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Bible penngrovechurchofchristorgThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Hebrews 8:1-7

Jesus, High Priest of a Better Covenant

Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent[a] that the Lord set up, not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” But as it is, Christ[b] has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.

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Last week’s post concluded the Hebrews author’s discussion of Psalm 110:4 and the universal priesthood of Christ which God the Father bestowed upon Him via an oath, something He did with no earthly priest.

The author, inspired by the Holy Spirit, intended to persuade Jewish converts and those Jews who had heard of Jesus that He is the Messiah. The author wanted his audience to leave Judaism behind fully and focus on Christ.

Hebrews 7:22 says:

This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant.

Chapter 8 picks up on that thought and further expands upon it. Jesus is the Great High Priest, because He sits at the right hand of God in heaven (verse 1).

John MacArthur explains the importance of sitting at the right hand of God in a way that a Jewish person would have understood (emphases mine):

there were always two scribes before the judges of the Sanhedrin. One scribe sat on the right hand, and the other scribe sat on the left hand. And it was always the business – watch this – of the scribe who sat on the right hand to write the acquittals, and it was always the business of the scribe on the left hand to write the condemnations. The Bible says that Jesus came, in John chapter 3, verse 17, not to – what? – condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. Hence, His place is never on the left hand but always on the right hand for He writes the pardons for His own.

That detail of information makes us appreciate His placement at the right hand of God. Jesus Christ is on our side. He is our only Mediator and Advocate with the Father.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

He sits on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty on high, that is, of the glorious God of heaven. There the Mediator is placed, and he is possessed of all authority and power both in heaven and upon earth. This is the reward of his humiliation. This authority he exercises for the glory of his Father, for his own honour, and for the happiness of all who belong to him; and he will by his almighty power bring every one of them in their own order to the right hand of God in heaven, as members of his mystical body, that where he is they may be also.

What an uplifting thought. What joyful confidence we can have in Jesus in this life and the next.

The author of Hebrews goes on to say that Jesus is a minister in ‘the holy places’ — Heaven — where the true tent (tabernacle, Holy of Holies) is, a sanctuary that God, not man, created (verse 2).

Henry explains:

The tabernacle which was pitched by man, according to the appointment of God. There was an outer part, in which was the altar where they were to offer their sacrifices, which typified Christ dying; and there was an interior part within the veil, which typified Christ interceding for the people in heaven. Now this tabernacle Christ never entered into; but, having finished the work of satisfaction in the true tabernacle of his own body, he is now a minister of the sanctuary, the holy of holies, the true tabernacle in heaven, there taking care of his people’s affairs, interceding with God for them, that their sins may be pardoned and their persons and services accepted, through the merit of his sacrifice. He is not only in heaven enjoying great dominion and dignity, but, as the high priest of his church, executing this office for them all in general, and every member of the church in particular.

Jesus took His seat when He ascended into Heaven. MacArthur words this beautifully:

He passed through the heavens and so forth. So, Jesus Christ, having accomplished His work, finished it, passed through the heavens – the stellar heavens, atmospheric heavens – entered into God’s heaven, sat on the throne. What a High Priest.

MacArthur says that this elaboration was probably meant to assuage any anxiety the Jewish converts might have felt about abandoning Judaism:

The emphasis in the book of Hebrews is repeatedly on the fact that Christ is at the right hand of God. And I think the purpose of it is to assure those who were deprived of the temple services in Jerusalem that they didn’t need to worry about what was going on, on earth in the shadowy realm, because they had a real priest in the real Holy of Holies, in the real heaven of God, who was there for them, ministering and interceding. So, the crowning argument for the superior priesthood of Jesus Christ and his exaltation to heaven, to sit with the Father, that is the glorious sum of everything else that shows us He is, indeed, a superior priest.

Not only that, however. He sits in the true tabernacle, the real, heavenly Holy of Holies:

He doesn’t fool around in a skin tent like the tabernacles, nor does he minister in a physical building on earth. Those temples have all crumbled long ago. His temple is in heaven. He ministers in the real Holy of Holies.

The author then mentions the particular office and duties of His priesthood (verse 3).

Henry says that He accomplished these largely during His Crucifixion and Resurrection, because He:

had himself to offer, his human nature upon the altar of his divine nature, as the great atoning sacrifice that finished transgression, and made an end of sin once for all; and he has the incense of his own righteousness and merits too to offer with all that his people offer up to God by him, to render them acceptable.

Now He intercedes for us and guides us.

The next two verses describe the Jewish priesthood by means of contrast. Jesus could not be a priest on Earth because He did not come from the correct tribe; He came from Judah, which was not given the priestly remit (verse 4). Furthermore, the earthly tabernacles the priests ministered in were but mere shadows of the glorious, true one in Heaven. God instructed Moses to build a tent — a tabernacle —  in a precise way to serve as a temporal shadow of the heavenly one (verse 5).

MacArthur explains the author’s use of ‘true’ and ‘shadow’:

And so it is that God has a Holy Place in heaven, and that’s where Jesus ministers. Notice He calls it the true tabernacle. And the word “true” is not here used in an opposite sense from false. He is not saying the true tabernacle as opposed to the tabernacles of the heathen or the temples of the heathen idols. He is using the word “true” in contrast with something that is shadowy and unreal. The difference between a typical shadowy, temporary thing and the true one. The true one is abiding, solid, and real

Christ ministers in the heavenly sanctuary, the Holy of Holies where God is. He doesn’t minister in a shadowy temple on earth

the Greeks always thought in terms of two worlds: one was the real world, and the other was the unreal. And you may have studied about Plato, and you may have studied a little bit of the Aristotelian polemic and some of the things that had to do with philosophy in those days, and you probably ran across this kind of a dual concept especially that was the basic doctrine of Plato. But Plato always said somewhere there was [the] real, and that what we saw was only the unreal. This world of space and time was a world of shadows. It was a world of copies – pale copies at best. A world of unreal reflections. But somewhere there was a real world

Now, this was a kind of a Greek philosophy. This is only a shadow world. Somewhere there’s a real world …

Now, the writer of Hebrews is saying very much the same thing. He is not a Greek philosopher; he is speaking the revelation of God, but in a very real sense, the Greeks weren’t too far off. There is a real world. This is not the real world. In terms of God’s revelation of the old covenant, it was shadows and types and pictures, and reflections all from the pattern which is heavenly, you see?

The earthly temple, the earthly tabernacle is a place that is only a copy of the real temple of God. Earthly worship is only a remote reflection of real worship when we get to heaven. The earthly priesthood is only an inadequate shadow of the real priesthood.

Therefore:

Jesus is superior to Aaron number one because He’s seated, and number two, because He serves in a superior sanctuary, not pitched by men, but pitched by God. He serves in the real sanctuary. Tremendous truth.

Also, this makes Christ’s priesthood in the New Covenant vastly superior to — ‘much more excellent than’ — anything the Levite priests could accomplish in the Old Covenant because His universal priesthood is ‘enacted on better promises’ (verse 6). He is there, with His Father, interceding with Him on our behalf, continuously.

And, if there were any doubt in the Hebrews’ minds, the author says that, if the priesthood of the Old Covenant matched up to that, it would still have been in force. However, as any rational person can conclude, it was inferior to the eternal priesthood conferred upon Jesus in the New Covenant (verse 7).

The author continues with a further proof from Jeremiah, which will be the subject of next week’s post.

For now, it is such a blessing to be able to write about the Book of Hebrews during the season of Advent. The Sunday readings for the next few weeks, today being the first, include Old Testament prophecies about Christ and the Church. Studying Hebrews concurrently removes any doubt that Jesus is Lord. He is much, much more than ‘a good man who lived 2,000+ years ago’.

If young people — with the help of a mature family member — studied the Book of Hebrews before or shortly after Confirmation, they would understand the essential nature of Jesus. The same holds true for adults. We would no longer see a drop in church attendance or a lapse in faith. Christians would understand why they believe in Jesus and why He lives and reigns forever.

Furthermore, more of us would be able to competently answer the question, ‘Why are you a Christian?’

There would also be minimal shifts by Christians towards Hebraic movements that purport to get Christianity back to Jewish roots. The Book of Hebrews proves why that is not only completely unnecessary but also erroneous.

This book is unbelievably uplifting, and all the more so at this time of year.

Next time — Hebrews 8:8-13

Bible kevinroosecomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Hebrews 7:11-14

Jesus Compared to Melchizedek

11 Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? 12 For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. 13 For the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar. 14 For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.

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Last week’s entry delved deeper into the universal priesthood of Melchizedek, a king and priest to whom Abraham paid homage and a tithe (Genesis 14). Melchizedek, in turn, blessed him. That is all we know about Melchizedek. After that, the next few chapters of Genesis reveal how God blessed Abraham.

These are the important verses from that entry (emphases mine):

It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior.

One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, 10 for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him.

Aaron and all the Jewish priests were descended from Levi.

As John MacArthur points out, Melchizedek preceded the Levitical priesthood and was a universal priest of God-fearing men. Similarly, Jesus, who was not of the Levites, is a universal priest according to the order of Melchizedek:

You see, Melchizedek wasn’t a priest by any physical standard. He was a priest because of his character. And in that sense, he pictures Jesus Christ. And Jesus Christ can do what Aaron couldn’t do; he takes us into the presence of God, and He anchors us there.

Although Hebrews is aimed at early Jewish converts who could not leave ceremonial and ritual law behind as well as at Jewish people who were still mulling over whether Jesus is Messiah, we Christians have much to learn from this book, which explains the eternal pre-eminence of Christ as King and Great High Priest.

It is important for every Christian to understand that Jesus accomplished what the Levite priests could never do, and that was to break down the barrier to God. Recall that, before the destruction of the temple, only the high priest could enter into the tabernacle, the Holy of Holies, once a year on the Day of Atonement and only for a few seconds because even he was not worthy of being there.

At the Crucifixion, after Jesus died on the Cross, God rent the veil of the tabernacle, meaning that people would come to Him through His Son, who had made the full, perfect, sufficient sacrifice for our sins.

MacArthur explains:

Drawing near to God is the goal of Christianity. That’s the whole point. This is the essence of Christianity. This is its highest experience. This is the design of God for Christianity: access to His presence. Coming into His presence with nothing between. And I think sometimes we forget this. Christians look at their Christian life usually in three or at least three ways. Some look at their Christian life, and they see Jesus Christ only as a means to salvation and personal happiness. And that’s about how they look at their Christian life: they’re looking for happiness; they’re on a quest for security. They found Jesus; there’s their happiness; there’s their security. And that’s about as far as it ever goes.

Other people look at their Christian life like this: they see it as a relationship to Jesus Christ, and they seek to know Christ better. Now, that’s fine, just as number one was fine. But still, they haven’t grasped really what Christianity is. It’s not just security and happiness; it’s not just knowing Jesus Christ deeper and deeper.

Thirdly – and this is the key; this is what Christianity really is – some Christians understand that Christianity is drawing nigh unto God. That is the essence of Christianity. That’s what it is. The fullest expression of our faith is to enter into the presence of God, into the Holy of Holies, and to sit on the throne with Him. That’s the fullest expression of our faith.

Jesus is the door to God, and in a sense, many Christians fellowship with the door and never get into the Holy of Holies. We need to understand that the design of God, in our faith, is to bring us into a full kind of access to the God of the universe.

With regard to Hebrews 7, beginning with today’s verses and continuing to the end of the chapter, the author, inspired by the Holy Spirit, uses Psalm 110:4 as an illustration of Christ’s universal priesthood:

The Lord has sworn
    and will not change his mind,
“You are a priest forever
    after the order of Melchizedek.”

First, the author examines the Levite priesthood, supreme to the Jews of that time. He asks his audience to consider whether, if it were so perfect, even though those priests were the ones to uphold Mosaic law, why there would be a need for any other priesthood, one after the order of Melchizedek (verse 11). If one form of priesthood is perfect, surely, there is no need for another.

Yet, those priests had to continue offering sacrifices, generation after generation. Therefore, it could not have been perfect.

As Matthew Henry points out, it was a framework for the future, one that, by necessity, would come to an end:

They could not put those who came to them into the perfect enjoyment of the good things they pointed out to them; they could only show them the way.

MacArthur directs us to Psalm 110:4 (above):

If God had intended the Aaronic priesthood to introduce the age of perfection, the time of perfect access to God, why would He then have prophesied Messiah to be a priest of a different order?

You see, when God set aside Israel, that was no accident. God had planned that way back in the Old Testament, even before the world began. God knew Messiah would be a different priest, because He knew the Aaronic priesthood was imperfect.

Jesus supercedes any Jewish priest — and Mosaic Law — because He is now our Great High Priest. As the author of Hebrews says, a change of priesthood necessitates a change in the law (verse 12).

Henry explains:

That therefore another priest must be raised up, after the order of Melchisedec, by whom, and his law of faith, perfection might come to all who obey him; and, blessed be God, that we may have perfect holiness and perfect happiness by Christ in the covenant of grace, according to the gospel, for we are complete in him

a new priesthood must be under a new regulation, managed in another way, and by rules proper to its nature and order.

MacArthur discusses the Greek used in the original text, meaning ‘to replace’:

So, if there’s going to be a different priesthood, “For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.” Now, the idea of change here, metatithēmi, means to put one thing in the place of another. You don’t add Christianity to Judaism; you take away Judaism and you put Christianity in. You replace it. The priesthood of Melchizedek was not added to Aaron’s; it replaced it. You see it there, “For the priesthood being changed” – metatithēmi, replacing another one. Aaron’s is defunct. It says, then, “There is made of necessity a change also of the law.”

The ‘law’ as discussed here relates to the ceremonial and ritual law of the Old Testament. The Ten Commandments, which mandate that we love God above all and that we love our neighbour as ourselves, still stand.

MacArthur tells us:

Certainly there’s not a doing away of God’s moral law; it’s not all of a sudden right for us to say, “Well, we’re under the new covenant. We may now commit adultery, steal, lie, covet, etcetera, etcetera, take the Lord’s name in vain.” No, God does not set aside his moral law.

The author of Hebrews moves on to Jesus, saying that He did not descend from a line of Old Testament priests (verse 13). He came from the tribe of Judah, and Moses never said anything about priests coming from that group of people (verse 14).

So, the priest has changed, the priesthood became universal and Mosaic law became obsolete.

Henry says:

This change of the family shows a real change of the law of the priesthood

the high priest of our profession holds his office by that innate power of endless life which he has in himself, not only to preserve himself alive, but to communicate spiritual and eternal life to all those who duly rely upon his sacrifice and intercession

the priesthood of Christ carries in it, and brings along with it, a better hope; it shows us the true foundation of all the hope we have towards God for pardon and salvation; it more clearly discovers the great objects of our hope; and so it tends to work in us a more strong and lively hope of acceptance with God. By this hope we are encouraged to draw nigh unto God, to enter into a covenant-union with him, to live a life of converse and communion with him. We may now draw near with a true heart, and with the full assurance of faith, having our minds sprinkled from an evil conscience. The former priesthood rather kept men at a distance, and under a spirit of bondage.

That bondage was one of sin, but also one of ceremony and ritual, as MacArthur explains. As we saw during my series on Acts, the tensions between Jews and Christians were palpable, not unlike those that the new converts of Hebrews had endured:

some who had come to Christ, were still worshiping at the temple, still hanging on to the ritual of the old system. And the setting aside was extremely difficult for the Jews to grasp. In fact, so difficult that it was the reason they stoned Stephen and they vented their wrath on Paul on that very basis. The issue of setting aside the old.

And even some believers, even some who had been redeemed obstinately contended that the Mosaic system still remained in force. And you had to go through all the rigmarole of the Levitical priesthood still. I think that’s the issue in Acts – yes – 21:20, “And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said unto Him, ‘Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews are there who believe; and they are all zealous of the law.’” There were Jews being saved but not breaking with the old system. It was the same contention that caused so much trouble in the early Church you remember. The early Church was always being harassed by the Judaizers; that’s the word that means certain Jews who came in and tried to impose the whole Old Testament system on the Christians. They were telling the Christians you had to be circumcised, and you had to go through the Aaronic priesthood, and you had to go through all the sacrifices and so forth. And the book of Galatians is really written as kind of a reaction to that. And in Galatians chapter 4, verse 9, writing to this very problem, he says, “But now, after you have known God, why are you turning to the weak and beggarly elements unto which you desire again to be in bondage?” You already have access to God, why do you want to back out of the Holy of Holies and go through the ritual in front of the veil again? You see?

He says, “You observe days, and months, and times, and years.” You’re back into the old ceremonies. Chapter 5 he says, “Stand fast, therefore, in the liberty with which Christ has made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” Don’t go back to the old rituals, the old system. You’ve been turned loose. “For in Jesus Christ” – verse 6 – “neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision” – that isn’t the issue any longer. That’s over with.

The Transfiguration illustrates this issue, as MacArthur explains. This is exceptionally important to remember:

Mark 9, listen to it, “And Peter answered and said to Jesus, ‘Master, it’s good for us to be here’” – he’s up on the mountain – “‘let us make three booths, one for thee, and one for Moses, and on for Elijah.’” – now watch – “For he knew not what to say” – which was often his problem ; it never seemed to stop him from saying anything – “for they were very much afraid.” Peter just kind of blurted it out. Now watch. “And there was a cloud that overshadowed them: and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son: hear Him.’” Now watch. “And suddenly, when they had looked around about, they saw no man any more, except Jesus only.”

God said, “Don’t listen to Moses and Elijah; this is my Son,” do what? – “hear Him.” You see, in a sense, God was illustrating that the old covenant had passed. And after the thunderstorm – after the cloud or whatever it was had vanished, they saw Jesus only. That’s the point. The old system is defunct.

I’d never thought about it that way, but that’s an excellent point — and one I’d not read or heard of before. I understand the Transfiguration much better now.

In next week’s reading, the author continues to discuss Psalm 110:4. More insights will follow.

Next time — Hebrews 7:15-19

Bible openThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Hebrews 7:4-10

4 See how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the spoils! 5 And those descendants of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment in the law to take tithes from the people, that is, from their brothers,[a] though these also are descended from Abraham.6 But this man who does not have his descent from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior. In the one case tithes are received by mortal men, but in the other case, by one of whom it is testified that he lives. One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, 10 for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him.

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Last week’s post offered a lengthy explanation of the importance of Melchizedek and his universal priesthood, not only to Abraham but to us today.

Melchizedek’s priesthood pre-dated that of the Jewish people. Abraham, at that point, had not yet received God’s promises to him, but this encounter with Melchizedek began their fulfilment.

The unknown author of Hebrews, inspired by the Holy Spirit, was in the beginning points of his dissertation on Melchizedek being a higher priest than those of Jews, as his priesthood was for all who feared God. The author developed this argument, point by point, weighing heavily on the notion of universal priesthood. Melchizedek was a ‘type’ of Christ, yet not Christ himself. Christ, however, fulfilled God’s will of becoming the great and eternal High Priest for all — including Gentiles.

Furthermore, Melchizedek was also the ‘king of peace’ (Hebrews 7:2), because he was from Salem (which means ‘peace’, probably Jerusalem). Christ is the Prince of Peace: yesterday, today and forever.

We will see how this dissertation on Melchizedek develops in the coming weeks.

John MacArthur summarises the Holy Spirit’s reasoning as follows (emphases mine below):

Now, in this argument, the Holy Spirit shows that Melchizedek was greater than Abraham because He wants to show that he was greater than Aaron and Levi. Now, the point being that Abraham was better than Aaron and Levi. Therefore, if Melchizedek was better than Abraham, he was also better than Aaron and Levi. If he’s better than Aaron and Levi, he’s the mediator of a better covenant, and you ought to turn from Judaism and come to Christ. Do you see the argument?

Last week’s verses covered Abraham’s one-off tithe to Melchizedek: one-tenth of his spoils in battle with a neighbouring king. Those were not cast-offs, either, but the very best of the spoils.

Melchizedek blessed Abraham (verse 6), the man to whom God made promises that continue to be fulfilled today through descendants of Jew and Gentile alike. Abraham is our father in faith.

Considering that Abraham made a tithe to Melchizedek and received his blessing, undoubtedly, Abraham was the inferior of the two men (verse 7).

Matthew Henry says that it was Melchizedek’s:

place and privilege to bless Abraham; and it is an uncontested maxim that the less is blessed of the greater, Hebrews 7:7. He who gives the blessing is greater than he who receives it;

Therefore, in comparing Christ and Melchizedek in their universal priesthood, we can conclude that Christ is superior to the Jewish priests:

and therefore Christ, the antitype of Melchisedec, the meriter and Mediator of all blessings to the children of men, must be greater than all the priests of the order of Aaron.

The author states that in verse 8, as John MacArthur explains the ongoing priesthood in the order of Melchizedek. Even though Melchizedek died, the universal order of priesthood continues and is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns forever:

Look at verse 8, “And here men that die receive tithes” – you know, Melchizedek was of an eternal priesthood in the type; Christ is an eternal Priest, and if we tithe to priests that die, “but where he receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth.” In other words, to be able to exact tithes in a dying kind of priesthood is one thing; how much greater Melchizedek had no death. And so, Jesus Christ is a Priest who is alive forever more. “He receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed He liveth.”

And so, He is a greater priest because He’s a living priest; not a dying one. All men are dying men. The idea that it says in verse 8, “Here men that die” is the – the Greek is “here dying men receive tithes, but this is one who is alive forever more.”

Verses 9 and 10 are interesting, because the author of Hebrews posits that, figuratively, even the Jewish priests paid tithes to Melchizedek through their ancestor Abraham. Therefore, Melchizedek was greater than the Jewish priests. And if Jesus is greater than Melchizedek, it was time for the audience, the Hebrews, to believe that Christ is the eternal Great High Priest.

MacArthur breaks down the Jewish thinking for us:

And then comes this interesting argument in verse 9, “And as I may say” – in other words, he kid of apologizes for the strangeness of the argument; nevertheless it’s valid – “And as I may say so, “Levi also, who receiveth tithes, paid tithes in Abraham. For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchizedek met him.” The only one argument that would be left would be this: a Jew would say, “Now wait a minute. Now let me think this thing through. Melchizedek, yes, Abraham paid him tithes, but Abraham was no priest. Right? Therefore, the Levites were priests, and maybe they were greater than Abraham. And maybe if Abraham had been a priest, he wouldn’t have done that, and maybe the Levites wouldn’t have done it.”

And so He says, “Levi also, who receives tithes, paid them in the loins of Abraham.” Now, this is an interesting argument, and you’ve got to understand the Jewish mind. The Jews viewed heredity in a realistic manner. Levi was in the loins of Abraham since he was to descend from Abraham. When Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek, it was as if the entire Levitical priesthood had acknowledged his superiority. And so, that answers the last objection.

Melchizedek, then, is better than Aaron. Now this is a powerful point to the Jewish mind. And in a sense I apologize to you and to me even, because without a Jewish frame of reference, this is difficult for us to understand. But Melchizedek was of a better priesthood. Jesus came after the order of Melchizedek.

Even though Genesis 14:18-20 is the one primary mention of Melchizedek, it had to appear in Scripture to show that a) there were men of God among the Gentiles and b) that Jesus would fulfil a pattern of priesthood that God established through Melchizedek. If that example of universal priesthood were not in Scripture, the Jews would have rejected any arguments about it:

Don’t you see that He couldn’t just invent a new priesthood without a historical precedent or they wouldn’t have bought it?

The argument for the superiority of this universal priesthood unfolds further next week.

In the meantime, Hebrews has many answers to the question, ‘What makes Jesus and Christianity so special?’ We can learn much from what was written to the early Jewish converts.

Next time — Hebrews 7:11-14

Bible oldThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Hebrews 7:1-3

The Priestly Order of Melchizedek

For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.

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In last week’s reading the author of Hebrews began discussing spiritual meat, rather than milk, by introducing Abraham’s unwavering faith in God.

In today’s passage, he brings into scope the meeting between Abraham and Melchizedek.

Melchizedek is mentioned in prayers of consecration during the Communion service in Catholic and Anglican (including Episcopal) churches, using a phraseology similar to Hebrews 6:20 in describing Christ (emphases mine below):

20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.

Given Melchizedek’s importance, the Old Testament has very little history on the man himself.

We have three lines from Genesis 14, where he appears after Abraham won the war against various kings, which included the liberation of his nephew Lot and the recovery of Lot’s possessions:

18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) 19 And he blessed him and said,

Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
    Possessor[a] of heaven and earth;
20 and blessed be God Most High,
    who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”

And Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

There is another mention in Psalm 110:4:

The Lord has sworn
    and will not change his mind,
“You are a priest forever
    after the order of Melchizedek.”

The Book of Hebrews has the most to say about Melchizedek. He foreshadowed Christ, and Christ’s priesthood surpasses his.

The notion of priesthood and Melchizedek all gets quite complicated — but nonetheless fascinating — as we shall see from John MacArthur’s sermon below.

To begin with, I will look at a more general explanation from Matthew Henry after discussing the verses themselves.

The author of Hebrews reminds his Jewish audience of Melchizedek’s blessing of Abraham (verse 1).

In return, Abraham recognised Melchizedek’s stature as both king and priest (verse 2). As such, Abraham gave Melchizedek one-tenth of his spoils won in battle. These were not the middling spoils, but the very best. Abraham understood that Melchizedek’s name meant ‘king of righteousness’ and ‘king of Salem’, meaning ‘king of peace’.

The author of Hebrews says that we know nothing more about Melchizedek in Scripture (verse 3) — or history, for that matter. That said, he was a very important person in terms of universal priesthood. God chose Melchizedek for his character, not his lineage. Jewish priests were chosen from their tribe, e.g. Levites, or lineage.

The author says that this brief mention of Melchizedek’s priesthood should serve as a timeless example of what serving God should be, like the priesthood of Jesus Christ, whose eternal priesthood surpasses that of Melchizedek’s temporal one.

Excerpted below is Matthew Henry’s explanation:

(1.) Melchisedec was a king, and so is the Lord Jesus–a king of God’s anointing; the government is laid upon his shoulders, and he rules over all for the good of his people. (2.) That he was king of righteousness: his name signifies the righteous king. Jesus Christ is a rightful and a righteous king–rightful in his title, righteous in his government. He is the Lord our righteousness; he has fulfilled all righteousness, and brought in an everlasting righteousness, and he loves righteousness and righteous persons, and hates iniquity. (3.) He was king of Salem, that is, king of peace; first king of righteousness, and after that king of peace. So is our Lord Jesus; he by his righteousness made peace, the fruit of righteousness is peace. Christ speaks peace, creates peace, is our peace-maker. (4.) He was priest of the most high God, qualified and anointed in an extraordinary manner to be his priest among the Gentiles. So is the Lord Jesus; he is the priest of the most high God, and the Gentiles must come to God by him; it is only through his priesthood that we can obtain reconciliation and remission of sin. (5.) He was without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, Hebrews 7:3. This must not be understood according to the letter; but the scripture has chosen to set him forth as an extraordinary person, without giving us his genealogy … (6.) That he met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him … Thus our Lord Jesus meets his people in their spiritual conflicts, refreshes them, renews their strength, and blesses them. (7.) That Abraham gave him a tenth part of all (Hebrews 7:2) … as an expression of his gratitude for what Melchisedec had done for him, or as a testimony of his homage and subjection to him as a king, or as an offering vowed and dedicated to God, to be presented by his priest. And thus are we obliged to make all possible returns of love and gratitude to the Lord Jesus for all the rich and royal favours we receive from him, to pay our homage and subjection to him as our King, and to put all our offerings into his hands, to be presented by him to the Father in the incense of his own sacrifice. (8.) That this Melchisedec was made like unto the Son of God, and abideth a priest continually. He bore the image of God in his piety and authority, and stands upon record as an immortal high priest; the ancient type of him who is the eternal and only-begotten of the Father, who abideth a priest for ever.

John MacArthur has much more on the subject.

First, Melchizedek is a symbol — a type — representing Christ:

Now, there’s much in the Scripture that comes under the category of typology. There are many theological terms that we use in Bible study and in Bible teaching. One of them is typology. Whenever we talk about a type, we mean an Old Testament picture of the person and work of Christ. For example, in the Old Testament we read about a brazen serpent being lifted up, and all who looked upon the serpent were healed from the snake bites. And then we hear in John chapter 3 that that is a picture of Jesus Christ. And it says, “As the Son of Man was lifted – as the serpent was lifted up, so shall the Son of Man be lifted up, and those who look on Him in faith shall be healed from sin.”

We read in the Old Testament about lambs being slain, and then we hear the words of John the Baptist, “Behold the Lamb of God” in reference to Jesus Christ. There are many pictures in the Old Testament of Christ. We call these types, and Christ is the antitype or the fulfillment of that type

But as we come to Hebrews chapter 7, we meet another Old Testament type. Now, keep in mind that types are always frail illustrations at best. A lamb rates no comparison with the Lamb of God realistically. Nor does a serpent of brass rate a relationship to Jesus Christ realistically. They are merely humble pictures meant to give us insight from an illustrative point of view. And we say at the same time that Melchizedek in no way deserves an equality with Jesus Christ. But he does serve as a very interesting picture of Christ

The author of Hebrews begins a long dissertation on Melchizedek because the priesthood was — and still is — very important to the Jewish faith.

To a certain extent, it is also central to Christianity, because a priest, or minister, is seen by many believers to be the bridge between laypeople and Jesus as well as God. Note the word ‘pontifex’ below, which Catholicism uses to describe the Pope:

And the Latin word for priest is pontifex, taken apart and it means bridge builder. The priest was the one who built the bridge from man to God. And to the Jew, the priesthood was really very, very important. To them, you see, religion was access to God. And since they couldn’t go directly to God, they had to go through a mediator, and the priests were designed to be mediators.

The high priests offered the main Jewish sacrifices on the Day of Atonement. The high priest was the only person allowed into the Holy of Holies, and, even then, he could only stay there for a moment because he himself was not worthy.

Recall that, after the Crucifixion, the curtain shielding the Holy of Holies in Jerusalem was rent in two, meaning that Jesus — not a human high priest — is our only Mediator and Advocate with God the Father. Jesus Christ offered the true, final, sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the world. The author of Hebrews wants his audience to understand this by beginning with a discussion of Melchizedek.

In God’s covenant with the Jews, priesthood was based on hereditary lines:

This was how God designed it, that certain men would be called out, set apart, sons of Aaron and Levi, to minister as priests. And they would build bridges between men and God according to God’s specifications.

Sacrifices went on and on for centuries. Then, Jesus sacrificed Himself for countless sins of Jew and Gentile alike, ending the Old Covenant and instituting a New Covenant:

And what they did, they had to do over and over and over again. And finally, a great, glorious priest has come along.

Now, you see, to the Jew this is very important, because he knows of no way to get yourself connected with God apart from a priest. And so, the Holy Spirit says, “Christ is that perfect priest. Not only does He fit the qualifications of a priest, but he supersedes any qualifications of any priest you’ve ever seen. He’s far beyond.”

Jesus Christ is our Great High Priest, forever and ever:

Now, here the Holy Spirit introduces the priesthood of Christ and says, “We have such a Great High Priest. We have a Great High Priest. You don’t need the priests of Judaism anymore. You don’t need the old system. There is a Great High Priest. There is a bridge builder whose bridge stays, whose bridge remains. And once you cross that bridge, you’ll remain eternally in the fellowship of God. There is such a bridge builder, and it is Jesus Christ.

Note that the author of Hebrews discusses Melchizedek because he was a priest of the Most High God, the creator of all. Melchizedek was not a Jewish priest, because God had not created the Jewish priestly system at that point. The Jews referred to the God who made the Old Covenant with them as Jehovah. Both names refer to the same God, but the Most High God referred to the God of the Gentiles as well as the Jews whereas Jehovah refers to the God of the Jewish covenant.

MacArthur compares and contrasts Melchizedek’s universal priesthood — a foretelling of Christ’s — with Aaron’s priesthood, which was strictly for the Jewish nation. Furthermore, Melchizedek was a king. However, no Jewish priest was a king himself, nor was he a bringer of permanent righteousness and peace with God:

Now, Aaron’s priesthood was national to begin with. In other words, it was strictly Judaistic. The particulars that were under Aaron were priests of Israel. Secondly, the priests were subject to the kings in a measure. They were not kings themselves; they were subjects in a kingdom. Thirdly, Aaron’s priesthood offered no permanent righteousness and peace, only that continual, continual, continual sacrificing. Nothing ever permanent. It never established a permanent righteousness for a man nor permanent peace with God. That peace and that righteous was shattered every time they sinned. Constant repetition.

Fourthly, Aaron’s priesthood was hereditary. It didn’t matter how good of a guy you were, if you were born in the right family, you were automatically a priest no matter what you were. Now, that poses some problems, obviously. Fifthly, it was a timed priesthood. They only existed in it from the year – from the age of about 25 to 50 and it was over. It was limited by time.

So, Aaron’s priesthood was a national one, subject to kings, no permanent righteousness and peace, hereditary, and limited by time. Now, this is very important for us to understand because Melchizedek’s priesthood supersedes Aaron’s at every single point. Therefore, says the Holy Spirit, Christ is a better priest than Aaron.

The author of Hebrews is positing a question in his audience’s collective mind. Do they want to follow a Jewish priestly system or do they want to follow a high priest who is also a king of righteousness and peace in the same way that Melchizedek was? There is only one high priest who can satisfy that criteria and that is Jesus Christ.

Looking at Melchizedek’s priesthood, we find that:

Melchizedek’s priesthood was universal. It was not national; it was universal.

At this point, MacArthur explains the difference between the Jewish names ‘the Most High God’ and ‘Jehovah’:

In relation to Israel, God took the name of Jehovah … God’s name is I Am. Right? YHWH in the Hebrew. But no Jew would say the name of God. And so, since the Jews didn’t want to say the name Jehovah, they took the consonants of Jehovah and the vowels out of Adonai, which means Lord, and stuck them together and got Yehowah which is Jehovah. So, Jehovah’s not really the name of God; it’s only that name which Israel came up with in an effort not to say YHWH and yet express who they wanted to express. So, it’s a combination word, Jehovah, and it deals strictly with Israel. And watch this, Aaron’s priests were priests of Jehovah. You remember that all the line of Aaron, the Levite line of Aaron, were – and incidentally, within the line of the Levites, you still had to be a son of Aaron. But all of those who came from Aaron were priests only of Jehovah. That is they were related to God only in connection with Israel. They couldn’t run over here and minister of there and here and everywhere else. They were tied to Israel’s economy.

But watch this. It does not say that Melchizedek was the priest of Jehovah; it says he was the priest of – what? – the Most High God. Now, that is a universal name for God, El Elyon, and it reaches everywhere and everything in heaven and earth. It is the universal name of God that includes Jew and Gentile. Far broader than the Jewish term Jehovah.

So, whereas Aaron’s priesthood related just to Israel, Melchizedek’s was broader than that and related to all men. Now, when the Holy Spirit says Jesus is a priest after the order of Melchizedek, do you see the significance? The significance is this: Jesus is not just the Messiah of Israel but of the world. So, it is very important to establish Melchizedek’s priesthood as universal if you’re going to say Jesus is a priest after the order of Melchizedek.

Now, you see the Jew – in the Jewish mind there had to be a historical reason for everything or a historical foundation. And so, God chooses Melchizedek as His perfect foundation to teach this truth. There have been priests who’ve been broader than Israel before; there’s no reason to believe there can’t be some more. And there is one, Jesus Christ. So, it transcends Israel.

MacArthur’s version of the Bible makes this clearer; Abraham used both names for God:

Now, Abraham understood this concept, because in Genesis 14:22, he said, in response to Melchizedek, “I have lifted up my hand unto Jehovah” – and then he said – comma – “God Most High.” So, he understood Jehovah in the covenant relationship; he also underst[oo]d Jehovah in the sense that He was God of everything.

The name Most High God appears elsewhere in the Bible:

In Daniel, for example, where the first great king of the Gentiles, Nebuchadnezzar is brought through seven years of humbling until he finally acknowledges the facts of God, he says this. He knew that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men. Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “The Most High doeth according to His will in heaven and in earth.” And here was a Gentile acknowledging the Most High. That’s a term that has reference to Gentiles. That’s a broad term for God.

And you’ll remember that even the demons, when our Lord cast them out, cried, “What have we to do with Thee, Jesus, Thou Son of the Most High God?” And they again used the universal term for God.

Jesus has made a promise to Christians involving the Most High God:

Jesus says for those of us who come into His relationship, He promised that we shall be called the sons of the Most High. And so, the term “the Most High” is then a universal name for God in the sense of His universal rule and character as it involves all men. And this means that Melchizedek’s priesthood is not limited to a nation. He is not just priest of Jehovah; he is priest of the Most High God, El Elyon, Possessor of heaven and earth, above all national and above all dispensational distinction.

MacArthur then examines kingship, which Melchizedek and Jesus Christ have in common:

Secondly, Aaron’s priesthood was subject to royalty; Melchizedek’s was royalty. Notice verse 1, “For this Melchizedek” – what’s the next word? – “king of Salem.” Four times it says he was king. In verse 2, it says King of righteousness, King of Salem, which is, “King of peace.” Four times in two verses, it tells us this man was a king, royal priesthood. Melchizedek’s was royal. This is something totally foreign to the Aaronic priests. This is totally foreign to the Levitical priests in Israel. There was never that combination. Israel’s priests were never king and priest. That was unknown in Israel. No priest was royal. But oh, my, what a perfect blend it is. What an absolutely perfect blend that the true Priest, the Great Priest, the glorious Priest Jesus Christ should be that blend of priest and king so that He not only takes men to God, but He rules men for God.

Listen to Zechariah 6:13, “Even He shall build the temple of the Lord; and He shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon His throne” – there He is as a King – “and He shall be a priest upon His throne.” Now, that is an unheard of concept. And yet it is prophesied in Zechariah so clearly. Jesus was to be a priest, but a priest on a throne, a royal priesthood.

Now on to the identity of Salem, about which there is broad agreement but not 100% certainty. Most experts believe it is Jerusalem, but other theories suggest Shalem in the land of Canaan and Salim, where John the Baptist performed many baptisms.

Jerusalem sounds the most reasonable place for Salem when you read MacArthur’s reasoning:

… likely that’s an ancient name for Jerusalem. Jerusalem also had the name Jebus – J-E-B-U-S. The Jebusites occupied Jerusalem initially. But it may have also, at the time of Melchizedek, had the name of Salem. And so, Melchizedek could well have been an ancient king of Jerusalem. And I think that has the best evidence. The city that was the hometown of God. There’s a most wonderful statement about that in Psalm 132. I’ll take a minute to read you two verses there, Psalm 132:13, “For the Lord hath chosen Zion” – that’s Jerusalem – “He hath desired it for His habitation. This is My rest forever; here will I dwell, for I have desired it.” You didn’t know God had a hometown, did you. His hometown is Jerusalem.

And it seems to me that it would be very likely that God would have had His priest in His hometown even pre-Abraham. And so, Jerusalem had a king long before David, and a king appointed by God; and a priest long before Aaron, and a priest appointed by God. Melchizedek was king and priest of Jerusalem. Now, this is important. The Jews always felt that God dwelt with them, and that was about it; that God was exclusively theirs, and there could never be another priesthood, and there could never be another covenant. And so, when Christianity came along and says, “Here’s another covenant; here’s another priesthood,” they said, “No, it can’t be.”

Now watch this – beautiful, beautiful argument by the Spirit. “Look,” He says. “There was another priest, and there was another covenant before you existed. Why can’t there be one after?”

Ultimately:

The whole world didn’t begin with Judaism. There was something going on before God worked that way; there can be something going on after He’s finished or temporarily finished working that one. Oh, this is so important. It leaves room for the new covenant. For if God dealt differently before, why can’t He deal differently again? He didn’t need to work through the nation Israel before Abraham. Why can’t He work another way if He wants to in this economy? That’s the point.

If He had a royal priest one time, why can’t He have another one? And He does. And who is He? Jesus Christ. Something no Jewish priest ever conceived.

There is one more aspect of this to explore which is ‘righteousness’ and ‘peace’. Peace, says MacArthur, is not temporal world peace but peace with God. And we can have peace with God only if we are righteous. Therefore, righteousness must come before peace. And, if you study Scripture, you will see that ‘righteousness’ precedes ‘peace’ in every passage with the two words.

MacArthur says:

There was no permanent righteousness, and there was no permanent peace in Aaron’s priesthood. Ah, but Melchizedek’s priesthood was a priesthood of righteousness and peace. Notice verse 2, “First” – and we’ll skip the first phrase, come back to it later, “First being by interpretation King of righteousness” – and that’s a translation of Melchizedek; that’s what his name means: King of righteousness – “and after that also King of Salem, which is King of peace” – Salem, from Shalom, which means peace. His name is righteousness; his city is peace. He is a perfect combination of righteousness and peace.

Now, don’t you know that that’s exactly what all priests attempt to accomplish? What is righteousness? Righteousness is holiness. And righteousness is demanded before you can ever be at peace with God. Right? God hates sin. Therefore, if you’re a sinner, you and God are not at peace. Right? God fights against His enemies. Did you know that? God fights against His enemies. And if a man is not righteous, then he’s not at peace with God. But if a man is righteous in the eyes of God, then he’s not at war with God; he’s at peace with God. Right?

Now, Romans chapter 3, the Bible tells us that Jesus Christ gave us His righteousness, and therefore, it says in chapter 5, we have peace with God.

You say, “Well, how do you get righteous?”

When the righteousness of Christ is given to you by faith in Him. Christ’s righteousness becomes yours; you’re immediately at peace with God. He sees you covered by the blood of Christ. Every priest wanted to make a man righteous that he might be at peace with God, but they couldn’t do it. The blood of bulls and goats didn’t do it; they had to do it over and over, and it only lasted as long as a man didn’t sin. But here He says Melchizedek’s very name was righteousness, and his city was peace, emphasizing that his was a kingdom and his was a priesthood of righteousness and peace. Is that typical of Jesus Christ? Does Jesus Christ provide a permanent righteousness? Absolutely.

What happens to a sinner after he comes to Jesus Christ, invites Him into his life and then sins? What happens? Does he have to go back and ask Jesus to come in again? No. His righteousness covers him forever. What happens once you you’ve made peace with God? All of a sudden do you turn into God’s enemy again, and He’s going to destroy you? No. No. Jesus Christ secures righteousness and peace on a permanent basis.

The historical Melchizedek was probably a very righteous man and a very peaceful king. But the Holy Spirit is not here dealing with the personal characteristics of Melchizedek; He’s only dealing with Melchizedek as a type of Christ. And He says that He was first righteousness and then peace. And may I say they always come in that order; there’s no peace with God unless there’s righteousness. The Bible says the Lord is our righteousness. Righteousness comes first, then peace.

I will leave it at that.

Who could imagine a 4,300+ word post discussing three verses? I had not anticipated it.

Yet, does this make you more elated to be a Christian? Does it make you more eager and willing to spread the Good News? I hope it does!

More on Melchizedek will follow, all being well.

Next time — Hebrews 7:4-10

Bible ancient-futurenetThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Hebrews 6:13-20

The Certainty of God’s Promise

13 For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” 15 And thus Abraham,[a] having patiently waited, obtained the promise. 16 For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. 17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. 19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.

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Last week’s reading concluded the author’s warnings to the Hebrews about apostasy.

Now the author of Hebrews gets into the spiritual ‘meat’, rather than ‘milk’.

The author needs to examine the main personalities of the Bible important to the Jewish audience in order to persuade them that Jesus Christ is the fulfilment of God’s covenants with humanity.

The author begins by saying that God swore to Himself that he would bless and multiply Abraham and his descendants (verses 13, 14).

John MacArthur explains this divine oath, which was unconditional upon Abraham himself (emphases mine):

… the Abrahamic covenant wasn’t even made with Abraham; it was made between God and Himself. Therefore, it is an unconditional covenant. God is simply saying, “Abraham, go to sleep while I make a covenant with Myself.” God promised Himself, on the basis of His own purpose, that this is what He would do, and Abraham had nothing to do with it. He just happened to be the vehicle. You see? God sealed a covenant in a human way with Himself.

And so, we say, then, that the Abrahamic covenant wasn’t made between God and Abraham; it was made between God and God.

You say, “What are you driving at this for?”

Because I want you to see that the whole design of God, in calling Abraham, really had nothing to do with Abraham. God didn’t owe Abraham anything; God owed Himself the fulfillment of His own plan. Do you see? And so, He chose to cut the fresh channel, beginning with Abraham, and He made that vow with Himself.

The author explains that when we make an oath, it is always made on something greater than ourselves (verse 16). Logically, no being is greater than God, so God made that oath upon Himself.

Now, Abraham had a blind faith in the Lord. The Lord fulfilled his faith and patience by granting him those blessings (verse 15).

MacArthur summarises Abraham’s remarkable story in Genesis. Remember that he was a pagan, as was his family:

Abraham was a pagan. Abraham lived in a city known as Ur, with his father Terah. Terah was a descendant of Shem, one of the sons of Noah. And Abraham’s father was a pagan, worshipping false gods. He settled in a place called Ur, which is between the Tigris and the Euphrates in that area called Mesopotamia, one of the ancient cities of the Chaldeans.

And God all of a sudden came to him in Genesis chapter 12 and said, “All right, Abraham, pack up; you’re leaving. Get everything you’ve got and get out. I’m going to take you to a place where I want you to go.”

Now, that’s a fairly big issue. Packing up his whole tribe, of which he was chieftain, and moving them all out, all the way over to a place called Canaan. He finally did, and settled in a place called Haran. When he got to Haran, he received another promise. The reiteration of the promise that God would bless him and multiply his seed and give him a great nation and so forth and so on, that through his seed all of the families of the earth would be blessed. This is repeated to him in Genesis 12, Genesis 13, Genesis 15, Genesis 17, Genesis 18, Genesis 22. Over and over and over and over and over God says to him, “Here’s My promise; here’s My promise; here’s My promise,” and Abraham believed it. He really believed God.

Abraham and his descendants lived in tents for generations, but they had great faith in God:

… clear as far on down the line as Isaac and Jacob, they’re still dwelling in tents in a land that really wasn’t their own; just kind of temporary there.

Abraham was an elderly man when God chose him. His wife Sarah was beyond childbearing age. They had no heir, but God promised him that he would have generations of descendants, which continue to this day:

What did He say? He said this, “Surely” – Abraham – “blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying will multiply thee.” I’m going to bless you and multiply your seed. That was His promise to Abraham. Did He keep it? Do you want to know that there are right now in this world today, 1972, in June, at least 14 million of the seed of Abraham still roaming the world? You better believe He kept it.

Not only that, there are multiplied millions around the world who are Abraham’s seed by faith. God kept His promise to Abraham. It was tough for a while. It didn’t look too good. He said, “You’re going to have a whole great nation, as numbers the sand of the sea and the stars of the heaven.” And Abraham looked at Sarah and said, “Well, you got to start with one, and we don’t even have that.” And it didn’t look real good, but he believed God. He hung in there. And he tried to help God a little bit, and got over there with Hagar and produced Ishmael, but God just used that as a punishment. Ishmael fathered the Arabs, who have been nothing but trouble for the Jews ever since.

But he believed God, the Bible says, and he stayed with it. It wasn’t easy; look at verse 15, “And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained” – what? – “the promise.” He hung in there. He believed God. He threw his whole life on God. He said, “God, I’m just going to trust you. Here I go,” and he fell over, and God caught him and gave him the promise. And it looked like impossibility.

God told Abraham to sacrifice his only — and long-awaited — son Isaac, which he was prepared to do, because he had such faith in Him:

He took little Isaac, after he was born, and he got up on that mountain, and he had that knife lifted in the air, and it was all over. Isaac dies, that’s it. The promise is gone. And yet, he raised that arm to slay Isaac, and God stayed his hand. But he went that far because that’s how much he believed God. That’s faith.

And on the way up the mountain, he said to Isaac – they were going with a lot of sticks and no sacrifice. He said to Isaac, “God will provide a sacrifice.” I think deep down in his heart he believed that God would. And finally, when he was up there, he may have been going like this, and his eye landed on that ram in a thicket. God did provide. He believed God. You can trust God, friend. You may find yourself running all the way to the extremity, but you can believe God for even that. He has never failed, and He never will.

Consider the early chapters of Genesis documenting heinous sins of pride and depravity. Then, God chooses Abraham to be the progenitor of a people. Christians are also Abraham’s heirs, via faith in the one true God:

The horrible sinfulness of men was reached in a climax at Babel, when in idolatrous, devilish worship, they attempted to build a ziggurat, or an idol really what it was, to their own manufactured worship. And God scattered them all over the world. But it became imperative to God that He had to recover man, obviously. And as the plan unfolded, God knew that he had to take drastic steps to do it. It was as if there was a flowing river and a great landslide had blocked the river, and God had to cut a fresh channel.

Now, He designed to cut that fresh channel by picking out a certain nation or a certain people and using them as His channel around the landslide of sin that had inundated the world. Now, that fresh channel was cut first of all through Abraham. And from Abraham’s loins were to come the whole nation of Israel, which has always been God’s channel. Right? Jesus said in John chapter 4, “Salvation is of” – what? – “the Jews.” And what he meant is not that the Jews are the only ones that can be saved, but the channel is the Jews. Jesus came through the line of Judah through the Jews. And so, God began to cut the channel through Abraham. And Abraham really was only a spectator to the plan of God.

It really is amazing, especially when God told Abraham that he would have as many descendants as stars in the sky and what would happen to them. This was right in the beginning, with the first animal sacrifice of Abraham’s that symbolised the covenant between them (Genesis 15):

Verse 9, “And he said unto him, ‘Okay, take Me a heifer of three years old, a she goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.’” Now, He tells Abraham to go get a menagerie, gather all these animals. And he gets all these animals, and ropes them all up, and hauls them all over there to wherever God was.

And verse 10, “And he took unto Him all these, and divided them in the midst.” Now, that doesn’t mean that he said, “Okay, let’s see, she goat over here, ram over here.” That means that he whacked them down the middle with a sword. He cut them in half. And he laid one half over here and one half over there. It says, “and had one – each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not.” Obviously you divide a bird, and all you’ve got are a lot of feathers. So, put a dead turtle dove on one side, and a dead pigeon on the other side, and then halves of all these other three animals. You say, “What’s going on? This is kind of a messy thing.” Well, it is.

And then in verse 11, which is always interesting, it says, “And when the fowls came down upon the carcasses, Abram drove them away.” And I can imagine he’s getting impatient, as he’s standing there with his stick, beating off the birds, waiting for God to do whatever He’s going to do, see. And he’s got these bloody animals lying around on the ground.

You say, “Well, what happened then?”

Well, verse 12, “When the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram” – God gave him a little divine anesthetic and put him out – “and, lo, a horror of great darkness fell upon him.” He just blacked out, see?

“And He said unto Abram, ‘Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a sojourner in the land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years’” And here He prophesies the Egyptian captivity. But notice in verse 15 – verse 16, “‘But in the fourth generation they shall come here again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full. And it shall come to pass –’” and so forth and so on. Well, let’s read verse 17, “And it came to pass, that when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace and a burning lamp passed between those pieces. In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying” – verse 18 – “‘Unto thy seed have I given this land.’” Part of the Abrahamic covenant was the gift of the land.

This is how sacrifices worked in Abraham’s time. God signified the promise with him in a way he could understand, although, ultimately, by causing Abraham to pass out, He made the covenant with Himself:

There was a very, very interesting custom in Abraham’s day and continued some time after Abraham. Whenever two people made a covenant, they sealed it with blood. And the way they did it was they took an animal, and they cut the animal in half, laying a piece on each side, and together they walked between the blood pieces, simply passing between the two pieces. That signified that they had made a covenant in blood to keep their promise. It could be a deal for land; it could be some kind of a trade; it could be anything. But they cut an animal; put one piece here, one piece there. And the two who were covenanting would go between the pieces, sealing the covenant with each other. And there would be witnesses to see it.

You want to know something? If God and Abraham – and we believe that God is represented by the furnace and the lamp – if God and Abraham had gone through, that would have meant that God made a covenant with Abraham. You want to know something? God knocked Abraham out, and He went through by Himself.

You say, “What does that mean?”

That means the Abrahamic covenant wasn’t even made with Abraham; it was made between God and Himself.

God made an oath as a guarantee (verse 16) of His unchanging purpose (verse 17). Therefore, it is impossible for God to lie and, as such, we can have ultimate confidence in Him (verse 18):

So, Abraham was secure because of the person of God. He can’t lie. He can’t back out of His promises. You can trust God. And God will never fail because He has no capacity for failure in His nature.

The author of Hebrews chooses to discuss Abraham because he wants all of his audience to truly believe and affirm that Jesus Christ is the ultimate and sufficient fulfilment of God’s covenants:

If God says, “You’re safe with me,” then you better be safe with Him, or His word is worth nothing. If His word is worth nothing, then He’s worth nothing. So, the character of God is at stake in the question of security. Can you give your life to God? Take Him at His word? Can He keep you from falling? Can He finish the work He begins in your life? Will He lose you at some point along the line? Is there real security with God? Abraham believed there was. The Bible says there is

And to those Hebrew readers who were unsaved but who believed it and who had listened to it and heard the whole thing and seeing some of the miracles, and they were afraid to let go of Judaism; they were afraid to cast themselves on the Messiah for fear it might not work, to them the Holy Spirit says, “Come on, you can trust God. He says it’ll work.” God can’t lie.

God’s unchanging nature means that our hope in Him through a belief in Jesus Christ should be a ‘sure and steadfast anchor’ for our souls (verse 19). Jesus has entered the Holy of Holies — ‘the inner place behind the curtain’ — for us. He is a high priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek, the first high priest (verse 20).

MacArthur explains those verses:

You say, “What is that hope that is set before us?”

Well, listen to what I think it is just quickly. 1 Timothy 1:1 says this – I love it – “The Lord Jesus Christ, who is our” – what? – “hope.” What is that hope set before us? It’s none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. Then in Colossians chapter 1, it says that that hope is the Gospel and all that’s involved in salvation. That’s all He’s saying. He’s saying, “There’s salvation. If you’re ever going to know if God can be trusted, if you’re ever going to know whether He’s worth His word, you’re going to have to run to Jesus Christ, embrace the Gospel, and then God’ll give you that strong confidence to know He can hang on.” You can trust God. And the only way you’ll ever know it is if you flee to Him and embrace Jesus Christ.

God gave Abraham the security of His person and His purpose and His pledge. And He gives it to you. One other thing, and this is the glorious conclusion, His Priest. To the New Testament covenant, God added yet another pledge and another security, Jesus Christ. Look at verse 19, oh this is beautiful language. We could spend weeks just talking about this. “Which hope” – that is Christ and all the salvation that’s in Him – “we have as an anchor of the soul” – beautiful words – “both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; where the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus” – we’ll stop there.

You say, “That’s kind of tangled up; I’m not sure I get that.”

Well, let me tell you what it’s saying. He’s saying we have one other security, beloved, we’ve got an anchor. We’ve got an anchor for our soul. Your soul, when you come to God, isn’t drifting anymore; it’s anchored.

You say, “Well, where is my soul anchored?”

It says right there the anchor is sure and steadfast, and it’s inside the veil.

You say, “What veil? What does that mean?”

You remember, if you know anything about the Old Testament, what it means. In the temple, the most sacred place was called the Holy of Holies. Right? And in the Holy of Holies, the ark of the covenant, the glory of God. And only once a year, on the day of atonement, the high priest could go in there. Right? And he had to get in and get out fast. He couldn’t linger there. That was the place where God dwelt. And the high priest could go in there; no man could go in there. That was the stay-away thing. Nobody went near that.

But our Great High Priest Jesus Christ performed the perfect sacrifice, and He entered into the heavenly Holy of Holies. And when He went in there, He didn’t just stand around and leave, the Bible says He went in and – did what? – sat down. Jesus finished the job. The veil was ripped open, and He left, as the writer of Hebrews says, “A new and living way into the presence of God.” Oh, fantastic.

Jesus opened the way, and when I put my faith in Him, I throw my anchor, and it goes clear to heaven, and it anchors to Him within the veil of the Holy of Holies. That’s security, my friend. That’s security. I’m tied to Jesus within the veil. Nothing can ever violate that. Oh, what a security. You think anybody can go in there and cut that rope? I’m anchored to Jesus Christ inside the veil in God’s presence. That’s security.

Jesus Christ the forerunner went in, verse 20, and He was a new kind of High Priest like Melchizedek, and we’ll get into that next time. He went in there, and when I put my faith in Him, I threw my anchor; it went in the veil, and He holds it in His hand, and He’ll never let go. And I’m anchored to Jesus Christ. Oh, what a fantastic thought.

You say, “Well, how long are you anchored there?”

Catch it, oh, it’s good, verse 20, “Where the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made a High Priest” – for how long? – “forever.” Forever. There never was such a high priest like that. Forever. I’m anchored to God forever.

My dear friend, our security is in the person of God, the purpose of God, the pledge of God, and the Priest of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. He loses none of His own. Read it yourself in the Gospel of John chapter 6, “He loses none of His own.” Can you trust God?

I really believe that if more churches had a lecture series on the Book of Hebrews, Christians would get more deeply involved with their faith.

I have read this book four times, and now I am reading it again. Each time, I understand something new — and glorious. It makes me so happy and grateful for Jesus, our Great High Priest.

More on Melchizedek — and Abraham — will follow.

Next time — Hebrews 7:1-3

Bible kevinroosecomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Hebrews 6:1-8

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings,[a] the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.

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Last week’s entry discussed the author’s warning against apostasy (Hebrews 5:11-14), in which s/he chided those who were still on the spiritual milk of Christianity when they should have been partaking of meat in their religious journey.

John MacArthur rightly termed such stasis as ‘spiritual stupidity’.

To put it another way, imagine a youngster still being in primary school at the age of 17, when he should be ready to graduate and enter university. What a waste of so many years of education.

Yet, that is what is going on here with Hebrews a) who have converted but are still stuck in the rituals of Mosaic law and b) who have heard the Good News but cannot commit to living a life in Christ.

Our commentators Matthew Henry and John MacArthur differ in their interpretations as to the identity of the target audience in this passage. Henry says the audience is those who have matured spiritually. MacArthur says these verses are intended for those who have not committed their hearts and minds to Christ.

Both are sound interpretations, but I lean towards Henry’s perspective, as the first clause of verse 1 says that the author will now progress to the subject of maturity in Christ.

Henry’s commentary explains (emphases mine):

Why did the apostle resolve to set strong meat before the Hebrews, when he knew they were but babes? Answer. 1. Though some of them were but weak, yet others of them had gained more strength; and they must be provided for suitably. And, as those who are grown Christians must be willing to hear the plainest truths preached for the sake of the weak, so the weak must be willing to hear the more difficult and mysterious truths preached for the sake of those who are strong. 2. He hoped they would be growing in their spiritual strength and stature, and so be able to digest stronger meat.

Henry says that the author did not intend to go through basic Christian doctrine once more, as that should be well established already in both the babes as well as the more mature among them:

neither his time nor theirs must be spent in laying these foundations over and over again.

Henry says the following six principles are essential to Christian doctrine:

These are the great foundation-principles which ministers should clearly and convincingly unfold, and closely apply. In these the people should be well instructed and established, and from these they must never depart; without these, the other parts of religion have no foundation to support them.

1/ Repentance from ‘dead works’ towards works based in faith towards God (verse 1):

Observe here, (1.) The sins of persons unconverted are dead works; they proceed from persons spiritually dead, and they tend to death eternal. (2.) Repentance for dead works, if it be right, is repentance from dead works, a universal change of heart and life. (3.) Repentance for and from dead works is a foundation-principle, which must not be laid again, though we must renew our repentance daily.

2/ Faith towards God — and the works that emanate from it — involves a belief in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. We must actively believe in the nature of the Holy Trinity — the Triune God — as well as what Holy Scripture teaches us:

Observe, (1.) Repentance from dead works, and faith towards God, are connected, and always go together; they are inseparable twins, the one cannot live without the other. (2.) Both of these are foundation-principles, which should be once well laid, but never pulled up, so as to need to be laid over again; we must not relapse into infidelity.

3/ The washings of the Christian are different to those mandated in Mosaic law, which were ritual cleansings (verse 2). We have the sacrament of Baptism, which operates both outwardly and inwardly and is received only once:

The doctrine of baptisms, that is, of being baptized by a minister of Christ with water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, as the initiating sign or seal of the covenant of grace, strongly engaging the person so baptized to get acquainted with the new covenant, to adhere to it, and prepare to renew it at the table of the Lord and sincerely to regulate himself according to it, relying upon the truth and faithfulness of God for the blessings contained in it. And the doctrine of an inward baptism, that of the Spirit sprinkling the blood of Christ upon the soul, for justification, and the graces of the Spirit for sanctification. This ordinance of baptism is a foundation to be rightly laid, and daily remembered, but not repeated.

4/ The Christian laying on of hands is no longer that of the Old Testament Jew touching his sacrifice in order to make himself one with it (verse 2), but a renewing gesture used in Ordination and Confirmation so that the Holy Spirit and His many divine gifts would come upon that person. In the case of Confirmation, said gesture signifies full membership in the Church. Again, whether Ordination or Confirmation, this is done only once:

This passing from incomplete to complete church membership was performed by laying on of hands, which was extraordinary conveyance of the gift of the Holy Ghost continued. This, once done, all are obliged to abide by, and not to need another solemn admission, as at first, but to go on, and grow up, in Christ. Or by this may be meant ordination of persons to the ministerial office, who are duly qualified for it and inclined to it; and this by fasting and prayer, with laying on of the hands of the presbytery: and this is to be done but once.

5/ The resurrection of the dead (verse 2), meaning the eventual reunification of body and soul in the afterlife, whether rewarded or punished:

The resurrection of the dead, that is, of dead bodies; and their re-union with their souls, to be eternal companions together in weal or woe, according as their state was towards God when they died, and the course of life they led in this world.

This, as Paul’s testimony indicated during his trials at the end of the Book of Acts, was a belief that ran through the Old Testament and was held to by the Pharisees. Only the Sadducees disregarded it.

6/ Our final reward or punishment is for eternity (verse 2):

Eternal judgment, determining the soul of every one, when it leaves the body at death, and both soul and body at the last day, to their eternal state, every one to his proper society and employment to which they were entitled and fitted here on earth; the wicked to everlasting punishment, the righteous to life eternal.

I daresay we do not hear much about the last two principles, which is why it is important to read and study Scripture independently. Some might be able to find a (dreaded) ‘small group’ to do this, but such a group often requires subscribing to a hive-mind of thought, which might go against what the Bible teaches. This is why I advocate that people do it themselves with good commentaries on hand to illuminate and explain difficult truths.

Verse 3 is interesting. Is the author being self-referential or speaking of the audience? John MacArthur rightly asks us to consider both possibilities:

… interpreting verse 3 is very difficult, even though it’s very brief. Well, let’s just look at it from two angles. The power in verse 3, “And this will we do if God permits.” Now, some people say this refers to the writer of Hebrews. The idea is that the Spirit is saying one – possibly this, that the writer of Hebrews is saying, “I will go on and teach you what I want you to know if God permits Me.” The other interpretation is that He’s saying, “You will go on to maturity if God permits you.”

Now, since there’s no way to be sure which, let’s just take both. For whether you’re talking about salvation or service, it’s all energized by the Holy Spirit. And the writer can say, “I want to go on and say more about this if the Spirit wills, or if God permits, and I want you to come to Jesus Christ, all the way to maturity if God permits.”

You see, really everything revolves around the permission of God. Divine enablement is the issue in every case, and the writer acknowledges that.

In verses 4 through 6, the author gives the Hebrews — and us — another warning about apostasy. If we have heard the Gospel, experienced (‘tasted’) the holy gift that comes from hearing it and have shared in the Holy Spirit, then fall away, God will not restore us to the state where we want to repent.

That is very serious. We know from the Bible that all things are possible with God, yet, God will withdraw His infinite mercy if we persist against Him. This goes back to the discourse by the author of Hebrews about Psalm 95, namely verses 7 and 8:

Today, if you hear his voice,
    do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
    as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,

Henry explains that any ability to repent from apostasy must come from God — and that very rarely happens:

The great misery of apostates. [1.] It is impossible to renew them again unto repentance. It is extremely hazardous. Very few instances can be given of those who have gone so far and fallen away, and yet ever have been brought to true repentance, such a repentance as is indeed a renovation of the soul. Some have thought this is the sin against the Holy Ghost, but without ground. The sin here mentioned is plainly apostasy both from the truth and the ways of Christ. God can renew them to repentance, but he seldom does it; and with men themselves it is impossible.

The author of Hebrews then makes a chilling statement: apostasy is akin to crucifying Christ all over again (verse 6). Our commentators differ somewhat on the meaning of ‘once again’ in that verse. It is ‘afresh’ in older translations. Henry takes it as figuratively re-committing the act, whereas MacArthur says:

… the word “afresh” is not best there. It’s really put in there because of a preposition that’s connected to the word “crucify,” but it means to crucify up, not afresh. And that simply means to lift up in crucifixion.

However, both men agree that the ultimate meaning is that those who fall away from Christianity, having experienced it, are denying Christ and are no different to those who shouted out for His death and those who crucified Him.

Of apostates, Henry says:

They declare that they approve of what the Jews did in crucifying Christ, and that they would be glad to do the same thing again if it were in their power. They pour the greatest contempt upon the Son of God, and therefore upon God himself, who expects all should reverence his Son, and honour him as they honour the Father. They do what in them lies to represent Christ and Christianity as a shameful thing, and would have him to be a public shame and reproach. This is the nature of apostasy.

MacArthur examines the issue from the perspective of the Hebrews who had converted but were backsliding or those who had heard the Good News but refused to commit to a belief in Christ as the Messiah. Both were spiritually dangerous places to be:

As far as they’re concerned, the Son of God deserves to be crucified. That’s what it’s all about.

In other words, here’s the point: they came all the way up to the edge of faith. They heard it all; they got all the revelation; they turned, went back to Judaism, which had been guilty of killing Jesus Christ. They took their stand with the crucifiers. They said, “That’s the same verdict that we give.”

And consequently, according to them, Jesus should be crucified. Do you see? They are declaring that they have made a trial of Jesus Christ with all the evidence possible and found Him no true Messiah, turned around, gone back to Judaism. Said, “Jesus is an imposter and deceiver, and He got exactly what was coming.” That’s what that means. They agree with those who killed Jesus, that He was a fake. And they put Him to an open guilt. The word “shame” means guilt. They declare openly that Jesus is guilty.

Now, you can imagine what would happen. Take a Jew that came all the way up here. His friends were persecuting him, really rapping him for this. He turns around, forsakes Christ, goes right back to Judaism. He has declared for all time and for everybody around, “With all the evidence in, friends, Jesus is a fake; I’m going back to Judaism.”

As for Christians in that same dire spiritual state, MacArthur says to those who might have been in his church:

If you come to this place tonight, and you hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and you turn your back on Christ, and you walk away, you have done exactly that. You have said, “I’ve heard the evidence. My verdict is the crowd that killed Him was right. I stand with the crucifiers.”

Jesus said, “A man is either for Me, or he’s” – what? – “against Me.” Salvation to that apostate then becomes impossible, for he rejects against full light, and that is incurable. And reserved for such a one is the hottest hell. Everything in this passage could be said of Judas, and his hell must be the hottest of all.

Hebrews 10:29, “Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden underfoot the Son of God, and counted the blood of the covenant, with which he was sanctified, an unholy thing?”

And that’s what an apostate does, comes all the way up and says, “It’s a lot of baloney. Jesus was a fake, and His blood isn’t holy,” turn around and walk back.

You say, “I’d never do that. I’m tolerant. I’ll just kind of stay on the edge for a while.” My friend, if you don’t come to Jesus Christ, eventually you’ll go away from Him. And when you go away from Him in full light, you step into the possibility of impossibility.

In verse 7, the author of Hebrews describes the state of spiritual maturity, as if one’s soul were a field of crops continually refreshed by blessed rain, growing and becoming fruitful in the Lord.

Then he describes the opposite state: the field that is filled with thorns and thistles, fit only for burning (verse 8).

Henry tells us:

God will concern himself no more about such wicked apostates; he will let them alone, and cast them out of his care; he will command the clouds that they rain no more upon them. Divine influences shall be restrained; and that is not all, but such ground is nigh unto cursing; so far is it from receiving the blessing, that a dreadful curse hangs over it, though as yet, through the patience of God, the curse is not fully executed. Lastly, Its end is to be burned. Apostasy will be punished with everlasting burnings, the fire that shall never be quenched. This is the sad end to which apostasy leads, and therefore Christians should go on and grow in grace, lest, if they do not go forward, they should go backward, till they bring matters to this woeful extremity of sin and misery.

MacArthur’s sermon ends with this:

You see, God’s grace falls, but some men bring forth fruit. Others bring forth thorns. I pray God that when the rain of the Gospel of Jesus Christ falls on you, that you’ll issue forth in herbs fit for use.

That, too, is my prayer for all of us.

The exhortation to active faith continues next week.

Next time — Hebrews 6:9-12

Bible croppedThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Hebrews 4:6-11

Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.”

For if Joshua had given them rest, God[a] would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.

11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.

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Last week’s entry discussed God’s denial of eternal rest to unbelievers, using Psalm 95 as a reference point.

These verses conclude the dissertation by the author of Hebrews on Psalm 95 and the disobedient, wilful Israelites in the desert.

To better understand this in terms of the author’s Jewish audience, John MacArthur lays out the context of the importance of Mosaic law (emphases mine):

this is an important message for the Jew because the Jew prided himself on the fact that he had the information. He figured all I got to do is have the law, and I’m in. I don’t have to worry about obeying as long as I possess it. Which is ridiculous, but in Romans chapter 2, listen to the argument. Verse 25, “For circumcision verily profiteth, if you keep the law.” The Jew would say, “Well, we’re circumcised! Us! Doesn’t that get us automatically in? I mean, we’re circumcised.” He says, “Well, circumcision’s good if you keep the law.” It’s like the guy, you know, who went into the ring and before every fight he made the signs of the cross, you know. And one guy said, “Does it help?” He says, “It does if you can fight.”

it’s like a cop pulling you over to the side of the road and he says, “You just went through three red lights. You were speeding.” And you say, “I’m sorry, officer. You can’t give me a ticket. I have a copy of the California state code of laws. I own one. I own a book on how to drive. I’m sorry, I’ve got all the information. I’m not responsible. You can’t punish me. I know the information.” That doesn’t mean anything. That makes you all the more responsible. And in Romans chapter 2, “Circumcision profiteth if you keep the law, but if you’re a breaker of the law, your circumcision is made uncircumcision.” And they were rejoicing over the fact that they possessed the law, figuring that’s all that matters, you know, we’ve got the law.

That said, original audience notwithstanding, as I have written several times before, the Book of Hebrews also has vital messages for Christians:

Some people say, “Well, I go to church.” That doesn’t mean anything. Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than being in a garage makes you a car. That has nothing to do with it. And the whole issue is faith. The whole issue’s not activity. It’s faith. And unless the information is mixed with faith, it profits you nothing and you need to beware because you may come short of rest. But when somebody hears the word of God and believes it, then they’re saved.

In verse 6, the author addresses the Jews who converted to Christianity but were nonetheless torn by clinging to their former faith. Their families were angry with them and civil authorities were persecuting them, too. They were losing heart in their conversions, just as a number of Israelites turned away from God in the desert on the way to the Promised Land, Canaan. Their wilfulness in the desert caused God to desert them, just as they had deserted Him. That is a powerful judgement, and one that lasts forever. This is what the author is warning about.

Hence, the citation of Psalm 95 in verse 7. The word ‘today’ has an urgency about it. If we hear God’s voice today, may we not harden our hearts against Him. We do not know what tomorrow will bring. We have no claim on tomorrow, only God does.

The author then speaks of a Sabbath rest. There was a prescribed day of rest — the Sabbath — for the Israelites to praise and worship God (verses 8,9). The Lord rested on the seventh day after He created the universe (verse 10). We are commanded to follow His example.

There was also the concept of Canaan as a place of rest for those who believed in God and obeyed His commands on the long way there.

Matthew Henry reminds us that part of the Old Testament day of rest was also devoted to praying for God to send the Messiah — our Redeemer — to them:

(1.) From God’s finishing his work of creation, and so entering into his rest (Hebrews 4:3,4), appointing our first parents to rest the seventh day, to rest in God. Now as God finished his work, and then rested from it, and acquiesced in it, so he will cause those who believe to finish their work, and then to enjoy their rest. (2.) From God’s continuing the observance of the sabbath, after the fall, and the revelation of a Redeemer. They were to keep the seventh day a holy sabbath to the Lord, therein praising him who had raised them up out of nothing by creating power, and praying to him that he would create them anew by his Spirit of grace, and direct their faith to the promised Redeemer and restorer of all things, by which faith they find rest in their souls. (3.) From God’s proposing Canaan as a typical rest for the Jews who believed: and as those who did believe, Caleb and Joshua, did actually enter into Canaan; so those who now believe shall enter into rest.

Then the author leads on from temporal rest to eternal rest. Again, the author warns against disobedience in this life, because eternal rest is only for the faithful (verse 11). On that day, our earthly duties to God and to our neighbour come to an end.

Henry explains:

(4.) From the certainty of another rest besides that seventh day of rest instituted and observed both before and after the fall, and besides that typical Canaan-rest which most of the Jews fell short of by unbelief; for the Psalmist has spoken of another day and another rest, whence it is evident that there is a more spiritual and excellent sabbath remaining for the people of God than that into which Joshua led the Jews (Hebrews 4:6-9), and this rest remaining, [1.] A rest of grace, and comfort, and holiness, in the gospel state. This is the rest wherewith the Lord Jesus, our Joshua, causes weary souls and awakened consciences to rest, and this is the refreshing. [2.] A rest in glory, the everlasting sabbatism of heaven, which is the repose and perfection of nature and grace too, where the people of God shall enjoy the end of their faith and the object of all their desires. (5.) This is further proved from the glorious forerunners who have actually taken possession of this rest–God and Christ. It is certain that God, after the creating of the world in six days, entered into his rest; and it is certain that Christ, when he had finished the work of our redemption, entered into his rest; and these were not only examples, but earnests, that believers shall enter into their rest: He that hath entered into rest hath also ceased from his own works as God did from his, Hebrews 4:10. Every true believer hath ceased from his own works of righteousness, and from the burdensome works of the law, as God and Christ have ceased from their works of creation and redemption.

The gravity and import of this cannot be overemphasised.

John MacArthur says that the whole of the Bible is about restoring mankind to the beautiful rest that Adam had in the Garden of Eden before Original Sin. Adam did not have to do anything but enjoy God and His creation. He was at rest with God. Then, the serpent tempted Eve with a false promise of knowledge. Ever after, Adam had to work. Eve knew the physical pain of childbirth which, no doubt, would have been a breeze had she not fallen into sin.

This is what MacArthur says about God’s wish to reconcile mankind with Him — in rest. He started with Adam and progresses to the present day:

God said, “It’s done, and I’ve made a wonderful world for man. And I’ve plopped him down there, and I’ve given him a wife, and now everything is set. And I’m going to let him enjoy his relationship with me.” And Adam was walking and talking with God. He was at rest. He was in God’s rest. He leaned on God. He had no anxieties. He had no worries. He had the complete freedom, the fellowship with God. He was living in God’s rest. God had finished his work, and God rested. That’s what it says in verse 3 at the end. “Although the works were finished from the foundation of the world, for He spoke in a certain place of the seventh day in this way,” – and this certain place is Genesis 2, 1 and 2 – “And God did rest the seventh day from all his works.”

Now, stay with me on this. You’re going to have to use your brain for a minute. “My rest,” – verse 3, right? – “My rest,” – right in the middle of verse 3 – “Is defined as the rest which began when God finished his works and rested on the seventh day.” That it. It’s right there, a definition. God’s rest began right after the sixth day of creation. God was satisfied. He was infinitely satisfied and He rested, and He said, “Well, man, you can enter into my rest. I’ve made you a lovely world. You and I are going to get along. It’s just fellowship from here on out. You’re going to enjoy my rest.”

And there was only one condition. What’s always the condition for God’s rest? One word; what is it? Faith. Believe. What happened? Did Adam and Eve believe God or did they believe Satan? They believed Satan’s lies, didn’t they? Satan came down and started impugning the Word of God, and pretty soon Eve thought, “Hmm, I don’t know about this. Sure looks good. Maybe God’s, I don’t know – I’d like to be smart like that too and know good and evil.” And Satan kept working on her, and she disobeyed. And what happened? Immediately, unbelief forfeited what? Rest.

And you know what happened, Adam was restless. No longer did he walk and talk in the cool of the day. He started making clothes and hiding behind trees, didn’t he? Sneaking around with Eve, trying to stay out of the sight of God. You see what happened immediately, unbelief brought the forfeiting of rest and it was over with. And God’s great rest that he’d provided for His creation, man, was lost. You know what the history of the Bible is and the history of men? It’s the effort of God’s part to try to get man to get back into His rest.

Now, God had to do one other thing to make it available to man, and what was that? He had to accomplish the taking care of sin. And so the coming of Jesus Christ took care of the sin issue, and through that death of Christ, men may enter back into God’s rest. And even the people who lived before Jesus were saved on the basis of what God was going to do in Christ, right? We who were saved on this side of the Cross are saved on the basis of what God has done in Christ. But Christ bore sins, past and future. So, through Jesus Christ, God’s rest still continues, and men may still enter into His rest, and the history of God’s dealing with men is an attempt on God’s part to get men to enter His rest of which Canaan was a symbol.

And so God finished His perfect work, and man blew it. And man became restless because of unbelief. And verse 5 says, “And in this place again,” – and they’re quoting Psalm 95 – “They shall not enter into my rest.” God says, “Because of unbelief, man can’t enter.” God provided a rest on the seventh day, and it‘s been going on ever since, and the only people who ever enter into it are those who believe.

My friends, I believe in my heart that those people who sinned in the wandering in the wilderness not only forfeited Canaan but unless they exercised personal faith in God sometime through those 40 years, they forfeited eternal life of which Canaan was only a symbol. And so God swears that because of unbelief, men will not enter his rest.

I really hope that we think about that, not only today but also in future.

Speaking of rest, there was a time when shops were closed on Sundays. If they opened, it was in the morning. Everyone had a day of rest.

In the 1970s, shopping malls in the US began to open on Sundays. I can’t criticise that too much, because, after church, we would go to the mall.

In the 1980s, many US states that had ‘blue laws’ — no or limited Sunday openings — rescinded them, leaving shops free to open on the day of rest. I continued to go to the mall after church. By then, it was something one did.

Now, decades later, I wonder why so many of us do not observe a day of rest.

Barring those of us who have to work on Sundays — and I was obliged to do plenty of that in my time — there are seemingly endless Sunday obligations that do not include church. In fact, the timing of sports practice, to give but one example, precludes church attendance in many cases, at least here in the UK.

Do we no longer rest on a Sunday because we no longer attend church? Or do we no longer attend church because we cannot bring ourselves to rest? Or is church that ‘bad’ theologically that we no longer attend?

More and more people no longer attend church — or spend time reading the Bible and praying — yet, more and more people are restless. They cannot bear to a) be alone, b) sit in silence or c) relax.

Many Westerners, I would posit, are not at rest because they are not at rest with God in their daily lives.

Let’s quickly look at the rest of Hebrews 4.

The verses following today’s reading are severe. This is a Year B reading for a Sunday during the season after Pentecost. These verses say that everyone comes under divine scrutiny, if not judgement. This passage clearly disproves what atheists say:

12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

That should be engraved on every church.

After that, the author begins a dissertation on Jesus Christ as the Great High Priest. Much of this section, which runs beyond Chapter 4, is in the Lectionary, thankfully.

The author gives an ideal introduction, inspired by the Holy Spirit, revealing Christ’s mercy in His divinity and His humanity:

Jesus the Great High Priest

14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Absolutely! Would that we recalled that verse more often.

Hebrews is an unsung book, yet, it is one with so many essential lessons for us as Christians. Read it and rejoice, with thanksgiving!

Next week’s reading introduces a warning against apostasy in light of redemption through our Great High Priest.

Next time — Hebrews 5:11-14

Bible evangewomanblogspotcomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Hebrews 4:1-5

Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.[a] For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said,

“As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall not enter my rest,’”

although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” And again in this passage he said,

“They shall not enter my rest.”

—————————————————————————————————————

Last week’s entry was about the unknown author’s warning about rebellion against God and unbelief leading to eternal condemnation rather than eternal rest.

The same theme continues, again, with the author’s citation of Psalm 95.

Even though we do not know who wrote Hebrews, we can be sure the Holy Spirit was at work.

The contextual background is the Israelites’ rebellion in the desert on their way to the Promised Land. The Hebrews author says that, as the Messiah came to Earth, the Jewish audience — most of whom were converts to Christianity — has a greater share of rest and eternal life, therefore, they mustn’t lose it.

John MacArthur sums it up well (emphases mine):

Unbelief forfeits rest. And the word rest used back there in Psalm 95, which is being quoted here, has reference to entering a land of Canaan. Resting from the wanderings and the persecution in Egypt, and so forth and so on. It’s the rest of finally getting into your own land, not being persecuted, not being pressured, not being killed, not being made slaves. It’s rests from all of that. And they never entered into that promised rest because of unbelief. That’s the basic principle of this whole passage. Nobody experiences God’s rest apart from faith. That’s the key to entering into rest.

Now, if you go back to Moses’ situation in Numbers chapter 14, you find in verses 22 and 23 these words, “Because all those men have seen my glory” – this is God talking to Israel in the wilderness – “They’ve seen my miracles which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and they have tempted me ten times and have not harked to my voice. Surely they shall not see the land which I swear unto their fathers. Neither shall any of them that provoked me see it.” God said “Because you’ve never believed me but you’ve constantly thought you needed to put me to the test. You’ve never accepted me, you always wanted to prove me. You’ve never believed. You’ll not enter the land.” And the Bible says their carcasses would die in the wilderness.

Now, even under Joshua – of course you realize that was a whole generation that died off. Then the younger generation when into the land. But even when the younger generation went into the land, they did not enjoy the full rest that God had planned for them. And the reason they didn’t enjoy that full rest was simply because when they got into the land, instead of doing what God told them to do and believing God in obedient faith, they rejected God’s information to them. And God said, “Because of that, I’m going to drive you right back out of the land.” And that’s exactly what he did at a later time.

So even the generation that went into the land never experienced full rest. It was a hassle all the time. Fighting against every imaginable group, and they got messed up from beginning to end of their time in the land. So, there was no rest in either Moses’ case or Joshua’s case, the people who died in the wilderness or who entered the land because of unbelief. And may I say this? There is still a rest available. The rest of Canaan pictures a divine spiritual rest that comes by faith in Jesus Christ. It’s a picture of salvation rest. And that salvation rest, as we shall see in a moment, is still available. But it is only available to those who believe God, who commit themselves in faith to him.

Israel never entered full rest because of their unbelief, and Moses couldn’t make it happen, and Joshua couldn’t make it happen. But God has a rest far greater than Canaan. God has an eternal rest. It’s available to you by faith in Jesus Christ. And it takes a greater than Moses and a greater than Joshua to make it a reality. And that greater than both is Jesus Himself.

The author warns again against unbelief in Hebrews 4:1: no backsliding, otherwise, God will withdraw the promise of eternal rest.

Note the word ‘fear’ in that verse. That is the fear of God and His fair judgements. He blesses us so abundantly, yet so many of us turn from Him in adversity. This was the situation that the Jewish converts found themselves in. As serious as those were, the persecution and rejection were temporal. Being more concerned over temporal difficulty, as awful as it was for some, they had taken their eyes off the goal — eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ.

Verse 2 is just as crucial for us as it was for the Hebrews of the early Church. We all hear the same Gospel message of the Good News, but it does not meet with faith in all who hear it.

Matthew Henry’s commentary elaborates:

We do not mix faith with what we hear; it is faith in the hearer that is the life of the word. Though the preacher believes the gospel, and endeavours to mix faith with his preaching, and to speak as one who has believed and so spoken, yet, if the hearers have not faith in their souls to mix with the word, they will be never the better for it. This faith must mingle with every word, and be in act and exercise while we are hearing; and, when we have heard the word, assenting to the truth of it, approving of it, accepting the mercy offered, applying the word to ourselves with suitable affections, then we shall find great profit and gain by the word preached.

I read online of people who are so subsumed in spiritual doubt that they cannot extricate themselves from it. They spend their time navel gazing over past sins, surely forgiven. That is some of Satan’s finest work: urging someone to navel gaze and wilfully ignore the promise of the Word, Jesus Christ.

I have run across a few personally. I have urged them to pray for more grace and faith. I have encouraged them to read the Bible, over and over. Unfortunately, they ignored my advice at the time. Perhaps their circumstances have improved since then. I certainly hope so.

Pray for more faith. Pray for more grace. God will surely grant it, through His Son.

How does one pray? One begins with the Lord’s Prayer. One also petitions God, through Jesus, for a good day, for help in case a problem arises, for personal safety and health not only of ourselves but also of our loved ones. One works up the frequency of prayer, sometimes reciting prayers from church or Bible verses (e.g. the Psalms).

St Paul prayed unceasingly.

Reading the Bible regularly helps to increase the frequency of prayer. My favourite books, in order, are the Gospel according to John, the Book of Acts and the Book of Hebrews. I cannot recommend them too often. Start with those three. Read the Lectionary readings for each Sunday. Understand how the Old Testament and the Old Covenant promised the New Testament and the New Covenant, respectively. Do this often and soon it becomes part of a daily routine.

In verse 3, the author once again reminds the Hebrew audience of Psalm 95, wherein God withdraws rest from those who have turned away from Him. May that never happen to us. We must continue in a ‘lively faith’, as the old Anglican and Episcopalian liturgies say.

Henry explains the delicate balance of faith, backsliding and unbelief:

Observe, 1. Grace and glory are attainable by all under the gospel: there is an offer, and a promise to those who shall accept the offer. 2. Those who may attain them may also fall short. Those who may attain them may also fall short. Those who might have attained salvation by faith may fall short by unbelief. 3. It is a dreadful thing so much as to seem to fall short of the gospel salvation, to seem so to themselves, to lose their comfortable hope; and to seem so to others, so losing the honour of their holy profession. But, if it be so dreadful to seem to fall short of this rest, it is much more dreadful really to fall short. Such a disappointment must be fatal. 4. One good means to prevent either our real falling short or seeming to fall short is to maintain a holy and religious fear lest we should fall short. This will make us vigilant and diligent, sincere and serious; this fear will put us upon examining our faith and exercising it; whereas presumption is the high road to ruin.

The author points out that God also rested — on the seventh day (verses 3, 4). Now we enter into the notion of temporal — everyday — rest during our lifetimes. God also commands us to follow His example: keep holy the Sabbath Day. That means a temporal rest from our labours but also contemplation and praise of God for the promise of eternal spiritual rest.

MacArthur says:

So, when the Bible says here in Hebrews 3 and 4 that God offers you rest, it means … A new relationship with God that is multi-faceted … It’s full. It’s blessed. It’s sweet. It’s satisfying. It’s peaceful. And this is exactly what God is offering to every man, and this is exactly what was pictured in the Canaan rest that Israel never understood and never entered into because of unbelief.

The author again warns against rejecting God and ending up in a state of unbelief (verse 5). Once that happens, God’s promise of rest is over, because the unbeliever has broken with faith.

Henry explains further:

they shall never enter into this spiritual rest, either of grace here or glory hereafter. This is as certain as the word and oath of God can make it. As sure as God has entered into his rest, so sure it is that obstinate unbelievers shall be excluded. As sure as the unbelieving Jews fell in the wilderness, and never reached the promised land, so sure it is that unbelievers shall fall into destruction, and never reach heaven. As sure as Joshua, the great captain of the Jews, could not give them possession of Canaan because of their unbelief, notwithstanding his eminent valour and conduct, so sure it is that even Jesus himself, and captain of our salvation, notwithstanding all that fulness of grace and strength that dwells in him, will not, cannot, give to final unbelievers either spiritual or eternal rest: it remains only for the people of God; others by their sin abandon themselves to eternal restlessness.

Many theologians throughout history have said and continue to say that all are saved and that Hell is empty. Millions of people believe it. My theory is that such people are trying to make excuses for themselves and others, trying to assuage their own consciences.

However, Scripture does not tell us that all will be saved. It never has, no matter how we try to parse it.

Hebrews is one of the Bible’s greatest books. Studying it will make Christians appreciate our Lord and Saviour even more.

Christianity is an inestimable treasure. Let’s pray for those whose faith is shaky. May we never lose our own faith. May more come to follow Jesus Christ, our only Mediator and Advocate with the Father.

Next time — Hebrews 4:6-11

Bible ancient-futurenetThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Hebrews 3:15-19

15 As it is said,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

16 For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.

————————————————————————————————————–

In last week’s reading, the unknown author of Hebrews passionately encouraged his/her audience to waste no time in exhorting each other in the Christian faith. The word ‘today’ appears in verse 13:

13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

Tomorrow might never come, therefore, it was up to them — and it is up to us — to seize the day. Carpe diem!

The author quoted Psalm 95, concerning the rebellion in Egypt.

Another verse from Psalm 95 appears (verse 15), warning against hardening one’s heart against the Lord as so many of the Israelites did in the desert. God saved His remnant who heard, believed and obeyed His laws.

Matthew Henry’s commentary explains (emphases mine):

Observe, (1.) Though the majority of hearers provoked God by unbelief, yet some there were who believed the report. (2.) Though the hearing of the word be the ordinary means of salvation, yet, if it be not hearkened to, it will expose men more to the anger of God. (3.) God will have a remnant that shall be obedient to his voice, and he will take care of such and make mention of them with honour. (4.) If these should fall in a common calamity, yet they shall partake of eternal salvation, while disobedient hearers perish for ever.

The author asks who those were who rebelled: the very same people who left Egypt, led by Moses with divine guidance and miracles (verse 16). Yet, how quickly they either forgot or were so self-absorbed — as were some of the Hebrews audience — in their temporary travails that they forsook the Lord their God forever.

Was the fallen Israelite experience a mere historical one? The author of Hebrews says God’s judgement prevails throughout the ages, hence, the strong exhortation to the new Christians. Henry interprets it for us in a contemporary manner:

While it is said, To-day if you will hear, &c.; as if he should say, “What was recited before from that scripture belonged not only to former ages, but to you now, and to all who shall come after you; that you take heed you fall not into the same sins, lest you fall under the same condemnation.”

John MacArthur is of the same opinion:

People always say to me – and we preach this so many times, but it’s all over the Bible. People say to me, “What about so-and-so? He used to come to church. He used to say he believes and now he’s gone.” I say to you, “That’s proof pudding that he never was saved to begin with, because the Bible says that if you’re for real you stay there.” “If you keep My commandments, then are you My disciples for real.”

The true branch does what? John 15. What does a true branch do? Abides. That’s the whole point of John 15. The true branch doesn’t go like this, disconnecting itself. The true branch abides. That’s the point. And so it is that a real believer stays there. He remains.

Go back to verse 6, the same thing. “Whose house are we? We’re the house of Christ if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope for Him to the end.”

Some people would come along and say, “Well, I believe that stuff. I believe it.” And he’s saying to them, “Well, you never committed yourself to it so that you secured that faith permanently.” It’s not enough to come up and say, “Yeah, I believe all that stuff.” The point is if you really believed it, you wouldn’t be being pulled back. You’d be in there, staying there, abiding there. That’s the point.

And when somebody departs from the faith, when somebody backs away from the faith, I quote you what the Bible says in reference to them in 1 John 2:19. It says, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out that they might be made manifest they were not of us.”

When somebody leaves they aren’t for real. And he says, “Oh, it’s so strategic for you Jewish people. It’s so strategic for you who hear the gospel. You know the truth. Now don’t go back, but be the for real ones that commit yourselves to Christ and abide permanently, and thus truly can be said you are partakers of Jesus Christ.”

Oh, there’s such a great danger in hearing and hearing and hearing, and never receiving Christ. I say to you, my friend, if you keep coming and keep hearing and hearing and hearing and not receiving, better that you should get out of here and run the other direction and don’t go near a church, lest by hearing and hearing and hearing you become harder and harder and harder. And some day you wake up imperceptibly to discover that grace is over and you are an apostate.

The author then goes on to discuss what happened to the Israelites with hardened hearts by asking three questions (verses 17, 18). Were they not those who provoked Moses (and God) so terribly for 40 years? Were they not the people who died in the wilderness? Were they not the same ones that Moses warned would not enter into his rest?

MacArthur says:

verse 16: “For who when they had heard did provoke?” Did not all that came out of Egypt by Moses? The whole pile of them did. Who was it that didn’t believe God and was striving and putting God to the test? The whole group were. Two exceptions: Joshua and Caleb that we know about.

Verse 17: But with whom was he grieved 40 years? Was it not with them that had sinned whose carcasses fell in the wilderness? God was angry with the whole group of them who had been unbelieving. And God called them in Deuteronomy 32 – I think it’s verse 20 – He called them, “A very perverse children in whom there is no faithfulness.” God was angry with a whole nation. God was angry with a whole generation of people, and He sentenced that whole generation so that they could not enter into His rest.

And I’ll tell you something, friends, as God judged apostate unbelief in the wilderness, He’ll judge it today. They rejected the 40 years of evidence, added to the evidence they’d seen in Egypt and the evidence they’d seen in the Exodus, and that is knowing and willful unbelief. That is apostasy, that is falling away, and that is damning to the soul. And it didn’t even matter to God that a whole generation of them had to be set aside if they didn’t believe. That’s what God had to do, because that’s the principle on which the universe is built. You violate God’s principles, you are failing to believe, you bring upon yourselves the consequences.

Verse 18: “To whom swore He that they should not enter into His rest, but to them that believed not.” There’s the key, friends. There’s the key …

The author concludes by stating those hardened hearts and souls could not enter into eternal rest because of their unbelief (verse 19).

MacArthur has this:

… and that leads us to the issue, which is the fourth point, verse 19. The illustration, and the invitation, and the instruction point to this crux. “So we see that they could not enter in because of” – what? – “unbelief, unbelief.” We’re saved by faith.

MacArthur went on to say, especially to people who define themselves as empiricists, that they put a lot of blind faith into everyday things without claiming empiricism. Do people have a blind faith that their highways and byways are safe? Yes. Do they have a blind faith that a good restaurant will serve them hygienically prepared food? Yes. Perhaps that faith is misplaced, too.

And if we have such blind faith about everyday things, why should we, therefore, not believe that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Saviour? If we do not, then we have a disconnect in our thinking, because we’re putting our trust in things — not to mention ideas and concepts — every day of our lives.

I’ll close with this from his sermon:

You live by faith. And if you can put your faith in the Highway Department and the people that make your food, you can put your faith in the God of the universe. He’s worth your faith. And I say to you, you’ll never enter into God’s rest in this life, you’ll never experience blessing, you’ll never experience the unfolding of His love, you’ll never experience eternal life unless there is within you a soft, pliable heart that has committed itself to Jesus Christ in trusting faith. And, my friend, the longer you stand on the brink and say no to Jesus Christ, the harder your heart becomes, and the easier it is to say no to Him.

Jude said this: “I will therefore put you in remembrance, though you once knew this, that the Lord having saved the people out of the land of Egypt afterward destroyed them that believed not.” Did you get that? To be unbelieving brings upon you the destruction of God.

I pray today that it is not too late for some empiricists to grasp that message. I pray that they open the Bible and read it, becoming grace-filled as they do so.

Hebrews 4 has more on entering comforting rest through a lively faith in God.

Next time — Hebrews 4:1-5

Bible openThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Hebrews 3:7-14

A Rest for the People of God

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
    on the day of testing in the wilderness,
where your fathers put me to the test
    and saw my works for forty years.
10 Therefore I was provoked with that generation,
and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart;
    they have not known my ways.’
11 As I swore in my wrath,
    ‘They shall not enter my rest.’”

12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.

———————————————————————————————-

Last week’s reading explained why Jesus is greater than Moses.

The one before that explained why Jesus is greater than all the angels.

Christians understand that intrinsically. However, the author’s Jewish audiences were reluctant to give up their reliance on the Old Covenant. There were also Jews, also addressed in Hebrews, who did not believe that Jesus is Messiah.

Hebrews addresses three different audiences at various times in various ways.

In order to understand Hebrews, we need to understand the Jewish mindset as it was and, in some cases, continues be to this day.

We do not know who wrote Hebrews. One thing we can say with confidence is that the Holy Spirit inspired the book, just as He inspired all the other books of the Bible.

Today’s reading is an urgent exhortation to have faith that Jesus is the Son of God.

The author begins by mentioning the Holy Spirit and His words (verse 7), which inspired David to write Psalm 95, paraphrased here (verses 7-11).

These are the relevant verses from Psalm 95:

7 For he is our God,
    and we are the people of his pasture,
    and the sheep of his hand.
Today, if you hear his voice,
    do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
    as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
when your fathers put me to the test
    and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
10 For forty years I loathed that generation
    and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart,
    and they have not known my ways.”
11 Therefore I swore in my wrath,
    “They shall not enter my rest.”

Serendipitously, they tie in with today’s readings for the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity.

The Psalm refers to the time when God’s people were in the wilderness after He enabled them to escape captivity in Egypt. He had given them so much through those miracles, yet they not only became discouraged, they actively rejected Moses — and Him.

Exodus 17:7 tells us what Meribah and Massah mean — ‘testing’ and ‘quarrelling’, respectively:

And he called the name of the place Massah[a] and Meribah,[b] because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

They were on their way to the Promised Land — Canaan — but, instead of keeping their eye on the final destination, they rejected God.

The author of Hebrews tells his audience that they could fall into the same trap again by rejecting Christ. They were so absorbed with the persecutions that befell them for embracing Christianity that they wondered if their conversion had been the right thing to do.

Just as their ancestors had done, they were taking their eye off the prize: eternal life with Jesus Christ in the world to come.

Matthew Henry has an excellent exposition of these verses from Psalm 95 and their significance to the Hebrews of the author’s time. Both were falling into wilful sin. One thing that is always sure is God’s punishment of the thing He hates — sin. That is the one great lesson we should glean from the Old Testament as we read it (emphases mine):

3. The sins of others, especially our relations, should be a warning to us. Our fathers’ sins and punishments should be remembered by us, to deter us from following their evil examples. Now as to the sin of the fathers of the Jews, here reflected upon, observe,

(1.) The state in which these fathers were, when they thus sinned: they were in the wilderness, brought out of Egypt, but not got into Canaan, the thoughts whereof should have restrained them from sin.

(2.) The sin they were guilty of: they tempted and provoked God; they distrusted God, murmured against Moses, and would not attend to the voice of God.

(3.) The aggravations of their sin: they sinned in the wilderness, where they had a more immediate dependence upon God: they sinned when God was trying them; they sinned when they saw his works–works of wonder wrought for their deliverance out of Egypt, and their support and supply in the wilderness from day to day. They continued thus to sin against God for forty years. These were heinous aggravations.

(4.) The source and spring of such aggravated sins, which were, [1.] They erred in their hearts; and these heart-errors produced many other errors in their lips and lives. [2.] They did not know God’s ways, though he had walked before them. They did not know his ways; neither those ways of his providence in which he had walked towards them, nor those ways of his precept in which they ought to have walked towards God; they did not observe either his providences or his ordinances in a right manner.

(5.) The just and great resentment God had at their sins, and yet the great patience he exercised towards them (Hebrews 3:10): Wherefore I was grieved with that generation. Note, [1.] All sin, especially sin committed by God’s professing privileged people, does not only anger and affront God, but it grieves him. [2.] God is loth to destroy his people in or for their sin, he waits long to be gracious to them. [3.] God keeps an exact account of the time that people go on in sinning against him, and in grieving him by their sins; but at length, if they by their sins continue to grieve the Spirit of God, their sins shall be made grievous to their own spirits, either in a way of judgment or mercy.

(6.) The irreversible doom passed upon them at last for their sins. God swore in his wrath that they should not enter into his rest, the rest either of an earthly or of a heavenly Canaan. Observe, [1.] Sin, long continued in, will kindle the divine wrath, and make it flame out against sinners. [2.] God’s wrath will discover itself in its righteous resolution to destroy the impenitent; he will swear in his wrath, not rashly, but righteously, and his wrath will make their condition a restless condition; there is no resting under the wrath of God.

With this in mind, the author warns and encourages the Hebrews not to commit this same, serious sin leading them away from God (verse 12).

He stresses the urgency of the situation, exhorting them to bolster each other in the faith — ‘today’ — in order to avoid falling into serious sin (verse 13). As Henry’s commentary says, we do not own tomorrow:

Since to-morrow is none of ours, we must make the best improvement of to-day.

Serious sin comprises many things, one of which is unbelief. Repeated sin leads to sins of a greater nature. When the Bible says that consciences become ‘seared’, that means that they become hardened against goodness. It is as if they had scar tissue on them.

John MacArthur explains:

When I was in college I was thrown out of a car going about 75 miles an hour and I slid about 100 yards on my southern hemisphere, and I was thrown out and I slid. And of course, initially, I had third-degree burns because of the friction. And then from then on my back was just cleaned out about a half inch deep – 64 square inches of it. And all of the scar tissue that has replaced that is now insensitive, it’s been seared.

And, you know, it’s what happens so many times to somebody who hears the gospel repeatedly. The today my friends – watch it – the today only lasts as long as your conscience is sensitive to the Spirit of God. Then today is over, it’s tomorrow and it’s too late. That’s what He’s saying. Today if you’ll enact your will to hear God’s voice, don’t harden your heart. And your heart gets harder every time you say no to Jesus Christ when you know the truth.

When your heart is soft, and when your conscience is convicted, and when the intellect is sensed to Christ, and when the understanding admires Him – and that’s the time to move when you’re still pliable, when you’re still responsive, because some day you may experience that kind of hard heart that Proverbs 21:29 talks about, that kind of hard, stiff, stubborn, rebellious insensitiveness, and then all of a sudden it doesn’t mean anything.

And there are people who because of their wife brings them or because their wife wants them to, they may come to church; or there are kids because their parents bring them. They sit here, they’ve heard the gospel so many times, they can’t respond to it because their conscience has been seared, and there may be only little places of sensitivity the Spirit of God has left to appeal to. And so says the Spirit of God, “Don’t harden your heart. You know the truth. Respond to Christ.”

In addressing the Jewish converts, the author reminds them that he and they share a common bond through Christ — provided they continue to believe in Him and encourage each other so to do (verse 14).

This holds true for Christians today. MacArthur tells us:

If the evidence was in to Israel in that day, the evidence is in to us in this day that Jesus Christ is Lord, is it not? The evidence that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, died on the cross, rose again the third day, lives and saves men. The evidence is in. The evidence is secure. Christ has manifested God, the only begotten Son of the Father. He hath declared Him. He’s displayed His love. He’s displayed His grace. He sent the Holy Spirit. We don’t need any human Moses. We have the third person of the Trinity to reveal Christ on top of all historical evidence; and unbelief in the face of such overwhelming evidence is tragic indeed. And so He says to these Hebrews who know the gospel and have even made an intellectual assent to the gospel, “Don’t harden your hearts.” It’s so easy to grow cold and to grow callous to what God is trying to do in your life.

With that, however, comes the urgency to persevere every day, in spite of any persecution that might befall us as believers. And, these days, that is not something that occurs only in developing countries, either. It is also now alive and well in the West — even in the United States, where Christianity was once unshakeable.

Let us make every effort to keep our faith alive and deep. Let’s pray as often as we can. Let’s study the Bible regularly, including on our own.

May we always stay close to our only Mediator and Advocate, Jesus Christ our Lord — beginning today.

Next time — Hebrews 3:15-19

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