Lecture 10: Hebrews 4:12-16
Lecture: Hebrews 4:12-16
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to
whom we must give account. Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
I. The Word of God (Hebrews 4:12-13)
12 ζων (is living) γαρ (For) ο (the) λόγος (word) του θεού (of God,) και (and) ενεργής (active,) και (and) τομώτερος (sharper) υπέρ (than) πάσαν (any) μάχαιραν (sword) δίστομον (double-edged,) και (and) διϊκνούμενος (penetrating) άχρι (as far as) μερισμόυ (the distribution) ψυχής τε (of both soul) και (and) πνεύματος (spirit,) αρμών τε (also of joints) και (and) μυελών (marrows,) και (and) κριτικός (is a discerner) ενθυμήσεων (of the thinking) και (and) εννοιών (reflections) καρδίας (of the heart.)
13 και (And) ουκ έστι (there is not) κτίσις (a creation) αφανής (unapparent) ενώπιον (before) αυτού (him;) πάντα δε (but all) γυμνά (are naked) και (and) τετραχηλισμένα (laid bare) τοις (to) οφθαλμοίς αυτού (his eyes,) προς (to) ον (whom) ημίν (is to us) ο (the) λόγος (reckoning.)
Let’s look at chapter 4:12-13 and the concept of the Word of God here. In terms of purpose and process, this passage is a warning passage. It’s related to Psalm 95 and the idea of hearing God’s voice today. The backdrop for this is the Word being living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword. In 1st century Judaism Christianity, you have the Word of God as a force. It isn’t something that is static and simply a text that is put on a page. The Word of God is something that is a force; it is a power in creation and in administration of the World and in judgment. It is a dynamic power. When he says that it is sharper than any double-edged sword, there was a sword used by Roman soldiers which would have been a common sight in the world at this time. This was called a gladius; it was about twenty inches long strapped to the soldier’s side. It was designed for close hand to hand combat: slashing and thrusting. You have the Word of God symbolized as a sword in other places in the New Testament as in Ephesians 6 and Revelation; it is a symbol for the Word of God. What this does; it divides soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the intentions and thoughts of the hearts. The Word is powerful here and what it does; it has the ability to reach down inside of us and discern what is there and sort out what is really going on inside of us. It is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. One way that you and I know that we are interacting with the Word of God is through the effects of our ministry being convicted by sin. The Word is able to move in life to different perspectives in ways of living. It is reaching down inside of us and sorting us out.
If you don’t have that kind of interaction with the Word of God, then something spiritually is wrong. Even in Seminary, if you are not careful, the Bible just becomes something that you study. You get your assignments completed in order to move on to the next thing. You can get to a place where you are not
interacting with the Word in such a way where it is dealing with you. In any of our studies, we should approach this in terms of ministry with those around us. Consider what the relevance is in dealing with the Word of God. We need to be in this dynamic interaction with Word of God where it can deal with us. Even though I have taught Hebrews many times, every time I teach it or any other portion of Scripture, I want to have my heart and my life open to the Lord and ask what the Lord needs to say to me. How should I be addressed in my spiritual life? This is what the Word of God does if we are dealing with the Word of God as we should. As a word of judgment, he says that there is nothing in all creation that is hidden from his sight. Everything is naked and laid bare before his eyes. I think of the image of those who at the end of time will cry for the rocks to fall on them to hide them from the face of God. People want to hide from God. But Hebrews says that this is impossible; the Word of God will find you. The Word of judgment will find you. You are naked; this is a concept of vulnerability. The Word of God show what you are and how you are, being no place to hide.
5:11 περί (Concerning) ου (of whom) πολύς (is much) ημίν (our) ο λόγος (word) και (and) δυσερμήνευτος (difficult in interpretation) λέγειν (to speak,) επεί (since) νωθροί (dull) γεγόνατε (you have become) ταις (in the) ακοαίς (hearings.)
The last phrase here is normally translated something like, the one with whom we have to do or something like that. What translation do you have of this? ‘To whom we must give account.’ I talked to you about certain hook words. This phrase is used again in chapter 5:11 in the Greek Text. There it reads, concerning whom we have much to say; speaking here of Melchizedek. It is almost the same phrase there. I think this is more of the sense of how it should be translated here in verse 13. Everything is laid open and made bare before the eyes concerning whom we are speaking. This would be a better way of translating the idiom. So he says that the Word of God is a Word of Judgement. In other words, you had better hear his voice because God is speaking.
II. Hebrews 4:14-16
14 έχοντες (Having) ούν (then) αρχιερέα (chief priest) μέγαν (a great) διεληλυθότα (having gone through) τους (the) ουρανούς (heavens) Ιησούν (Jesus) τον (the) υιόν (son) του θεού (of God,) κρατώμεν (let us keep) της (the) ομολογίας (confession.)
15 ου γαρ (For not) έχομεν (do we have) αρχιερέα (a chief priest) μη (not) δυνάμενον (being able) συμπαθήσαι (to sympathize) ταις (in) ασθενείαις ημών (our weaknesses,) πεπειραμένον δε (but one having been tested) κατά (in) πάντα (all things) καθ΄ (according to) ομοιότητα (our likeness,) χωρίς (separate from) αμαρτίας (sin.)
16 προσερχώμεθα (Let us come forward) ούν (then) μετά (with) παρρησίας (confidence) τω (to the) θρόνω (throne) της χάριτος (of favor,) ίνα (that) λάβωμεν (we should receive) έλεον (mercy,) και (and) χάριν (favor) εύρωμεν (should find) εις (for) εύκαιρον (opportune) βοήθειαν (help.)
A. Purpose and Process:
The purpose and process are kind of conflated here representing a warning. This is where the author opens the great center section of the book. This is the opening of the most important inclusio in the book. The purpose is to make a transition to the great center section of Hebrews on the high priesthood of Christ. This is an over-lapping transition as it has the form of exhortation saying since we have a great high priest, let us hold fast and draw near. The content is anticipating the high priesthood of Christ. The foundation of the exhortation is since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God. It is an overlapping unit because it concludes the exhortation and then anticipates what the author is about to deal with in terms of the high priesthood. So, the purpose is to make a transition to the great center section with the process being a high structured crafting of a very important transitional unit.
B. Since We Have a Great High Priest:
There are three main points that give structure to this unit. Structurally, this is foundation for the exhortation. What the author has in mind here is Jesus entering into the heavenly temple; to the holiest place in heaven. This becomes clear as we move through this center section of the Book; Jesus, who has passed through.
C. Let us Hold Fast Our Confession:
Confession here in Greek is Homologeo. The author picks up what he left in chapter 2. He is a high priest; Jesus, the Son of God. Jesus is able to sympathize with our weakness for he has been tempted in all things like we have. The concept of sin was also dealt with in chapter 2. He is going back to those concepts in order to get back into his Christology. So, let us hold fast our confession because we have a high priest who is able to sympathize with us. What he has in mind here is that act of confession as stepping forward and standing with Christ in the church. Some people think that this could be a formal confession that people made upon entering into the church. I think what the author has in mind here is in response to the high priestly Christology we have in the book. One of the main things that he wants us to do is to hang in there in our public identification with Christ in the church. On the basis of the high priesthood of Jesus, he wants us to make a bold public stand with Christ in the church. This is highly relevant to some people in the world where people are facing persecution. There are places in the world where people are dying for the faith. To not identify with Christ; think about the context of this based on what Jesus has done for us. So, continue to make a public stand with the church and with Christ.
D. Let Us Draw Near to God.
This is the third point of this structure. Let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace in order that we might receive mercy and that we might find grace resulting in timely help. The concept of drawing near often has to do with prayer. But ultimately, what the author has in mind here is to draw near in regards to the covenant and be people who are constantly coming into the presence of God on the basis of the New Covenant. We are coming into the presence of God to speak to God. This is prayer which is based in the concept of our ability to come near to God because of what Christ has accomplished for us as our high priest. So, let us draw near so that we might find timely help. The author is using elements reaching back to verses 17 and 18. I think that the concept of drawing near is related. The emphasis at this point is that we have a basis of drawing near because the throne is a throne of mercy and grace. It is a place we can find mercy. We have a tendency to run from God rather than drawing near to him in our approach to our relationship with Christ. We need to be people who have a strong concept of the grace of God’s forgiveness and his readiness to cleanse us and his readiness to welcome us into his presence. This isn’t on the basis of our work but instead on the basis of the work of Christ.
A reading from Annie Dillard even though I don’t agree with her theology; it goes like this: one Christmas when she was a little girl and Santa Claus was supposed to come. She runs from him because she is afraid as he knows who has been naughty and nice. She thinks that is really a bad thing, he knows everything about her. She finds out later that Santa was Mrs. White the older lady who lived across the street. Mrs. White constantly reached out to Annie giving her cookies and teaching her finger painting and generally instructing her about the things of the world. Annie liked Mrs. White but six months after the Santa incident, she ran from Mrs. White again. The lesson of the day between Mrs. White and Annie involved a magnifying glass focusing a pinpoint of light on the palm to let her feel the heat. The little girl was burned by accident and ran home crying. Mrs. White tried to explain to no avail. Reflecting on how this paralleled with her relationship with God, Annie write, even now I wonder as I meet God, will he take and hold by bare hand in his and focus his eye on my palms and kindle that spot and let me burn. No, it is I who misunderstood everything and let everybody down: Mrs. While and God; I am sorry I ran from you. I am still running; I am running from the knowledge and love from which there is no refuge. For you only meant love and I felt only fear and pain. So once, many years ago in Israel, love came to us incarnate and stood in the doorway between two worlds and we were all afraid. This passage captures the sense that we as human beings at times spend a lot of time running from God when he is really the answer to our needs. In our submission to him we find the answer to our needs. So we fear the throne as a throne of judgment and doubt it as a throne of grace. We need to be people who are drawing near to God because of what Christ has accomplished on our behalf; he has given us that entrance through the throne of grace.
Note that there were too many barriers for those who wanted to enter into the presence of God in the Old Covenant but with the New Covenant, everybody can enter into the presence of God because Jesus is now our high priest and we can enter in through him being that high priest. Let me reiterate that 4:14-16 is a summary in some way of the author’s whole message. He is exhorting us and telling us what he wants us to do ultimately and the basis on which we can do it. That basis is that we have a high priest who wants us to hold fast and draw near. In the first Christological movement of the book with the position of the Son to the relationship to the angels; you have three main movements. The first is where the Son is superior to the angels. There is a transition where the Son became lower and then with the second movement, the position of the Son, our high priest in relation to the earth’s sacrificial system. This runs from 4:14-10:25. In this great center section of the book on high priesthood; the second movement is the Son in relation to the earthly sacrificial system and you have that whole section running from 4:14-10:25. Here we saw the opening in 4:14-16 of that inclusio. We then have the appointment of the Son as a superior high priest. This goes from 5:1-7:28. You will see that this is briefly interrupted by exhortation in 5:11-6:20 and then we move into the offering in the second half of this center section. We are now in the first point of the introduction to this section on the appointment of the Son as high priest. That introduction is 5:1-10. The Son is taken from among men and appointed according to the order of Melchizedek.
III. Hebrews 5:1-10
Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people. And no one takes this honor on himself, but he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was. In the same way, Christ did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” And he says in another place, “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.
A. General Principles of High Priesthood – 5:1-4:
So this passage deals with the appointment of Jesus as high priest. The first three verses here are on general principles of high priesthood. The first three of these verses actually form an inclusio with chapter 7:26-28. The author tells us what we know about the high priest. He gives us several principles about high priesthood in general. He isn’t specifically talking about Jesus but instead he is telling us what we know of the high priest as we look at the Old Testament. First, every high priest is taken from among people and appointed in relation to the things of God in order to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. This may derive from Exodus 28:1 which says that Aaron was brought to Moses from among the Israelites. The high priest represents people by joining the other priest in offering sacrifices to God. The high priest generally participates in this with the other priest, but the high priest alone offers sacrifice on the Day of Atonement. On the Day of Atonement, you had two goats where one was slaughtered for the sins of the people while the other goat was an escape goat where the high priest was lay hands on the head of the goat and confess the sins of the people and then send that goat out into the desert. This is found in Leviticus 16. The third thing about a high priest is on the Day of Atonement, the high priest also offers sacrifice for himself and his household. This is important in the development of the book. The high priest is able to deal kindly with those who are ignorant and going astray. He can do this because he has weaknesses just like they do. So he is obligated to offer sacrifice for him and his family just like he does for the people. You can find this in Leviticus 16:11. So the weaknesses of the high priest allow him to deal gently with people. So he has to deal with his own sin before he can offer sacrifice for the people. So the high priest had his own sacrifices to make.
The forth principle of high priesthood concerns how one becomes a high priest. This just doesn’t happen for anyone. You have to be appointed by God just like Aaron was. No one takes this honor upon himself but he is called by God. Why is the author pointing out that the high priest has weaknesses and must offer a sacrifice for himself because he is sinful? Here, we are moving toward the superiority of Christ as he sets up the contrast between Christ and the earthly priests who had weaknesses and sins which sacrifices had to be made for. Christ isn’t like this and this is going to be one of the elements of superiority that the author is going to deal with. He is showing the continuity and discontinuity in regards to Christ. In terms of appointment; back in verse 1, he says that every high priest is appointed and this is the theme of this section.
B. Appointment as High Priest – Hebrews 5:5-6:
He says here that Christ also did not glorify himself to become a high priest but the one saying to him, ‘you are my Son, today I have begotten you,’ also in another place he says that ‘you are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.’ Now at the beginning, where it talks about the Son in relation to the angels which starts at 1:5, the first quotation is from Psalm 2. Here, he quotes the same verse again but uses it to lead into the focus verse for this next
section which is Psalm 110:4; you are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. These are parallel introductions in terms of transition devices. So, why does he think he has the freedom to pull Psalm 2:7 together with Psalm 110:4 at this place? First of all, they are both declarations and
proclamations to Christ and you have the pronoun in common; you are priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek is similar to you are my Son, today I have begotten you. So, the same one who said to him, you are my Son, also said in another place that he was a priest forever. We have a strong concept that Christ is who he is by virtue of the appointment of God. There is a lot said today about plurality of perspective and tolerance and sensitivity to other belief systems, and I think we should be tolerant of people in the sense of affirming their rights to believe what they want to believe. But the grand value of our culture is tolerance. This is not the Biblical World view but instead God has revealed truth and also that God’s authority is that God gets to say what reality looks like. Here, God is proclaiming that Christ is the high priest. He is appointing him; it is a position of authority. Christ is high priest because he has been appointed such by God. Yes, we should be tolerant and sensitive and work with people, but that does mean that we have to affirm that everybody is right. Even in most liberal circles, they can’t follow through with that all the way. That would make people like Hitler being right in his world view system. The Biblical World view is what God has revealed as truth and part of that, Christ has been appointed high priest. The author is basing this on Psalm 110:4.
C. Hebrews 5:7-10:
‘Who in the days of his flesh, he offers up prayers and petitions and suffocations to the one who was able to save him out of death.’ So the incarnation for Hebrews is often related to the suffering of Christ. Then the author says this happened with loud cries and tears. So, where does this come from and where was he heard because of his piety? In terms of being delivered out of death; if this is related to the Garden of Gethsemane and Jesus’ experience there, then Jesus wasn’t delivered at that point from the experience of going through death. You have to read this as referring to deliverance from death as the New Testament often does in resurrection. Jesus was delivered out of death via the resurrection. Psalm 116 comes up here as it is related to these passages in Hebrews saying that I love the Lord, he heard my voice, he heard by cry for mercy. I was overcome by trouble and sorry; you, oh Lord, have delivered by soul from death, my eyes from tears and my feet from stumbling. A similar passage is in Psalm 22, a messianic Psalm of suffering that we have already seen. Verses 1 and 2 reads, my God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so long from saving me, so far from my words of groaning; oh my God, I cry out by day but you do not answer by night; my strength is dried up like a potsherd and my tongue sticks to the roof of my month. You lay me in the dust of death. In verses 23 and 24: revere him all you descendants of Israel, for he is not despised or distained the suffering of the afflicted one. He has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help. So you have the concept of cries and tears in these Psalms of suffering.
As the early church looked at the experience of Jesus and perhaps knew a bit more of it than we have recorded in the Gospels, they reflected on it in light of the Psalms of the righteous sufferer in the Old Testament. They saw Jesus as fulfilling this position of the right sufferer where he cried out and shed tears and was crying out to God and was heard because of his piety. This is a concept of Jewish piety where you are broken and suffering, yet submitting yourself to God in the midst of that suffering. So, I think this is alluding to the Gethsemane experience of Jesus. As the early church reflected on that
experience of Jesus, it was in light of the Psalms of Righteous Suffering. The author is using this to say something about Christ in his role and also as an example for us. In dealing with suffering as believers and followers of Christ, the author certainly is warning us not only to see Jesus in just his exhortation but also to see him in his suffering. This is a way of giving encouragement to us to persevere. In following Christ today, we want to go straight to the Garden of Eden; we want to walk with God and not go to the Garden of Gethsemane. There is a clear pattern in the Scriptures that brokenness and submission precede exhortation. A normal part of the Christian life is suffering because we follow the pattern of Christ such as in 1 st Peter and other places. We want to be people who are following Christ and walking with him in his suffering and using his suffering as an example to us.
In verses 8 and 9, you have this interesting statement: ‘although he was a Son, he learned obedience from what he suffered. Having become perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all those who obeyed him.’ This again brings up the idea of perfection that we saw in chapter 2. More is added; he learned obedience from the things he suffered. Understand throughout the book so far, we have had a strong emphasis of Jesus’ relationship to the Father as the Son. Now he says, although he was a son, that didn’t shield him from going through the experience of suffering and learning obedience. But, does this mean that Jesus was not obedient before this? No, what it does mean is that he learned obedience through what he suffered? He had not experienced yet of going through the process of death. The way Philippians 2 says it; although he was in the form of God which wasn’t something to be easily grasped. He humbled himself to the point of death, even death on the Cross. The duration of his obedience went all the way to the point of death. So, he learned obedience by walking all the way on that path of death that God had him on. This was in spite of the fact of his unique relationship to God as Son. So, I benefit from his high priesthood and sacrifice by my yielding to him in obedience. This introduction finishes up with verse 10 saying that he was appointed by God as high priest according to the order of Melchizedek. So, Jesus did all of this and the author ties this appointment to high priesthood to the suffering of death. Jesus going all the way through that process; he becomes a fit high priest and offering in his death. This is where high priesthood and high priestly sacrifice meet; this is in the death of Christ and exhortation to the right hand of God.
D. Application and Reflection:
Again, the purpose of this passage is to get us into the concept of appointment. Hebrews makes this very strongly in chapter 7. In chapter 7, he is going to say the earthly high priest through the virtue of their ancestry. But this isn’t how Jesus became a high priest; that was by declaration. It was based on an indestructible life. In drawing the parallel to Psalm 2 here, it is interesting that this passage focuses on a royal person ascending the thrown. Melchizedek was a priest/king. He is moving from the concept of kingship to priesthood as he moved through Psalm 110. Psalm 110:1 and 4 are very closely related from sitting on the Lord right hand to priesthood.
So, we can think of application in terms of authority. This is not going to change. There is something in Psalm 110:4 which says that it’s not going to change. Why? There is a finality to this. If Jesus has this pattern of suffering, then even in our situation we need to learn obedience. That principle is there in other places in the New Testament; that we follow in his pattern of suffering. We shouldn’t be surprised when suffering comes as this is a normal part of our lives. If you are in ministry, you are going to go through periods of time when it is really bad. It is hard to stay the course and be obedient. What we face in the west is nothing to what some of our brothers and sisters experience around the world. They, like us, are called to stand for Christ. We still have a phenomenal amount of freedom to witness and share the Gospel in our western situation that we should make use of. If you are proclaiming the truth and standing on that, it is going to cause friction and difficulty. But if we always have life easy, we might want to stop and reflect why. If we are being faithful to do what God has called us to do, I don’t have to go look for suffering. The Christian life is a lot about response; how am I responding to my situation? Am I like Paul, am I rejoicing in all things? Celebrate and be thankful for the times that you are in and make use of it. Do we praise God in the midst of our difficulties even though you don’t like it? We need always to respond to Biblical perspective rather the World’s perspective.