore tempted to drift. If their worldview has not been firmly shaped by Scripture, they may well falter when they are exposed to worldviews that attack the lordship of Jesus Christ.
If we want our children to take Jesus seriously and to continue to take Him seriously, we must ground them in the truth that Jesus made the world and is therefore God! Our children—in fact, all of us!—need credible motivation to persevere. The biblical doctrine of creation provides such motivation.
And so we see that Jesus is King—and that matters. If we fear earthly kings, we dare not fail the heavenly King. In fact, if we fear Him, we will fear no other!
He is Prophet
Jesus is the final Prophet. God spoke in past times by prophets, but now He speaks by His Son, who is the last Prophet (vv. 1-2a). The prophets did an admirable job; Jesus did a superb job. He revealed God perfectly. If we will persevere, then we must bow to Christ’s rule and must heed His instruction as our Prophet (cf. Deuteronomy 18:15).
The author tells us that Jesus is “the brightness of [God’s] glory” (v. 3). He is to God as sunshine is to the sun. Guthrie helps us to understand the picture when he writes, “The idea is of the radiance which bursts out of a brilliant light. It is a striking picture, like the sudden appearance of a glorious dawn at sunrise. The rays of light pierce every shred of darkness to shatter it.”9 Jesus reflects the glory of God; he is the shekinah glory! The disciples only ever caught a glimpse of this as they awoke atop the Mount of Transfiguration to see Jesus communing with Moses and Elijah. And John had a second glimpse of it when, on Patmos, he saw
One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.
In the Old Testament, the Israelites saw God’s glory cloud come upon the tabernacle. They had a visible representation of it. We don’t but as Andrews notes, “The new covenant is not lacking in visible glory, but . . . this glory is to be found in Jesus Christ rather than the tabernacle.”10
The radiance of God is mediated to us through His Son. This is made plain by Paul in 2 Corinthians when, referring to the time that Moses saw the back of God and his face shone so that he had to cover it with a veil, the apostle writes, “Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:16-18). Seeing and hearing Jesus Christ as He is is enough glory to put everything into perspective.
Perseverance is related to perspective. In Psalm 36, David writes of the wickedness of man in relation to the holiness of God. Man is utterly evil; God is utterly good. But for those who trust in the Lord, David writes, “In Your light we see light” (v. 9). When we are settled in the fact that our Saviour is God, it will matter little to us what the world, the flesh and the devil throw at us. We will persevere because we see clearly in His light.
We should note that this glory is revealed to us only as we study the Scriptures. In the Old Testament, Jesus is expected; in the Gospels, He is exhibited; and in the epistles He is explained. If we will persevere, we need a vision of Him as He is, for He is heavier than any temptation.
Jesus is further “the express image of His person” (v. 3). He reflects God because He resembles God, and He resembles God because He is God. He reveals God perfectly. He is, quite literally, iconic. He is the exact mark, stamp or copy of God. As Kittel and Friederich note, it is, amazingly, “the humiliated and exalted Christ who bears the very stamp of God’s nature.”11 Or as MacArthur states, “He is the exact reproduction of God.”12 Better yet, as Paul wrote, “in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9).
Jesus Christ was both God manifested and God in substance. That is why He could say, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9) and why Thomas could say to Him, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. That will give you hope. That will encourage you to persevere.
God’s pastoral word to His children as they are tempted to drift is what He said to Peter, James and John on the Mount of Transfiguration: “Hear Him!” (Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35). God’s pastoral Word in Jesus is so much better than the tabernacle, for all the attributes of God become visible in Him.
The author adds that Jesus “uphold[s] all things by the word of His power” (v. 3). The word “upholding” means “to bear,” “to carry” or “to bring.” The idea is that Jesus carries history along. He bears and brings history to its goal. “The concept,” says Morris, “is dynamic, not static.”13
Paul also alludes to this principle in his letter to the Colossians:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.
God’s pastoral word to us is that Jesus is even guiding our trials and our pressures. This can be clearly seen in Peter’s trial in the Gospel accounts. Predicting Peter’s threefold denial, Jesus said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:31-32). Jesus could certainly have said no when Satan “asked” for Peter, but He chose instead to allow Peter suffer the trial without falling away completely. His prayer guided Peter through his trial.
Knowing that Jesus guides even your trials, persevere! Jesus is able to calm the winds and the waves. Let us therefore be encouraged not to fear when the storms of life come our way. Let us not be fearful, but believing (see Matthew 8:23-27).
Phillips writes, “As the true and great final prophet, he is able not merely to reveal God’s will but also to establish God’s will upon the earth.”14
He is Priest
And so we see that Jesus is God’s appointed Ruler (King) and appointed Revealer (Prophet), but we see also that He is God’s appointed Redeemer (Priest). In fact, He is God’s appointed Atonement, God’s appointed Reconciliation. “When He had by Himself purged our sins, [He] sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (v. 3). If we will persevere, we need to see Christ as worthy of our submission (for He is King), credible for our belief (for He is Prophet) and sufficient for our reconciliation (for He is Priest). The latter is the theme of these final descriptions in v. 3.
We should note that some translations omit the words “by Himself,” but whether they are included or omitted, they are implied.
The word translated “purged” speaks of cleansing or purification. Literally, says Andrews, “he ‘carried out a cleansing’ in which the sins of the elect were removed from them as if by washing.”15 The word is used in the Septuagint of ritual purification. It was used by Jesus when He instructed the leper to “offer for your cleansing those things which Moses commanded” (Mark 1:44). This was a ritual requirement according to the Old Testament. It is similarly used of Mary’s ritual cleansing in Mark 2:22).
But there is something profoundly different here: In past times, the priests could declare a person “clean” or “unclean,” but they could not make that person clean. Jesus can! Jesus does! The leper in Mark 1 believed that. He said, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.” And how did Jesus respond? “I am willing; be cleansed” (vv. 40-41). In the very next chapter, Jesus demonstrates the ability, not merely to declare forgiveness, but to grant it (Mark 2:1-12). He holds the keys to the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 16:13-20).
God’s pastoral word to us can be summarised in the words of the well-known hymn: “Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe; sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.” Or as John wrote, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
This is the thematic heart of Hebrews. The author’s “whole epistle shows that the thing that gripped him was that the very Son of God had come to deal with the problem of man’s sin.”13 If you want to be saved, then you must rest satisfied that Jesus Christ is the one sacrifice that satisfies God’s just wrath. If you want to continually be saved, then you must believe the same.
How do we know that God was satisfied with the sacrifice that Jesus offered? Because, having offered His sacrifice, Jesus “sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (v. 3).
Sitting was uncharacteristic of the priesthood. The tabernacle furniture did not include chairs because the priests were always busy. The sin problem was never cured, only covered. But God’s pastoral word to you in the race is, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). Jesus sat down because He cured what the old covenant priests could only cover.
The “right hand” is a place of honour and authority. The “Majesty on high” is a highly respectful way to speak of God. The author had a high view of God and therefore a high view of Jesus.
Jesus is seated at the throne of God. In the tabernacle, the closest thing that there was to a chair was the mercy seat, where the blood was offered on the Day of Atonement to atone for the sins of the people. Jesus is seated at the throne of grace, where He has completely atoned for the sins of those He came to save.
Having showed us in vv. 2-3 that Jesus, in His person, is Prophet, Priest and King, the author now turns to His preeminence: “having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they” (v. 4).
In Jewish thought, angels were prevalent and even predominant. The angels were present at the giving of the law (Acts 7:53). An angel played a prominent role in the deliverance of Israel from Egypt (Exodus 3:2; Isaiah 63:9). An angel led them throughout the wilderness.
But as great as the angels are, they do not compare to Jesus. As Lane paraphrases, Jesus has “been exalted as far above the angels as the name which he has inherited is superior to theirs.”17 Brown thus summarises:
We need a vision of Christ with these immense cosmic dimensions, a Christ who transcends all our noblest thoughts about him and all our best experience of him. These first-century readers would be less likely to turn from him in adversity if they had looked to him in adoration.18
This brings us to our closing point.
God’s Pastoral Word is the Responsibility of His Pastors
In the closing chapter of Hebrews, the author issues some instructions to the church regarding its leaders:
Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct. . . . Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you. . . . Greet all those who rule over you.
(Hebrews 13:7, 17, 24)
“Those who rule” is a reference to the elders/pastors of the church, those who are undershepherds of the great Shepherd of the sheep.
God speaks today through His Son by the Scriptures inspired by the Holy Spirit. His undershepherds are called to proclaim those Scriptures in a way that is understandable. They are called to proclaim God’s pastoral word—the gospel.
If we will persevere, we need the constant reminder that Jesus is Prophet, Priest and King. We need to be rebuked, exhorted and corrected. This is our only hope for perseverance. How will you respond to such proclamation?
This, of course, implies the need for us to gather in order to hear His Word proclaimed (10:22-25). Pastors are, in a sense, to produce pastors. That is, as pastors encourage, from the Scriptures, God-driven perseverance, those persevering will help others to persevere.
There was a fellow-athlete in my university running team named Tom. Tom was a far better runner than me, and one that encouraged me in my own running. In one race, an athlete from another team stood on my heel early in the race so that I lost my shoe. I was running next to Tom at the time, and uncertain how to proceed, I asked him what I should do. “Just keep running, and stick with me!” was his reply. I did as he instructed. Tom came first, I came second, and our team won the meet. I was thankful for a more experienced runner like Tom, who was able to encourage me to persevere, which was good for the entire team.
Believer, God is for you. He is your Shepherd. Listen to His voice. Learn, love and live His pastoral word to you. As you do so, you will not drift.
God’s pastoral word is the gospel. His pastoral counsel is that we look to Christ. Let us heed that pastoral word so that we will not drift in times of doubt.
- Edgar Andrews, A Glorious High Throne: Hebrews Simply Explained (Darlington: Evangelical Press, 2003), 35. ↩
- Andrews, A Glorious High Throne, 40. ↩
- Richard D. Phillips, Hebrews: Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2006), 18. ↩
- Phillips, Hebrews, 19. ↩
- Leon Morris, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 12 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 12:13. ↩
- Raymond Brown, The Message of Hebrews: The Bible Speaks Today (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 2000), 30. ↩
- Andrews, A Glorious High Throne, 33. ↩
- Brown, The Message of Hebrews, 30. ↩
- Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 1983), 70. ↩
- Andrews, A Glorious High Throne, 34. ↩
- Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friederich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament: Abridged in One Volume (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), 1309. ↩
- John F. MacArthur, Jr., Hebrews: The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: The Moody Bible Institute, 1983), 17. ↩
- Morris, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 12:14. ↩
- Phillips, Hebrews, 21. ↩
- Andrews, A Glorious High Throne, 37. ↩
- Morris, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 12:14. ↩
- Andrews, A Glorious High Throne, 43. ↩
- Brown, The Message of Hebrews, 32. ↩