Lecture 20: Hebrews Part 2
Lecture 20: Hebrews Part 2
This is the 20th lecture in the online series of lectures on New Testament Survey by Dr Thomas Schreiner. Recommended Reading includes: Article on Divorce and Remarriage – Craig Blomberg, Trinity Journal, 1990; The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross by Leon Morris; Are there Two Will in God by John Piper; Two views on Women in Ministry by James Beck and Craig Blomberg; Word Bible Commentary: Pastoral Epistles, Volume 46, by William D. Mounce and Recovering Biblical Manhood and Biblical Womanhood, by Wayne Gudem and John Piper (article by Vern Poythress entitled, ‘The Church as a Family’)
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Christ is more important than Moses. Warning passages encourage us not to drift away or harden our hearts. Since Jesus was fully human, he experienced the full range of temptation, but never gave in.
Flow Assignment Hebrews 7:11-19
Hebrews is a lot like Romans in the sustained argumentation and beautiful structure of the book. Unfortunately many in the church don’t preach on it very often. I don’t think people really understand how much strength and comfort it is in this book for is a little foreign to them. Yet, it is very encouraging. Let’s look at the argument.
The key word in verse 11 is ‘if’; ‘now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood’ and a parenthetical statement comes next introduced by the word ‘for’. ‘For under it the people received the law.’ Then the main thought, ‘what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, and not (key words here) be designated according to the order of Aaron?’ Verse 12 is introduced by the key word, ‘for’, ‘for when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well.’ Verse 13 starts out with the word, ‘for, for the one concerning whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar.’ We have yet another ‘for’ in verse 14; ‘for it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.’ I separated verse 14 into two propositions for exegetical reasons. For verse 15a, ‘and’ introduces a new proposition and we have an ‘if’ in 15b; ‘if another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek.’ Then we have verse 16 introduced by a relative pronoun and in this case a new proposition is introduced. He says something about Melchizedek ‘who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life. This is Jesus who is the new Melchizedek. Our key word in 16b is ‘but’. Again in verse 17 we have a key word, ‘for’ quoting the Old Testament, ‘for it is attested of him, you are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.’ Verse 18 is introduced with ‘for’ with another key phrase, ‘on the one hand.’ ‘For on the one hand, former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness and another key word indicated by parenthesis, ‘for the law was made nothing perfect’; and then in 19b, we have, ‘but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.’ The message consists of all one argument and is crafted beautifully.
I. A High Priest Greater Than Moses (Hebrews 3:1-4:13)
A. Servant vs Son 3:1-6
The main point he is about making here, Jesus is greater than the Levitical priesthood or in other words, Jesus is greater than the Mosaic Law. Jesus is greater than the angels and you need to remember that it was the angels who mediated the law. From the angels came the law, but Jesus being the Son is exalted over the angels. So the idea of the angels comes up here because of their relationship to the law. Jesus is greater because he is the Messiah, because he is God and he suffered on the Cross and was exalted to the right hand of God. So in chapters 1 and 2, Jesus is greater because he is God and because he is man and in divine; it is hard to believe that ultimately we will be greater than angels. We will judge and rule angels through Jesus who is the means by which we will rule angels. We will participate with him in that role. So Jesus is greater than angels in every way. Jesus fulfills what Adam fails to do what God wanted him to do. But Jesus succeeded and we participate in his victory through the Cross, through the forgiveness of sins and freed from the fear of death. Not that there is still a sting in death as it is still the last enemy. We are also Jesus’ brothers and sisters; that is, if we belong to him. In coming to chapter 3, verse 13 we see that Jesus is a high priest, greater than Moses. The subject continues; through Moses came the Sinai Covenant along with the angels came the law, but Jesus is superior to all of this. We ought to consider Jesus, the writer says. That is a good word for us anytime. We are to consider him as our high priest in God’s presence in our confession. Jesus as a man was faithful and obedient to God, perfectly fulfilling God’s will. Moses was also very faithful to God; he was also very esteemed and prized in the Old Testament and in Judaism. But Jesus is greater than Moses because Jesus is the builder of the people of God. Moses is faithful in God’s house as a servant. Christ is faithful in God’s house as the Son and who rules the house? It is the Son, not the servant.
It is so interesting that he mentions Moses as God’s servant in context in the Old Testament where Aaron and Mariam and others are contesting Moses leadership. But you know what happened to them in regards to their arrogance and questioning of Moses. We are told that Moses was the meekest person in all the earth. We see this again and again; Moses had a hard time dealing with the people. He didn’t defend himself but instead he took it to the Lord and the Lord vindicated him many times. So here we read that Moses was esteemed as God’s special servant, above people like Aaron and Mariam. He was close to God and yet this passage tells us that Jesus is greater; Jesus is the Son. A good lesson for us here; no person, no angel, nobody should come before our affection for Jesus. Jesus is central to our faith as our great high priest. At this point, the writer is done with this argument and now he is going to apply. Remember, Hebrews is a sermon. Now he quotes Psalm 95, you heard his voice, fix your affection on Jesus.
B. Warning 3:7-4:13
There is a danger; ‘do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion’; don’t grow cold. What happened to them could happen to us today. They were delivered from Egypt in a great redeeming act of God. In verse 9, after they were delivered, they put God to the test. They saw God work for forty years and after a while, it just became routine. They stopped trusting him and therefore God became angry with them, following verse 10. Therefore God said that they would not enter his rest (the promise land). We see this in Joshua as well, when the promises are fulfilled, they rested in the land. Beware brothers least there be in any of you with an evil heart. The second warning passage is an exhortation to the church. What characterizes an evil heart? It is one that doesn’t trust God. So how do we counteract an unbelieving heart? We need each other to do this; we need to encourage each other every day so that we are not hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Sin can easily take a hold of our hearts and minds and thoughts and cause people to go astray. We need to be accountable and humble toward one another and receive correction and help from one another. Perseverance is a sign that we know Christ. We share in Christ and we have become a part of Christ and so if we don’t persevere our profession of faith is not valid. It was those who rebelled after leaving Egypt led by Moses, those who sinned did not see the promise land. There is an oscillation between disobedience and unbelief in verses 16 and 17. A key theme in theology is that our obedience always flows from our belief. Whatever we trust in is what we are going to do. That is why we need to ask God to support and feed our faith. In verse 19, we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief. In verse 4, let us fear while the promise of entering his rest remains. Thus rest becomes a type of the heavenly rest, of the final reward we receive as Christians.
Let us fear, a healthy kind of fear for the Lord; the same kind of fear when you have a car, for instance. It is not a paralyzing fear, not a terror, but it a kind of alertness when you are driving. We care what happens and this is the way we need to be with God; we care what happens and we obey the rules that govern our Christian lives. Thus for those who believe will enter God’s rest; for those who trusted in the Gospel will have rest now as seen in verse 3. So we have already entered the rest, yet the rest is also not yet ours. This is typical New Testament eschatology, so in a sense heaven is already ours and in a sense it isn’t. This is that tension in New Testament eschatology; we are saved but we look forward to Salvation. There are some in the Old Testament that will never enter God’s rest because of their disbelief. The writer connects this to the rest on the Sabbath day which always pointed to the eschatological rest. This was the function of the Sabbath. I am not a Sabbatarian as I don’t believe that Christians are under the law of the Sabbath day. I keep the Sabbath because I am resting in Christ and I’m looking forward to the heavenly rest. The New Testament says that if you want to literally keep the Sabbath, you can, but there is no need for Christians to do this. The Sabbath points to our end time rest as the writer alludes to in regards to God’s Sabbath rest. Hebrews tells us that the land promise is not the final rest and furthermore that land promise points the eschatological rest. So we see that the writer takes what the Old Testament is teaching and applies it typologically. This rest relates to the new heavens and earth that we will experience and it is a rest that lasts forever.
When we hear God’s voice, we are not to harden our hearts but pray that the Holy Spirit would soften our hearts so that we would be sensitive and open to God’s Word. He talks about Joshua in verse 8 which points to Jesus. Joshua is an ultimate type of Jesus; there is a greater Joshua and that is Jesus himself. Now, in entering the Sabbath rest, we cease from our labors, from our works. Works here, I think he refers to righteousness and when we die our labors are over, because this life is a time of trials and temptations and tears and joy and thus labors of life. These are the difficulties we face along the way and we look forward to the rest we will have in Jesus. In the Book of Revelation, there is a verse that says ‘blessed are those who die in the Lord’; it is then that we rest from this life. The process of dying can be very hard and difficult but the end result is great for Christians. So verse 11 says, let us be diligent to enter into his rest. This is an interesting collocation: rest, to be diligent to enter rest. It takes diligence and discipline to finish what we have started. A diligent and disciplined person is the one who does well in the end.
In verses 12 and 13 says that the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of the soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the hearts. The context is that the Word of God is the word of Judgement. The writer compares it to a sword in numbers 14 where the Israelites were forbidden to enter Canaan at the time. Thus we know that the Word of God is powerful and it will judge us, if we don’t trust him. So Hebrews calls us to trust in God. So the first warning was, ‘not to drift away.’ The second warning passage, ‘don’t harden your heart.’
II. The Melchizedkean Priesthood is Superior to Aaron’s 4:14-10:18.
In verse 14, ‘we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God; let us hold fast our confession.’ We see that Jesus has entered God’s very presence. This is pastoral in that we have someone who can sympathize with us in our weaknesses. Jesus understands us because he has been tempted in every way that we have. Jesus is the Son of God but yet he can identify with us in every temptation. Some people like to bring up that Jesus struggled with homosexual sin, but I don’t think so; he could have possible struggled with sexual temptation; but we don’t know this for sure. I don’t think that Jesus necessarily struggled with the same specific things that we struggled with. He did struggle with a whole range of sin and was tempted but he never gave into sin; he never sinned. He faced a greater temptation greater than all of us since he never gave in; he never ended up sinning. Yet, we have all given in to sin! In a sense, we don’t know how great temptation can be, but he was tempted to maximum and never gave in to it. Jesus sympathizes with us because he understands what we go through. He knows what it is like to be human since he was fully human. This is the mystery of our faith, isn’t it? God becoming man and fully identifying with us! It is so wonderful and stupendous when I read this; I feel like a beast compared to what Jesus has done for me; I just don’t fully grasp all of it. We are so used to reading these words, yet it is truly astonishing. God became man and was tempted. That is beyond our comprehension. All of eternity will wonder about this. Let us draw near to the throne of grace with confidence. He doesn’t say fear in that we will be really miserable.
We can go to the throne of grace because Jesus has gone there before us. This is a very powerful verse for us today, especially if we feel in great need, we simply go to the throne of grace! There we can find grace and receive mercy from Jesus. Remember to stop and pray when you read these verses and thank God and ask him for strength you go through your own trials and temptations.
A. Exhortation in Light of Jesus’ Priestly Status
How does it work to become a High Priest? Know that is wasn’t through a democratic system. It was restricted to the tribe of Levi and within that tribe it was the sons of Aaron. It wasn’t a volunteer office as they were appointed by God. God decided who the High Priest was to be through his sovereignty and his wisdom. Why did God choose this method? We don’t know. There are so many questions like this that we don’t know the answers to, but he did. But these people, even though they were elected by God to that remarkable office; they were just human beings with their own sins and weaknesses. Therefore in 5:3, they had to offer sacrifice for their own sins. So the Old Testament precept is that God had to appoint Jesus to the priesthood. Verse 5 is his main point; ‘so also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, you are my Son, today I have begotten you.’ This comes from Psalms 2, a Messianic Psalm, a Psalm about David and his son. This is the Son who was begotten and applied to his resurrection as quoted in Hebrews 1. So Jesus at his resurrection is appointed to be the Messianic King. From Psalms 110, we have verse 6, ‘you are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.’ This is also a Messianic Psalm. So Jesus is both a king and a priest, a priest king. In the Dead Sea Scrolls, there is much speculation concerning Melchizedek. We have seen his appearance in the Bible in Genesis chapter 14 where he blesses Abraham and then in Psalm 110 and then nowhere else in the Old Testament.
And then here, we have it in Hebrews! A thousand years have passed between these two passages and then a thousand years later it is quoted again. The writer paid a lot of attention to that Psalm. The Dead Sea Scrolls says that there is a kingly Messiah and a priestly Messiah. We see this in some other pseudo epigraphy literature as well. In the New Testament, Jesus is both king and priest. Verse 7, ‘in the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.’ This is talking about his resurrection and before this where he agonizes in the garden. God wanted him to die and Jesus agreed being the eternal Son of God, and he learned obedience through what he suffered. Jesus had to learn obedience experientially not that he was ever disobedient. Jesus experienced what it was to obey God as an adult. It is interesting in church history to read Irenaeus, an early Christian who argued that Jesus experienced every stage of human life, even old age, sort of speak, on the Cross. There is insight here; Jesus in his experiences learned to obey God through what he suffered. He was made perfect experientially. Like he obeyed his Father, we must obey him as Son and High Priest after the order of Melchizedek. No one can relate to human agony like Jesus can because he took the sins of the world upon him. Thus he became the perfect High Priest.
B. Warning 5:11-6:8
So why are you thinking of leaving Jesus and going back to the Old Testament the writer asked? We can still preach the principle today because people leave Jesus for many different reasons: advancement, sex, being tired of the church, giving up their walk with God. But now we have the next warning passage. The writer tells the Hebrews that they have become dull in hearing. You ought to be teachers but you need someone to teach you the basic elements of God’s Word. You are still living on the milk of God’s Word, not the meat. You are still living like children. You are not the kind of Christians that I expected you to be. The writer encourages them to go on to maturity in 6:1. We don’t need to talk about repentance and the laying on of hands, about washings, the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgement. These are basic things but let us go on to what you really need to hear.