Hebrews resumes the subject of the book of Acts. Paul's epistles are a parenthesis in God's administrations. In Acts, the kingdom is proclaimed, and rejected by the nation of Israel as a whole. Yet there was a remnant who believed. Of these, the Hellenists followed the revelations given to Paul and found a new and a celestial destiny. But the Hebrews, associated with the twelve apostles and James, whose destiny is the kingdom as promised by the prophets, are left in a distressing situation due to the national defection of Israel. What is to become of them during the time that the nation stumbles? The kingdom cannot come until after the fullness of the nations has come in. That could hardly be during their lifetime. The book of Hebrews deals with the problem of these Pentecostal believers and takes them back to the same position as was occupied by the patriarchs and prophets of old, as explained in the eleventh chapter. They died in faith, not having received the promises.
An important distinction between Hebrews and Hellenists will help in understanding this epistle. Both were Jews, of the stock of Israel as to the flesh. Both are brought before us in the sixth of Acts, where the widows of the Hellenists were distinguished from the widows of the Hebrews. Both spoke Greek. But the culture and training of the Hebrews was essentially Eastern and according to the traditions of their ancestors. The Hellenists, who were composed mostly of those who had lived in foreign lands, were Greek in culture and customs. So distinct were they that they had special synagogues in Jerusalem. The Hebrews were strong for ritual and the religion of their fathers. They are the special subject of this epistle, as is manifest from the opening strain.
As the faith of the Pentecostal believers rested on signs and wonders and miracles in anticipation of the powers of the kingdom, some fell away when these manifestations ceased and the promised kingdom failed to appear. Their apostasy is dealt with in the sixth and tenth chapters-passages which can have no application in the present administration of grace, but which have hung as a cloud over the heads of those who imagine themselves in a similar position. Saints in Israel were conditionally pardoned. Its continuance depended upon their extension of this pardon to the other nations, as in the parable of the ten thousand talent debtor. The pardon could be and was withdrawn. It is not in force now. We have the infinitely higher favor of justification.
Hebrews is the antitype of the wilderness journey of Israel from Egypt to the promised land. It brings Christ before us as the true Mediator, greater than Moses, the true Saviour, greater than Joshua, the true Chief Priest, greater than Aaron. It holds forth better promises concerning the land and the kingdom. Its type is the tabernacle and its ministry, before Israel entered the land.
1 Though the title, "Hebrews" is not inspired, the opening strain shows that this epistle is addressed to Israelites "whose are the fathers" (Ro. 9:5), and who alone had the oracles of God. No author is given. This is an inspired omission. It is a grave mistake to seek to supply one. It is fatal to put Paul's name here, for his ministries are distinct from and above all that this epistle has for the Hebrews.
2 The Son is the Speaker to Whom the Hebrews are directed. His glories, as they relate to the kingdom and their blessing, is the great theme of the epistle. Beginning with a brilliant cluster, showing His relationship to God, He is given a place superior to angels, and to all the great figures in Hebrew history.
2 "Tenant" seems the nearest word in English for one who has the possession and enjoyment of a thing, yet is not the owner. But it should also include the distribution by lot. So we have used the phrase "enjoyer of the allotment". The whole universe was created for the Son (Col.1:16). He is the Image of the invisible God, and He it was Who made the eons. Thus the Hebrews are introduced to the higher glories of the Messiah of their ancient Scriptures.
3 We speak of seeing the sun, but it is hid behind its brilliant beams. So the Son is the Effulgence of the invisible God. The shekinah glory, which filled the temple, was a token of His presence. God condescends to assume certain characters in relation to His creatures in order to reveal Himself to them. Even as Father, He cannot be known except through the Son (Jn.14:9-10). It is only through His Emblem that God reveals Himself. Not only the creation, but the operation of the universe is in His hands. The entrance and presence of sin in the universe is all accounted for by one word -He has made a cleansing of sins. It is evident that, in His grand concerns, sins are considered only as a temporary stain on His escutcheon, already disposed of in truth, as they will be eventually in fact. The right hand of the divine Majesty is the true place of the One Who wields all the power of God, and Who, for creatures such as we, is the only One in Whom we can apprehend and approach the Deity.
4 The term "messengers", often rendered "angels", does not denote nature but office. They may be men. Many in the Hebrew Scriptures, as well as John the Baptist (Mt.10:11), his disciples (Lu.7:24), the Lord's disciples (Lu.9:52) are called by this appellation. Applied to celestial beings it denotes those who are God's couriers, who have the power of moving about freely in the universe, and thus perform the duties of messengers. Our Lord Himself is God's Chief Messenger (1 Thes.4:16). The Hebrew oracles had come through messengers. The law was prescribed thus (Gal.3:19). Now all further revelations will flow through the only begotten Son.
5 God has had many "sons". When earth's cornerstone was laid all the sons of God shouted for joy (Job 38:7). Adam was a son of God (Lu.3:38). The prophet Hosea foretells the time when all Israel shall be called the sons of God (Hos.l:10). So that the particular point in this passage is the introduction of His Son, not by creation, but by begettal. He is His only begotten Son (Ps. 2:7; Mt. 1:23; Lu.1:32-33; Jn.1:14). As such He is infinitely better fitted to communicate the heart of God to man.
5 This, in its first application, was said of Solomon (2 Sam. 7:14) the type of David's greater Son.
6 See Ps.97:7 and Deut.32:43
7 The messengers are like the forces of nature, mere instruments to carry out His will (Ps.10:44).
8 As Christ, He reigns over the next eon, including the thousand years. After that, in the new earth, He reigns as Son. This is called "the eon of the eon", because it is the fruit of His reign during the preceding eon. When the Son has reigned to such purpose that there is no further need of His rule, He abdicates, turning over the kingdom to God the Father (1 Co.15:28; see also Ps.45:6-7).
10 The Greek term here used means "originally." There is a remote possibility that it denotes "through sovereignties" and that these (Eph. 3:10; Col.l:16) may have been associated with the Lord in the foundation of the earth, much as the saints in Israel will be in the administration of the kingdom. Thus the term would correspond to "hands" in the parallelism.
11 The destruction of the earth and the heavens is but a crisis in their change (12), for they are not to be made non-existent, but created anew. All things are in a state of flux until the consummation. Only the Son remains the same, and through Him all else attains permanence and perfection.
13 David's Son and David's Lord will, like David, subdue all His enemies (1 Chron.22:18; Ps.110:1). It is the very essence of His glory that this is only "till". When the last enemy has been abolished, the Son subordinates Himself. All enmity being banished, His sovereignty ceases.
14 Nothing is said here of the great part which angels play in judgment, for judgment, in its last analysis, is but a prelude to salvation. Paul never mentions any such angelic ministry, because our nearness to God precludes the necessity of any intermediaries. The higher the revelation, the nearer we approach the consummation, the more intimate is the creatures' fellowship with God and the less need there is of any link until finally all these vanish when God becomes All in all.
1-4 Here the teaching of Hebrews is definitely linked to that of the Lord in the gospels and those who heard him, in the Acts. Paul's ministries are thus carefully excluded. The fact that these ministries had failed to eventuate in the kingdom, is the ground for this exhortation, for, doubtless many paid no further heed to the promises, now that they seem to have failed of fruition. That the kingdom is in view is shown in the next paragraph. A study of the contexts of the above quotations reveals the fact that they all deal with "the future inhabited earth whereof we speak".
5 Nowhere are messengers or angels accorded a place of rule. In the future, in the heavens, we shall judge them. On the earth, the Circumcision saints will have dominion. Even now the sovereignties and authorities in the heavens are distinguished from the messengers (Un.5:8-12).
6 Man's inferiority to angels is only temporary. In the resurrection, they will no longer be greater in strength and power (2 Pet.2:11). 7 Even in the heavens the saints of this economy will be above them. This is only hinted at in Hebrews. 8 The immediate "all" refers only to the earth (Ps.8).
8 The resurrection and exaltation of the suffering Saviour is the promise and pledge that He will elevate all who are His during the eons into the place of dominion over the universe. Only the One Who has been lowest can claim the place supreme.
9 The words "in the grace of God" may, originally, have been "apart from God". This reading is supported by several early fathers and versions, as well as by the context.
1 It is not easy, in English, to distinguish between the celestial calling, here referred to, and the "calling above" (Phil.3:14) of Paul's latest revelation. That which is celestial as to location is often spoken of in Ephesians, as our blessing among the celestials (1:3), His seat (1:20), our seat (2:6), the sovereignties and authorities (3:16), our conflict (6:12). This is in the dative case, which gives us the place in which anything is found. It occurs once in Hebrews (12:22). The genitive denotes source or character. The shadow of the divine service of the celestials (Heb.8:5) was on earth. So the city sought by the faithful (Heb.11:16) will descend to earth (Un.21:10), and the celestial calling is from the ascended Christ, not to heaven, but from heaven. We are called to heaven, the Hebrews are addressed from heaven. They have no part in the calling above. Their blessings, though celestial in character, are on earth.
Our calling is gracious (Ro.11:29), for God's glory (1 Co.1:26), fraught with the highest expectations (Eph.1:18), not in accord with our acts, but in accord with His own purpose and the grace which was given us in Christ Jesus before eonian times (2 Tim.1:9), but this calling is conditional (3:6-14) as in Peter, who exhorts his readers to confirm their calling through ideal acts (2 Pet.1:10).
The spiritual in Israel are God's house (1 Pet.2:5). Just as, at the exodus, Moses was over the nation, so now, God's Son is their Mediator. And as Moses combined the office of apostle with that of priest, so Christ is commissioned by God to the people and stands before God for the people.
7 The Pentecostal period is the anti-type of the wilderness experiences. As Israel wandered forty years in the desert, so now they wander a like period in the wastes of unbelief. The kingdom does not come.
7 The Hebrew of Ps. 95:7-11 reads ''as at Meribah" and "the day of Massah", and the passage refers to the twentieth of Numbers. The quotation substitutes their meanings. Meribah is "contention," or "bitterness," Massah is "trial." Thus he brings before us the two great occasions which exhibited the unbelief of the people. They followed the report of the ten spies, and refused to go into the land (Nu. 13, 14). Jehovah proposed to wipe them out and make a greater nation of Moses. But He relented, yet doomed them all, but Caleb and Joshua, to die in the wilderness. At Meribah or Massah the people had no water and they murmured against Moses and Jehovah (Ex.17:1-7; Nu.20:1-13). All those in the wilderness had been redeemed out of Egypt, yet they failed to enter the land because of unbelief. The Pentecostal believers who are addressed here find themselves in precisely the same predicament. The Lord had come, offering the kingdom, but they had refused to enter in. Now again the kingdom had been proclaimed, and now those who had been redeemed murmur because the kingdom is not set up. This epistle is meant for those at Meribah.
This quotation is the keynote of the warnings of this epistle. Despite them, the bulk of the nation drew back, and we witness its wanderings to this day. Abraham was not an Israelite, nor a Jew, but his descendants who imitated his faith in obedience to the exhortations of this epistle are Hebrews indeed.
3 That the entrance into the land was only a typical suggestion of the reality is evident when the psalmist speaks of a future entrance. The word "rest" is not a correct rendering of the Hebrew "sabbath" or the Greek word here used. God was not tired when He first instituted the sabbath (Gen.2:2). He stopped, not rested. So the unbeliever is not asked to rest from his works, to gather strength to resume them, but to stop because God has finished His work.
Joshua (in Greek the same as Jesus) signifies Jehovah the Saviour. He brought them into the land. Hence, while Moses and Aaron are discussed at length, their ministry being in the wilderness, Joshua is barely mentioned. This shows how consistently this epistle clings to the wilderness experiences of Israel. It is not concerned with the entrance into the promises.
9 The sabbatism which remains for Israel is the millennial kingdom. Those who, like Caleb and Joshua, spy out the land, and have confidence that God will fulfill His promise, enjoy the sabbatism by faith. All the rest are strewn along the wilderness.
12 The soul has to do with the physical senses. It is usually confused with the spirit. The nation in the wilderness was soulish. They sighed for the fleshpots of Egypt. They were sensual. So too with the people in our Lord's day, who responded to the loaves and fishes, but could not digest His words. And this is the danger with these Hebrew believers. They sighed for the physical blessings of the kingdom. But when the signs which accompanied its proclamation in the Pentecostal era withdrew, they fell away. Only the word of God is able to judge whether an action is spiritual or soulish.
13 "Him to Whom we are accountable" is an impressive and suggestive description of God whose Word makes apparent every thought of the heart.
14 Priesthood is a standing symbol of distance and alienation. There was no priest in Eden. There is no temple in the new creation (Un.21:22). In the present economy of grace each one has unhindered access, by one spirit, to the Father (Eph.2:18). The Aaronic priesthood arose out of Moses' inability to perform all the functions of a mediator. As Christ has no such disabilities He exercises all the duties pertaining to mediatorship, and thus becomes a Priest of a different order. From the time when no priest was needed, through Melchizedek, who was both priest and king, down to Aaron was a descent. The ascent is through Christ, Who is both Priest and King, to the last eon, when priesthood vanishes in reconciliation.
1 The chief priest in Israel was able to sympathize with the human frailties of the people because he himself had the same, and sinned, like the rest. But Christ's sufferings, unspeakably more trying than any priest's, never led Him into sin. The priest could offer a sacrifice for himself. Christ could not, for He was the Sacrifice, which must be without blemish. Yet, though He had no sin and did no sin, His close contact with sin and its sufferings enables Him to enter into perfect sympathy with those thus placed.
4 The honors of the priesthood have been coveted or usurped only at awful cost. Korah, Dathan and Abiram claimed the priesthood and were swallowed up by the earth (Nu.16). The censers of those with them were made into broad plates to cover the altar as a memorial that no stranger, not of the seed of Aaron, may come near to offer incense before the Lord (Nu.16:40). King Uzziah also transgressed against the Lord his God, and went into the temple of the Lord to burn incense upon the altar of incense. In consequence, the leprosy rose up in his forehead before the priests, and he was thrust out, and was a leper to the day of his death (2 Chron.26:16-21). Hence it would appear a most serious matter for anyone outside the line of Aaron to set himself up as a priest. Only one called by God dare aspire to the honor. It is necessary, therefore that Christ Himself, Who was not of the tribe of Levi, much less a son of Aaron, should have a definite call. Not by personal ambition, but by the call of God which involved such suffering as is most repugnant to flesh and blood, did Christ obtain His priesthood. God did save Him out of death, but not from the "cup".
11 The Jews were blind to the failures and disabilities connected with the Aaronic priesthood, hence could not appreciate the necessity of a new order for the Messiah. This made the whole subject a difficult one to unfold to them. The principal lessons are drawn from the inspired omissions in the record, which require a measure of spiritual apprehension which they did not possess.
1 The six rudiments which form the foundation which the Hebrews are exhorted to leave for more mature teaching are closely connected with the proclamation of the kingdom, and are not the substructure of present truth. Repentance and baptism are the keys to the kingdom, and are not for the body of Christ. Peter, at Pentecost, proclaims repentance and baptism to the Jews–perhaps to some who later received this epistle. Faith is the basis on which the present administration of grace is built. The Jews were zealous religionists. Their ritual was the dead works of which they repented when they turned to Messiah. "Faith on God" is probably the equivalent of our "belief in God", that is believing that He is, rather than what He has said. Believing God, as in Abraham's case, leads to justification, a grace entirely absent from this list.
2 Paul did not put baptism in the foundation of his evangel. He insisted that Christ had not sent him to baptize, but to evangelize (1 Co.1:17). Now there is only one baptism–that in spirit, which unites us into one body (Eph.4:5). In the kingdom proclamation, however, baptism in water was essential.
The imposition of hands for the conveyance of spiritual benefits especially through the apostles is also a characteristic of the kingdom economy.
There seems to be no reference here to the "resurrection from among the dead", but rather to resurrection in general, apart from which the kingdom cannot be set up. At that time will the saints in Israel awake and possess the kingdom promised to them in the prophets.
Eonian judgment characterizes the inception and progress of Messiah's reign. It begins with the severest judgments this earth has known.
These are the six foundation stones cast down by those who fell away among the Hebrews. They should have left them for maturity. Instead, they forsake them for apostasy. Instead of going back to Judaism, they would crucify again for themselves the Son of God.
4 This description applies only to those who participated in the Pentecostal blessings. They were enlightened, they tasted the celestial gratuity, they became partakers of holy spirit, and God's declaration, and they only experienced the powers of the kingdom eon, and many of them fell aside. These blessings were based on their repentance, or change of mind, which was induced largely by the miracles which they saw. When the kingdom failed to appear, and its powers vanished, their repentance went also. Hence the impossibility of renewing it, for the means which produced it were no longer in evidence. Such a course is not possible in a day of grace, such as we live in. In place of repentance and pardon, we have faith and justification, which know no falling away, being entirely of grace, from first to last.
11 Brotherly kindness manifested in the service of the saints is several times commended in this epistle (10: 34, 13:1), and will be rewarded in accord with the promise of Mt.10:40-42.
12 "Through faith and patience" the promises may be enjoyed even by those who are actually strangers and expatriates on the earth.
13 That all are not to apostatize is evident from God's oath to Abraham. This truth is offered as an incentive to those who still remain faithful, to persevere to the consummation. It is only thus that the salvation of the Pentecostal saint was assured. The general fulfillment of God's oath to Abraham was beyond question, for God swore by the highest possible power to fulfill it, yet the special blessing of each one of his physical descendants depends, in some degree, not merely on their faith, but their faithfulness. This is the great distinguishing feature, which sinks it far below the grace which is lavished on us, sinners of the nations. We do not need this anchor of the soul, hence it is extended only to those who belong to Abraham by ties of flesh.
1 Melchizedek is notable chiefly for what is not recorded of him. There is no reason to believe that he was, personally, the mystical and miraculous character which is his as a picture of the priesthood of Christ. He doubtless was a man like other men, for God had some among the nations who had been brought to a close acquaintance with their Creator.
The Melchizedek priesthood should be studied in its contrasts with the Aaronic priesthood. Its greatest difference lies in the fact that it combines the office of king with that of priest. This is the ideal way. It was only because of the failure of Moses that Aaron was given a share in his mediatorial office. It is God's purpose that the nation of Israel shall be a kingdom of priests (Ex.19:6), a royal priesthood (1 Pet.2:8). They will rule the nations for God and bring the nations' offerings to God. So it behooves their Head to be both Priest and King.
The other great point of dissimilarity lies in the matter of succession. The continuance of the Aaronic priesthood was made a matter of descent, and nothing was so vital to a priest as his genealogy. He must be able to tell his father and his mother and trace his lineage clear back to Aaron or he could not even be a priest. And he must provide for this succession by marrying within the priestly caste. In notable contrast to this, we have no recorded genealogy of Melchizedek whatever, no mention of father or mother, and no succession, for his death is carefully excluded from the fleeting glimpse we get of him on the pages of inspiration. These omissions are intentional, for only thus can his priesthood picture the priesthood of Christ, Who does not require a genealogy or a successor.
2 The writer fixes our attention on the significance and sequence of these titles. Righteousness must underlie peace in Christ's priestly work as elsewhere (Psa.72:3, 85:10; Isa.32:17, 9:4). So also justification is the ground of the infinitely greater favor of peace (Ro.5:1).
3 The Aaronic priesthood was a treadmill which never accomplished its object. The Melchizedek priesthood of Christ lasts during the millennium, and accomplishes its purpose, for no priest is found necessary in the new creation (Un.22:22), when God dwells with mankind (Un.21:3).
4 As further evidence of the superiority of the Melchizedek priesthood, our attention is directed to the tithe, which, in Israel, was the special portion of the Levites. Abraham, himself, the progenitor of the nation, actually paid tithes to this priest, and in him, the whole Levitical priesthood paid tithes to another and higher order. Nor is this all, for Melchizedek blessed Abraham, and so bestowed his benediction on the Levitic succession. This alone shows that his order is distinctly superior to that of Aaron.
11 It would be very difficult for the Hebrews to acknowledge the failure of the Aaronic priesthood. Yet this is distinctly involved in the announcement of a priest after a different order. Had our Lord come of the family of Aaron, He would have been associated with an order which began in failure and which will never affect the reconciliation between God and His creatures which priesthood is intended to bring about: Hence His genealogy proclaims Him Israel's King, but He ignores all genealogies in His priestly place. Instead, He has the much higher honor of being qualified for office by the divine oath, including an assurance that, unlike the Aaronic priesthood, there will be no regrets for the failure and insufficiency of His ministry.
23 If the Melchizedek priesthood should last forever (instead of for the eon) then it too, would come under the condemnation of never bringing anything to perfection or finality. Then there would be a temple and priesthood on the new earth; indeed, it would continue beyond the consummation, and form an insurmountable barrier between God and some of His creatures. Priesthood is a sign of estrangement; it vanishes when God is at peace with His people. Hence, though the Lord's life is indissoluble (7:16) and the priesthood inviolate (7:24), unbroken by death, it is always limited to one eon, beyond which there can be no priesthood, because there is no estrangement.
26 The glories of this Chief Priest refer to His relation to God, to men, to the law. He is knit to God by loving devotion. He is innocent of any tinge of malice toward men, and He is undefiled by a spot of moral defilement. He is separate from Sinners because of His exaltation to His office.
27 The fact that the sacrificial system under the law demanded sacrifices for the sins of the priests as well as for the people, shows that it was a weak and imperfect and temporary expedient. Add to this the fact that these sacrifices continued to be offered daily, and never brought any permanent relief, and we see clearly that it was never intended to do more than suggest the true Sacrifice, which the Son offered once, which needs no repetition. It is evident, therefore, that He could not have associated Himself with the Aaronic order without degrading His great sacrifice. They served among the shadows of the heavenly tabernacle. He entered the true.
1 The tabernacle and temple furniture did not include a seat. The high priest's work was never completed, hence, he never sat down in the holy places. In striking contrast, the Chief Priest of the new order has finished His work, and sits at the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens.
The "sum" is that the sanctuary is heaven itself: the Chief Priest is the Son of God. His priestly work began after His ascension (v.4). Aaronic priesthood was instituted at Sinai (Ex.24) after Israel had been redeemed; for the purpose of maintaining the people in the blessedness of redemption.
5 The tabernacle and its service were patterned after a heavenly original; It was not an exact copy, however, but an adumbration or shadow, merely giving the main outlines. The heavenly offerings seem to be mainly oblations or gifts, and probably had no sacrificial victims other than the great sacrifice of Christ. The earthly copy was given to teach the great lessons of God's righteousness and holiness, and man's unfitness and distance from Him, as well as the way of approach which is acceptable to Him until the true Sacrifice pours out His soul and makes an end of sins.
6 The heavenly tabernacle is not associated with the covenant and promises which came from Sinai along with the earthly model. Everything connected with the new Mediator is better. This is especially true of the new covenant which He will make when the kingdom commences.
8 Few phrases are so unfortunately confusing as "the New Testament". The Greek word for "testament" and its Hebrew equivalent never carry the ordinary meaning of a will, or legal instrument for the disposal of property after death. They are close equivalents of our "covenant" or "contract". To speak of the Greek Scriptures as "the New Testament", and the Hebrew as "the Old Testament" is most misleading, because, as a matter of fact, the new covenant is found in the "Old Testament". Jeremiah gives it in full (Jer.31:31-34). It has never been in force yet and "New Testament times" will not come until after the time of great affliction when Jehovah calls Israel and Judah back to Himself. In truth, the new covenant is not for the nations at all, though, of course, a large section of the "New Testament" is especially for the nations.
The "old covenant" is not the Hebrew scriptures, but the compact made with Israel at Mount Sinai. It was two-sided. The people proposed to do their part and Jehovah engaged to do His. They promised to obey Him, but dismally failed to do so, consequently, He could not fulfill His promises to bless them.
The new covenant which He will make with them after they have been restored to their land, and have received their Messiah, is radically different from the old. The people have no active part in it whatever. All depends on Jehovah. Hence it will not be a failure. The law that was written on stones will be written on their hearts. Instead of demanding a penalty for every infraction, He will be propitious. Instead of recalling their sins and lawlessnesses, He will blot them out. Instead of an "atonement" or shelter for sin made by the blood of he-goats and calves, the blood of Christ will put them completely away. At present, we have the infinitely higher privilege of confidence in God Himself, not His promises or His covenants. The law is not inscribed on our hearts, but we were caused to die to the law through the body of Christ. We are not a regeneration but a new creation.
2 In the holy place of the tabernacle, just before the curtain which separated it from the holy of holies, were two pieces of furniture, the table with the bread on the north, the lampstand on the south (Ex.26:35, 40:22-25). These typified the great truths of communion and testimony. No sunlight could enter the holy places. All light was supplied by the holy oil, which typified the holy Spirit, thus indicating that all real knowledge of God must come, not through the light of nature, but through divine revelation. The bread is typical of Christ, the Bread which is God's delight and man's sustenance. Communion with God is possible only through Him.
The holy place speaks of man's need in approaching God. The holy of holies exhibits the higher truth of God's desire for worship. Sweet incense floated up to Him from the golden altar. His Presence abode above the ark of the covenant between the cherubim. The stone tablets of the covenant were securely hid from sight beneath the lid of the ark, which was the propitiatory or mercy seat. Here it is that Jehovah met the mediator of His people.
The word rendered "censer" is sometimes translated "golden altar". But it is used twice in the LXX of a "censer in his hand" (2 Chron.26:19; Ezek.8:1l ), and never of the golden altar. This was before the curtain, not in the holy of holies. Worship is not in view, so the altar is not mentioned.
6 The chief lesson of the tabernacle structure (as well as that of the temple) never seems to have entered the minds and hearts in Israel. A God Who hid Himself behind thick curtains, and Who forbade access into His presence except on rare occasions, Who divided the holy places into two compartments and dwelt alone in the furthest one, out of reach of all except the high priest once a year, makes it evident that the way to Him is far from open. And, as a consequence, the services based on these barriers must be impotent to clear the way, and were temporary measures, lasting only until Christ would crush all barriers by His surpassing sacrifices, and open the way of access to His presence.
13 This refers to the two great sin offerings of Lev.16 and Num.19. The victim was burned, the ashes preserved, and water that flowed over them availed to purify. This ordinance fills an important place in Israel's future as well as its past (Ezek.36:25).
15 This new covenant is for Israel and Judah only. The nations have no part in it at all. They never had the law and never will have it. They never had a divine service or a tabernacle, neither were the promises made to them. All of this is for the Hebrews only.
16 Covenants, in ancient times, were ratified by means of sacrifices. When Jehovah wished to confirm His covenant with Abram, five different animals were divided into halves, which were laid over against one another so that the contracting parties could pass in between them, thus indicating that they ratified the covenant (Gen.15:8-21). As this covenant was one of pure grace on God's part, Abram was not allowed to pass between the pieces. The symbols of Jehovah's presence passed through alone, thus confirming the covenant without conditions on the part of Abram. Until the victims have been slain no covenant was considered binding.
16 The rendering "testament" and "testator" has no concord whatever with the context. It is true that a testament is of no force while the testator is living, but that has no possible application here. If the covenant with Abram were a testament made by God, then, according to the reasoning, it has no force so long as God lives! The old covenant was confirmed by death-not the death of either party to the covenant, but by the sacrifices which the young men offered (Ex.24:5-8). The blood of these victims was sprinkled on the scroll of the covenant and on the people.
18 The old covenant, under which the people rashly contracted to do all that the law demanded, was dedicated with the blood of calves and he-goats. The new is inaugurated with the blood of Christ. which has power to fend all failure, and refuses all human help.
26 It is evident that Christ did not appear at "the end of the world", nor, indeed, at the conclusion of the eons. Neither has sin been completely eliminated. Such, however, is the efficacy of His sacrifice, that we know that sin must eventually be banished from the universe. And we know also that this will be at the conclusion of the eons. Hence this somewhat complicated sentence has been rendered to this effect.
27 This is not a general statement concerning all men, but the men who have been in view continually, that is, the Levitical priests. The word judgment has no reference to the judgment of mankind for sin, but the setting to rights of those cases in Israel which continued until the death of the high priest. The innocent man-slayer lived in the city of refuge until the death of the great priest (Nu.35:22-29). Then he might return to his patrimony. This was his "judgment". The parallel demands that this judgment correspond with the salvation which will come to those who are awaiting Christ. He, the great Chief Priest, has died, and in due time Israel, the man-slayer, shall return to the land of his possession.
28 This appearance of Christ refers to His return to Israel. He will bring salvation to all, whether they watch or are drowsy (1 Thess.5:10) when He comes for us. But to Israel, He brings salvation to those awaiting Him. Just as the high priest entered the holy of holies on the great day of atonement and came out to bless the waiting throng, so Christ has entered the heavenly sanctuary and will bring a benediction when He comes.
1 The sacrifices under the law were but dim figures of the great Sacrifice. They made atonement, that is, a shelter for sin. The offering up of Christ made a real propitiation, for it put away the sins which had been covered by the blood of bulls and goats. Atonement covered sin, pardon put it away, but justification, which we enjoy, goes far beyond both. The Hebrews were not justified.
5 The unbeliever's objection that the God of Israel was a terrible God Who delighted in the blood of slain beasts, is here directly denied. The whole sacrificial system, not only as an atonement for sin, but also as a means of worship by whole burnt offerings, gave Him no pleasure in itself, but only as it was typical of the true. The physical perfection of an animal was nothing to Him except as a reminder of the moral and spiritual perfection of the One Who came to do His will. The blood of beasts could cover sins, but had no power to put them away, yet it foretold the true Sacrifice, and the sufferings which suffice to offset all sins--covered or uncovered--and eventually to justify all who have committed them as well as to vindicate God for the presence of sin in the world. These grander results are not, of course, in view in this epistle.
7 So Christ "offers Himself flawless to God", not at the cross, but on coming into the world, as the Israelite presented his sacrifice at the door of the tabernacle (Heb.9:14; Lev.1:1-5).
11 The great difference between the Levitical sacrifices and that of their Antitype is graphically brought before us in the action of the chief priests and the inaction of Christ. Indeed, had the sacrifices of the law been really efficacious, like that of Christ, there never would have been a priesthood and a sacrificial system. Moses would have offered one sacrifice, such as that at the inauguration of the covenant (Ex.24:5), and, there being no further necessity for sacrifice, there would have been no need for a priesthood. The Aaronic priesthood is built on its own inadequacy. Its continuous round of unavailing ritual knew no goal, brooked no cessation, and gave no rest. No priest was allowed to sit in the holy places, for his work was never final. In these things, the type is in contrast with the antitype, for Christ is seated in the holy of holies so far as His priesthood is concerned.
15 Under the new covenant, when Judah and Israel are restored to their land, the sin offering will be offered again (Eze.43:22), but it is evident that it will not be for those who have been pardoned.
19 The "recently slain way" is a reference to the path into the temple. On either side were the bodies of the sacrifices which had just been slain, and offered to Jehovah. It, however, was a dead way, and no one but a priest dared enter upon it. The way now lies through the death and resurrection of Christ, hence is a living way, though recently slain. In the past, even priests dared not venture through the curtain, behind which the Shekinah glory dwelt. Now, however, the Hebrews of every tribe have access, not only into the outer court of the priests, but into the holy place and into the holy of holies, where the high priest went but once a year. He went with fear and trembling, but they are invited to enter with assurance, because of the efficacy of this sprinkled blood and the cleanliness which comes through His word (Jn.15:3). It is as worshipers they are to approach. This epistle speaks of Christ's priesthood, and not of that of His people.
27 Under the law, one who sinned "presumptuously" (Nu.15:30), or, as the Hebrew has it, "with a high hand", was to be cut off from among his people, because he had despised the word of Jehovah and broken His commandment. The man who gathered sticks on the sabbath day was stoned to death (Nu.15:32-36). The voluntary sin here referred to is doubtless the repudiation of the truth and apostasy from the faith. The faith of the Hebrews, having been founded on the powers and signs which were given as a token of the near approach of the kingdom, was sorely tried when these signs ceased and the kingdom did not come. But those who drew back could not do so without reproaching God and trampling on the Son of God and inviting the fiery jealousy of Jehovah. For such there is no sin offering, since they refuse the only Sacrifice that is of any avail. They are calling down the vengeance of God.
How great is the contrast between these Hebrews and those who came under the ministry of Paul! Their faith did not fail for lack of evidence, because it was never founded on it (2 Co.5:7). They come so completely under the dominion of grace, that persistence in sin would only increase the outflowing of favor (Ro.6:1). We are beyond the sphere of condemnation (Ro.8:1). The Hebrews were never introduced into such grace as this, for their destiny is the kingdom.
1 Faith is neither "substance" nor "evidence", as is the usual rendering of this passage. The word "substance" is changed to "confidence" in most later translations, as this word seems to agree with its context in 2 Co.9:4, 1l:17. But "confidence" is not at all suitable in He.1:3, where the A.V. has "person". The Revisers change this to "substance"–the very rendering they refuse in this passage! But faith is intangible, the very opposite of substance. It assumes that to be truth which it expects to become fact in the future. The word "assumption" fits every passage in which this word occurs and opens up a marvelous vista of truth, as when we are told that the Son is the Emblem of the divine assumptions. God assumes various characters during His administration of the eons. He is Creator, Saviour, Judge, and Reconciler. In every assumption, He is represented by His Son, Who, as His Emblem, is also the Creator, Saviour, Judge, and Reconciler. In his second epistle to the Corinthians, Paul assumes the attitude of boasting. Faith cannot become "substance" without being transmuted into sight.
3 That the worlds were framed is not pertinent to this passage. It deals with the change in God's administration of the eons as a result of the refusal of the kingdom proclamation. God has come in afresh, and, through the revelations made to the apostle Paul, has readjusted the eons to suit the conditions brought about by the apostasy of Israel. Those associated with this new grace find that, in spirit, not the kingdom, but the new creation has come (2 Co.5:17), and not only so, but the very consummation has arrived (1 Co.10:11). This does not preclude the actual kingdom in the future for which the Hebrews hope. They died in faith, like the elders, not having received the promises. The faith of the Pentecostal Hebrews was largely founded on miracles and signs. Our sheer faith has no foundation but God's declaration. Therefore, in spirit, we soar far ahead of the Hebrews, beyond the Regeneration, into the New Creation.
4 Cain is a type of natural religion, which offers a bloodless sacrifice, which it has "acquired" from the cursed ground. Abel, "vanity", recognizing sin, was the first man whose blood was shed. Cain would not shed the blood of an animal, but does not shrink from shedding his brother's.
5 Enoch, in order to believe God had a special revelation. Jude quotes from this early prophecy (Ju.14-15). Though he walked with God, he evidently walked in the midst of a most ungodly generation, which, indeed, prepared the earth for the deluge. He registered his faith in the approaching judgment by naming his firstborn son Methuselah, which has been interpreted as "when he is dead it shall be sent". The deluge came in the year of his death. His longevity speaks of God's long-suffering.
7 As Enoch's faith kept him out of the impending judgment to which he testified, so Noah's faith led him safely through it. One was called upon to warn, the other to work. The building of the ark must have been a tremendous task to undertake in the face of the derision and opposition of the whole world. It was a continual reminder of the threatened doom, and condemned them by its very presence.
8 In this account God takes no notice of the failures of faith. Abraham, indeed, obeyed, when called out of Ur. Yet it was a partial obedience, and tardy, for he did not leave his father's house, but tarried in Haran until his father's death. Neither is there any hint here of his sojourn in Egypt (Gen.12:10), of his effort to fulfill God's promise by taking Hagar, or, at the very height of his faith, requiring a covenant to confirm Jehovah's promise (Gen.15:8). Such lapses as these are not in line with this catalogue of the faithful, but, in Abraham's case especially, it helps us to see that even he failed in his highest excellence.
13 Here we have the key to this notable chapter. The Hebrews did not desire faith; they wanted fulfillment. They wanted no more promises, but performances. They wanted the kingdom to come. But the time had not yet arrived. The nation is apostate. God had begun a work among the nations, through the apostle Paul, which must be finished first. What then, is left for the Hebrews? They are exhorted to take the same ground as the faithful of old, who died in faith, not having received the promised blessings. Only in resurrection would they find the fulfillment which they longed for. Abraham never really enjoyed the land which was given to him. In the resurrection, he and his seed will not only Possess the land, during the day of the Lord, but they will have the still higher and better portion of the holy city, new Jerusalem, in the new creation.
17 That all this is in resurrection is further enforced by the offering of Isaac. Abraham had such confidence in God, that he was ready to slay his son, believing that God would rouse him from the dead in order to fulfill His promise. This is the faith that pleases God and which will count in the kingdom. Though Isaac was not killed on this occasion, his very birth had been like life from the dead, and his sacrifice was practically accomplished, so far as Abraham's faith was concerned.
20 Isaac was the depository of the promises, and it was his faith that led him to pass on the blessing. Nothing is said here of his failure to perceive that Jacob, not Esau, the firstborn of the flesh, was in the line of promise. See Gen.27.
21 Jacob had learned one lesson of faith, doubtless from his own case. The firstborn of the flesh are not necessarily the first in the purpose of God. So Jacob had received the blessing Isaac intended for Esau. And now, when blessing Joseph's sons, he guided his hands deliberately so as to give the greater blessing to the younger son, even though Joseph had purposely placed them so that the flrstborn should be at his right hand (Gen. 48:8-20). And so Ephraim was preferred to Manasseh, though Joseph would have desired to have it otherwise.
22 Joseph believed the word that God had spoken to Abraham, saying that his people should sojourn in Egypt and be afllicted, and afterward should come out (Gen.15:13-14,). Therefore he told them before his death, "God will notably note you, and you shall bring up my bones from this place" (Gen.50:25).
28 Moses' fathers also believed what God had spoken to Abram, and looked for Him to judge Egypt and deliver His people. No mandate of Pharaoh could thwart God's purpose or hinder the fulfillment of the promise. They were confident that the mandate would not be carried out. It is quite evident that it was not, or there would not have been a man in Israel, at the exodus, younger than Moses himself. On the contrary, this astute method of curbing Israel's power was used by God to place Moses in the family of Pharaoh, so that the brilliant king himself might provide the very instrument to defeat his own purpose.
24 Moses is a marvelous example of the power of faith to wean from the world and its allurements. With the brightest prospects possible, he deliberately turns his back on the treasures of Egypt, and possibly the throne itself, in order to share in the eonian reward of the faithful. Had he enjoyed the temporary pleasures of Egypt, his name would probably have been forgotten long ago, yet now his fame and memory are enshrined in the heart of the human race. What will be his reward in the resurrection!
27 Moses feared when he found that his attempt to help his brethren became known (Ex.2:14). And we would naturally suppose that it was fear that drove him to the back side of the desert, but we are assured that he did not fear, though he fled. Far greater still must have been the faith that stood firm before Pharaoh, that prepared the passover, that led the people out of the land in defiance of the forces of Egypt, and brought the people into the wilderness through the Red Sea.
30 The wilderness seems to be almost devoid of faith, for the enumeration of faith's victories passes from Egypt to the land. Indeed, with faith, there would not have been the wanderings in the wilderness. And this is the inspired type of which the Pentecostal era is the antitype! Had the nation believed, the kingdom would have come. Now the few faithful who are left are pointed to the worthies who, like themselves, have nothing but God's bare word, yet believed it, and anticipated its fulfillment, seldom receiving the benefits which it promised.
1 This cloud of "witnesses" consists of those just enumerated, who witness to the life of faith. It has no reference to any who are watching the Hebrews. A witness is one who testifies, and it is the testimony of all the faithful, from Abel down, which constituted the moral atmosphere in which the Hebrews lived. Nevertheless, their popular sin was unbelief. Even as their fathers had witnessed the faith of Moses and saw the signs, yet were strewn along the wilderness for their lack of faith in God, so the Hebrews were prone to question the promises and to turn from the trials that lay along the path of faith.
2 All the other examples of faith pale before the supreme Example. Even Abraham, the father of the faithful, failed once and again in the very virtue for which he is distinguished. But the Saviour, as a man, never faltered in His implicit confidence in God. He did always those things which pleased God without regard to the consequences to Himself. When His message was rejected, He acquiesced. Even though His God forsook Him in the hour of deepest need and sorest suffering, it did not shake His faith, for, at the very last, He committed His spirit into the Father's hands. And He alone, of all the faithful, has risen and received some reward for His faithfulness, for He has ascended to the right hand of God's throne. Such an example as this should be the most powerful of all incentives for the Hebrews to endure the trials of the way, and persevere to the end.
7 God's discipline is too often mistaken for His indignation. The presence of trials and distresses are not a proof of sin and God's anger, but may be the tokens of His love. Job's friends tried to convince him that his calamities came as the penalty of his own misdeeds. Job himself thought that God was his enemy and had conspired against him. All were wrong, for the blessed result of a closer knowledge of his Maker fully vindicated God for all the afflictions He had brought upon him. Job had heard of Him, but after his trial, he could say that he had seen Him-a more intimate acquaintance.
10 Human discipline is too often without a definite object, or lacks entirely the corrective element which should always be present. Punishment as a mere deterrent, or as a penalty, is of little use in forming character. The ideal chastening is that which fits the offense in such a way that it forms and strengthens those elements in character which are weak and which led to the evil doing. God is the only Father Who has the requisite wisdom to choose such chastening for His children. However heavy His hand may seem we may be sure that it is held by a heart that sympathizes with our passing distress, and helps us to bear fruit for our own profit and His glory.
12 Flaccid hands and paralyzed knees are a realistic picture of utter discouragement on the part of those who fail to see the presence of God's hand in their disheartening circumstances, or that these are but part of the process by which He is bringing them into the larger and nearer place He has prepared for them.
16 The example of Esau should have made a powerful appeal to the Hebrews, in their perplexity and distress. They, too, could ease their souls and enjoy the pleasures of the world by rejecting their birthright, for they were the firstborn of the kingdom. If they should barter their birthright for a brief respite then they, too, would be rejected, however much they might regret it later on.
17 Esau was not seeking forgiveness nor salvation, but to undo the effect of a former state of mind with regard to the birthright. But his bargain was irrevocable. These Hebrews were in danger of forfeiting their birthright.
18 The nation in the wilderness, at Mount Sinai, came to the terrible spectacle which inaugurated the law (Ex.19:12-20). The whole scene was prophetic of the relation they would sustain to Jehovah under the legal covenant. He forbade a near approach under pain of death. It brought no peace or assurance, but fear and terror. This is the function of the law. It came, not to bring them near to God, but to convict them of their inability and unworthiness.
22 There is a studied contrast here between the scene presented to the physical eye at Mount Sinai and the prospect of faith in connection with the new covenant. Mount Sinai itself is suggestive of another mountain which is the ultimate home of Israel in the new earth. The Lord is present, as He was in the wilderness, but here He is the Light, rather than the Lightning. Instead of being warned away for fear of death, the saints dwell near Him and enjoy the fruits of the tree of life and the draught of the river of life (Un.21, 22).
The law was given by the mandate of messengers (Ac.7:53). Now they are ministering spirits commissioned for service because of those who are about to be enjoying the allotment of salvation (Heb.1:14).
The universal convocation here referred to is probably that which is convoked at the opening of the day of the Lord when the representatives of the whole creation are summoned together before the judgments which usher in the kingdom are visited on the earth (Un.4, 5).
23 The ecclesia of the firstborn recalls the passover, when the firstborn in Egypt were saved by the blood (Ex.12:15). As a consequence Jehovah claimed all the firstborn for Himself (Ex.13:2, 34:19). Later the Lord took the Levites in exchange for the firstborn (Nu.3:12-13). Thus those ransomed by blood were the "ecclesia of the firstborn" in the wilderness. These Jehovah claimed for His own and these He brought near to Him in the Levites. So that the "church of the firstborn" comprises those under the shelter of the blood before the kingdom is set up. In the wilderness they were numbered on earth (Nu.3:42), here they are registered in heaven.
God as Judge is especially appropriate to those who were waiting for Him to arise and judge His own people and the whole earth, as a preparation for the establishment of the kingdom. Not so do we know God.
24 Under the law the spirits of the just never reached perfection, for its rites brought nothing to a finality. Perfection comes only through the Antitype of the ritual of the law.
24 Moses was the mediator of the old covenant, but now One Who is more than Moses inaugurates a fresh covenant which cannot fail as the former, because it is founded on God's faithfulness alone.
25 The judgments which will usher in the kingdom will be far more terrible and widespread than those at Mount Sinai. Under the sixth seal, the great cataclysm includes the sun, moon, and stars (Un.6:12-13).
7 The leaders were not official rulers, but men who were guides in ministry of the word and exemplary conduct.
8 It should be remembered that "the Same" is a pronoun, and has reference to His personality, not to His administrations or assumptions. The same One pours out grace upon us and indignation on the nations in the Lord's day. The same One Who was weary at Sychar's well is now all-powerful. He Who was once lowly is now exalted, Who healed hundreds when on earth, refused to remove Paul's thorn in the flesh, Who hung on Calvary's cross and lay lifeless in the tomb is now alive and has ascended to God's right hand. His person, service, and dispensations change to accord with God's purpose, but He Himself remains the Same.
9 It is evident that the strange teachings here referred to do not tend toward grace but physical gratification.
9 Foods and drinks, which were a part of the ritual of the first tabernacle, (9:9-10) cannot confirm the heart in grace. In connection with Christ's sacrifice, there is no sacrificial meal. The carcass of the sin offering was not eaten either by priests or people, but was burned.
11 The camp can refer to nothing else than the established ritual of Judaism. The great Sin Offering suffered outside the city of Jerusalem. So it behooved His followers to forsake the city and the system of religion which cast Him out, and follow Him outside of it all. Jerusalem was not the permanent abode of God's saints. It was to be utterly destroyed. This was done not long after this epistle was written. The eye of faith looked forward to the heavenly Jerusalem on the earth.
13 This is the climax of the epistle. The choice is between faith and apostasy. The reference is to the ritual of the golden calf (Ex.33). It would have been apostasy to go outside the camp had there not been apostasy in the camp. Israel had again ceased to be "the congregation of the Lord", and they must either take sides with Messiah who suffered outside the gate or apostatize. An apostate recognizes truth and refuses to obey it.
20 The God of peace-what an anchor for the turbulent souls of the Hebrews in the tumult of the times in which they lived! Josephus could write a whole book on the subject of the Jewish War which kept Palestine in continual turmoil up to the destruction of Jerusalem under Titus. How fitting to close the epistle with this title! In the coming kingdom, Christ will be King of Salem (peace, welfare) as well as King of righteousness. In perfect keeping with this is the pastoral picture of the great Shepherd. As the good Shepherd, He gave His soul for the sheep. Now, as the great Shepherd, in resurrection, He still cares for and protects His own. Beautiful as this picture is; it finds its place on earth, and may be applied only to Israel, the nation of His choice. The church is not a sheepfold. Israel is not "one fold", as in A. V., but "one flock" (Jn.10:16). Within the fold sheep do not need the Shepherd's care, but when they are led out to pasture he guides and defends them. These Hebrews were far from the fold.