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A shadow, not the very image
brings into sharp contrast the old and new covenants, the old being likened to a shadow, and the new to the very image of the heavenly things. Just as a man's shadow would reveal far less information about him than a three-dimensional color photograph; just so, the shadow of the heavenly things as revealed in the law is far inferior to the knowledge of God and his divine fellowship available in the new covenant. We might even affirm that the true forgiveness available in Christ, along with the privileges of faith, and including all the attendant promises, hopes, and blessings of the Christian faith, actually are the REALITIES typified by the shadows of the old covenant; and yet, significantly, the sacred text falls far short of any such declaration, the marvelous benefits and blessings of the new institution THEMSELVES being here hailed as "the very image" of still greater realities yet to be realized and revealed in heaven. As Westcott said,
Theophylact ... carries our thoughts still further. As the image is better than the shadow, so, he argues, will the archtype be better than the image, the realities of the unseen world than the "mysteries" that now represent them. F1
Likewise, Bruce said, "Within the New Testament itself, we have Paul's repeated description of Christ as the [Greek: eikon] (image) of God" (2 Corinthians 4:4; Colossians 1:15). F2
It would be wrong, however, to attribute any lack of efficacy to the new covenant, wherein Christians are "workers together with God," and have been blessed with "all spiritual blessings" in Christ, and have been made to stand upon the threshold of eternal life. The magnificent endowments of the faith in Christ are more than sufficient for all the needs and desires of life in man's present condition; and, therefore, it is with the deepest wonder and admiration that one reads,
For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part shall be done away ... For now we see in a mirror darkly; but then face to face; now I know in part; but then shall I know fully even as also I was fully known (1 Corinthians 13:9-12).
Can never ... make perfect them that draw nigh
is the conclusion dependent on the truth that the law and all of its provisions had the status of a mere shadow. They were only typical, carnal, earthly, material, and mortal devices, having no efficacy at all, except as they directed the minds of the worshipers to the holy and heavenly things prefigured.
Them that draw nigh
brings before us the whole purpose and intent of holy religion, that of restoring man's lost fellowship with his Creator. The law, far from making that possible, actually dramatized the separation between God and men; and such drawing nigh as took place under the law was certainly not on any general scale but upon the most limited scope, being only for a few, and for them on very rare occasions.
The problem in this verse lies in the question of why it is implied that efficacious sacrifices able to perfect the worshipers, if they had existed, would have ceased. Would there not have been more and more men of each succeeding generation who needed to have the benefit of such sacrifices? Westcott said,
The inefficiency of the sacrifices is proved by their repetition. If it be said that the repeated sacrifices dealt only with later sins, the answer is that we have to deal with sin and not with sins only; to be assured that our true relationship with God has been re-established. A sacrifice which offers this for humanity, and we need no less, cannot be repeated. F3
In this same vein of thought, Lenski said:
If any person should sin and be disturbed in conscience, all he would need to do would be to turn in repentance to that final sacrifice as we now return to Christ's sacrifice. A final sacrifice would not need to be repeated for any person's sin. F4
True as the above scholarly views appear, however, there is another sense in which the sacred text may be understood. As Milligan noted,
If these bloody sacrifices had been really efficacious in taking away the sins of the people, there would, of course, have been no need of repeating them WITH REFERENCE TO THE SAME SINS (emphasis mine).
Milligan goes on to show that there was a repetition of the sacrifices over and over, with regard to the same sins. He said:
Besides these special offerings, others were offered daily (Exodus 29:38ff,; 29:38ff, weekly ), monthly (Numbers 28:11-15), and yearly at each of the three great festivals (Lev. 28). But nevertheless, on the tenth day of the seventh month, all the sins of the past year were again called into remembrance and an atonement made. F5
Milligan further pointed out that even the sacred services of the great Day of Atonement failed to prevent the same sins from being remembered again, as proved by the ceremony of the scapegoat which bore "away" the sins of the people, a thing that would not have been required if the sins had truly been forgiven or no longer existed.
Concerning the manner in which there was a remembrance of sins each year, and the same sins at that, see under preceding verse. Behold the contrast between the old law and the new, in the matter of their most sacred ceremonies and sacrifices on the Day of Atonement, which were directed to the remembrance of sins for which daily, weekly, monthly and seasonal sacrifices had already been offered. On the other hand, look at the contrast in the new covenant where the glorious function of the solemn observance of the Lord's Supper is not to call to mind the sins of the worshipers but to remember Christ, his death, his truly efficacious atonement, and his love for the redeemed. Remember sins; remember Christ! What a difference! Any intrusion upon the mind of the worshiper with regard to the remembrance of sins is swallowed up by the thought of that glorious sacrifice in Christ by which sins are removed forever and remembered no more. As Jeremiah spoke of it, "For I will be merciful to their iniquities, and their sins will I remember no more" (Jeremiah 31:31ff). Thus, the New Testament worshiper comes into divine service not to recall his sins but to remember the Lord who said, "This do in remembrance of me."
For it is impossible, ...
Common sense alone is the proof of the statement that the blood of animals cannot take away sin, but it is reaffirmed by the word of inspiration. On account of God's having commanded animal sacrifices, there was always the danger that men would assume some value as pertinent to them; hence, the prophets repeatedly instructed Israel to the contrary. As Macknight noted,
Micah formerly taught the Jews the same doctrine and even insinuated to them that the heathens, being sensible of the impossibility of making atonement for sins by shedding the blood of beasts, had recourse to human sacrifices, in the imagination that they were more meritorious (Micah 6:7). F6
Not the least of the reasons why animal sacrifices could be of no avail lies in the fact that animals never belonged to man in the first place. "For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills, saith the Lord" (Psalms 50:10). It was thus manifestly erroneous for man to think that by sacrificing some of his fellow creatures of a lower order than himself, and which like himself were the property of God, he could make any true expiation for his sins.
This quotation from Psa. 40:6-8 is introduced by the words, "When he cometh into the world," a reference to the incarnation of Christ, making him the true author of the words of David in this Psalm, and requiring that these words be understood as spoken by the Lord Jesus Christ and not by David. Lenski was doubtless correct in his understanding of this remarkable prophecy. He said:
The great force which these lines of the psalm and this true analysis of what they say has for the readers lies in the fact that David has written these lines in the psalm; they are in the holy scriptures, are a part of all that David the type says for the antitype, the Messiah. The lines are the voice of the Messiah himself speaking to God hundreds of years before this Messiah "appeared" (26) and did God's will. F7
Also, from the comment of Westcott, "The words, it will be observed, assume the pre-existence of Christ." F8
The well known problem of this place is that the author of Hebrews apparently quoted from the Septuagint (LXX) version of the Scriptures which differs greatly from the Hebrew text in the key words about the prepartion of a body for the Messiah. Of this, Thomas said:
The Hebrew reads, "Mine ears thou hast opened," while the Greek text from which the quotation is made reads, "A body hast thou prepared me." On the principle that the Greek reading is the harder, it may be regarded as the original. F9
We shall presume to pass no judgment as to the relative value of the word of scholars on this difficulty; but we do confidently affirm the right of every believer to accept the words as here quoted to be authentic and faithful words of God, reported in the verses before us by the inspired author of Hebrews.
Sacrifice and offering ... whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sins,
constitute two pairs of words regarding the Jewish sacrifices, and again to Westcott we are indebted for this instructive note:
The two pairs of words give a complete view of the Jewish sacrifices. The first two describe them according to their material, the animal offering, and the meal offering. The second pair give in the burnt offering and the sin offering, representative types of the two great classes of offerings. F10
In the roll of the book it is written of me
seems like a strange expression; but as Clarke said,
Anciently, books were written on skins rolled up. Among the Romans, these were called volumina, from volvo, I roll; and the Pentateuch, in the Jewish synagogues, is still written in this way. There are two wooden rollers; on the one they roll ON; on the other they roll OFF. F11
Clark also pinpointed the identification of just which book is meant, in these words,
The book mentioned here must be the Pentateuch, for in David's time no other part of divine revelation had been committed to writing. This whole book speaks about Christ, and his accomplishing the will of God, not only in Gen. 3:15, but in all the sacrifices and sacrificial rites mentioned in the law. F12
The statement of the Messiah in presenting himself to do God's will, before his incarnation and at the time God purposed the redemptive act on behalf of man, is as follows; "Lo, I come to do thy will, O God." All kinds of offerings and sacrifices having failed to please God, or to give him any pleasure, and failing totally to remove man's sin and restore his broken fellowship with God, Christ in this place appears as the great Volunteer who would undertake the task. Even he would not be able to do it with such things as animal sacrifices, but would need "a body," a body prepared of God and made available to the Messiah through the seed of David; thus the principle is established that absolutely nothing less than the death of man for the sins of man could prevail; and no ordinary sinful man would suffice for such a purpose. Nothing less than the perfect and sinless Son of God could avail to make atonement.
No angel could his place have taken, Highest of the High, though he; The loved One on the cross forsaken Was one of the Godhead three. F13
Thus, the dramatic and world-shaking significance of Christ's voluntary assumption of so dreadful and necessary a task on man's behalf is seen in the words, "Lo, I come to do thy will, O God." How profoundly different was the voluntary work of Christ from that of the old law offerings, which were not the result of any willing or voluntary assent on the part of the victims, but depended upon the arbitrary selection of others. How these precious words glow upon the sacred page: "Lo, I come to do thy will, O God"!
Here the author quotes the sense of the quotation from Psa. 40:6-8, and for notes on these words see under Heb. 10:5-7. As is sometimes true in the Scriptures, what is written as a parenthesis turns out to be of surpassing importance, as for example, the epic parenthesis of John 10:35, "And the Scriptures cannot be broken." So it is here. The parenthetical statement is for the purpose of alerting the reader to the fact that it is not merely some special kind of sacrifice, nor all of them together, which falls under the abrogation about to be mentioned; but rather it is the law itself, the whole and entire law, which was but a shadow anyway, that must fall under the sweeping annulment of Christ who repealed the whole ancient constitution in order to found another.
In this verse it is plain why the parenthesis was introduced in the verse above; it was to show that "the first" does not apply to sacrifices, offerings, or the ceremonial part of the Jewish institution, nor to the law concerning priests, but to the first "law," that entire covenant with its ten commandments and everything else that pertained to it.
The principle here is that Christ as man's representative obeyed God perfectly, doing his will completely, as promised in the words, "I come to do thy will." In Christ, therefore, man stands before God as obedient. The perfect compliance with divine law as required by the Eternal has thus been provided in the person of Christ whose marvelous obedience is on behalf of all people. Through man's acceptance of the truth of the gospel, and upon his being baptized into Christ, the person so doing is thereby accounted a part of the spiritual body of Christ and becomes a beneficiary of the perfect obedience of the Son of God.
Once for all
is another instance of the use of [Greek: hapax]. See under Heb. 7:27. How are we sanctified, or made holy? Westcott answered the question thus:
The clause contains an answer to the question that naturally rises, "How are we sanctified in the will of God?" That will was realized in the perfect life of the Son of man, in which each man as a member of humanity finds the realization of his own destiny. F14
This recapitulation of the extensive basis of our Lord's superiority is continued in the following verses, in which it seems ever stronger and stronger terms are used to describe it.
These, and through Heb. 10:18, are the final summation and shout of victory. Christ is all and in all. Nothing in the old institution is any better than a feeble shadow of the riches and glory in Christ; and a few choice comparisons are reserved for this concluding thrust of the author's overwhelming presentation. The old priests STOOD, as servants; Jesus SITS, enthroned. They repeated over and over the same rites; Jesus made one perfect offering for ever. They served; Christ reigns. They could not procure forgiveness; Christ removes our sins even from the memory of God! They offered enough blood during the long centuries of Judaism to have washed away a city; but the blood of Christ is more efficacious than an ocean of such blood.
Milligan's quotation from Menkin contrasts the respective attitudes of sitting and standing.
The priest of the Old Testament stands timid and uneasy in the Holy Place, anxiously performing his awful service there, and hastening to depart when the service is done, as from a place where he has no free access, and can never feel at home; whereas Christ sits down in everlasting rest and blessedness at the right hand of the Majesty in the Holy of Holies, his work accomplished, and he himself awaiting his reward. F15
Christ has not ceased from all work; because he intercedes, reigns, sustains all things by the word of his power, and administers the whole creation from the throne of God. Despite this, there is a sense in which Christ's work was done when he ascended on high; it was the work of providing the atonement for man's redemption. Again from Milligan, who said,
Not that he has ceased to work for the redemption of mankind, for he must reign, and that too, with infinite power and energy, until the last enemy, death, shall be destroyed (1 Corinthians 15:25,26; Revelation 19:11-21). But his sacrificial work was done." F16
THE BLOOD OF CHRIST
The fantastic burden of importance which this epistle places upon the blood of Christ as the means, and the only means, of human redemption calls for a more detailed exploration of this subject at this juncture in Hebrews. In New Mexico and Colorado, one of the most spectacular and beautiful mountain ranges on earth is called the "Sangre de Cristo Range," that is, "The Blood of Christ Range"! It is a tribute to the faith and perception of the Conquistadors that they named the most beautiful mountains they had ever seen after that which they valued most, "the blood of Christ." For one who truly understands and appreciates the blood by which we are sanctified, the commemorative naming of every good and beautiful thing on earth could not do sufficient honor to the blood of Christ. Spiritual dwarfs in our own secular age may not properly appreciate the blood of the covenant; but make no mistake about this, "without the shedding of blood there is no remission," in our own dispensation, or in that.
This is the climax. The whole will of God and the whole sacrifice of (Christ's) death is the removal of our sins. Freed of these, heaven is ours. Without Christ's expiation there are no remission and deliverance from sin. This is the heart of all Scripture. Those who removed this heart because they regard it as "the old blood theology" have left only a hopeless corpse. F17
It is a mystery, of course, how the blood of Christ saves us; and there are doubtless many who do not understand it. Perhaps, in a sense, no one can fully understand all that is in it. Once, on a train south from St. Louis, this writer fell into conversation with a professor in a great university. He said, "You Christians have your arithmetic all wrong. How can the blood of one man atone for the sins of a billion people? and as for God's putting all the blame on one good little Johnny, that would not be fair! If one of our teachers gave all the demerits to one student, the PTA would be up in arms." Such sophistry, of course, is grounded in ignorance, regardless of the attainments of the person who may hold such a view. To be sure, the blood of one man, if only a man, would be insufficient to save any man, not even the man who might offer it. It was who Christ WAS AND IS that makes all the difference. As a member of the Godhead, Christ's death was of sufficient consequence to save all on our poor earth or a million other worlds all together. The identity of Christ also resolves the other quibble. It was not so much a question of God's laying all the sins upon Christ (although this he did); but it was a matter of God's laying the sum total of all human wickedness upon his own great heart in the person of Christ. Remember that "God was in Christ" reconciling the world unto himself (1 Corinthians 5:19). "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth on him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).
People may object; they may rip all reference to the blood from their hymn-books and banish the mention of it from sophisticated pulpits; but if such is done, the sentence of God's rejection falls upon them that do it, even as Christ said of others who rejected him, "Behold your house is left unto you desolate" (Matthew 23:38).
Both Bruce and Clarke saw in these words a warning to the readers of this epistle.
There may be an implied warning here to his readers not to let themselves be numbered among the enemies of the exalted Christ, but rather to be reckoned among his friends and companions by preserving their fidelity to the end. F18
There is also here an oblique reference to the destruction of the Jews, which was then at hand; for Christ was about to "take away the first" with an overwhelming flood of desolations. F19
The message trumpeted by this verse is not merely that Christ is preparing to reign but that he is already doing so. See 1 Cor. 15:22ff. Those who fondly wait and expect that Christ shall come back to earth literally and take vengeance upon his enemies overlook the fact that this is being done now. How? The very sins that people commit destroy them; and, although that cannot be the manner of death's ultimate destruction, it certainly applies to all of Christ's other enemies. Christ needs only to wait until the rebellious and sinful course of people has spent itself like a burnt-out rocket. And when God's patience has ended, and the last precious fruit of earth shall have been gathered, Christ will loose Satan for a little season (Revelation 20:3ff); and that disaster shall give the human race experimental knowledge of just what the service of Satan actually means. The consummation of all things shall speedily follow.
This summation clincher, as to the superiority of Christ's sacrifice, exploits the fact that he needed only ONE offering to accomplish everything that millions of offerings under the law could not do, namely, provide forgiveness of sins.
Them that are sanctified
are not to be identified as those who have by means of personal devotion, prayer and study, achieved some more than ordinary holiness, but as encompassing all the redeemed of all the ages who, through Christ alone, have received all that is necessary to be set apart unto eternal life. The greatness of that one sacrifice received further emphasis under "The Blood of Christ," above.
This verse is invaluable for the light it sheds on the witness of the Holy Spirit. Thomas accurately read the implications of this verse, thus,
Here again, with great significance, the Holy Spirit is mentioned. Not only is he the source and author of the divine message in Psa. 3:7, and of the true meaning of the tabernacle (Hebrews 9:8); but he is shown to be witnessing through the statements of Scripture to the reality and power of the new covenant. This is the true witness of the Spirit, not something dependent upon our own variable emotions, but that which is objective to us, and fixed, the Word of God. F20
Thomas also noted in this context the various functions assigned to members of the Godhead, in these words,
We have the three-fold revelation of God in this passage, a very definite spiritual and practical exemplification of the Holy Trinity, in the WILL of God (Hebrews 10:9), the work of Christ (Hebrews 10:12), and the WITNESS of the Spirit (Hebrews 10:15). F21
Jeremiah was the mortal author of the passage here said to be spoken by the Holy Spirit; and thus this verse becomes another independent witness to the inspiration of the Holy Bible. The author does not say that "Jeremiah said," but that "the Holy Spirit said."
The author still has in mind the extensive prophecy of the new covenant by Jeremiah which he more fully quoted in Heb. 8, where he used it to show that God had foretold the abrogation of the old covenant and had from the first intended to abolish it. At this place the author dwells upon the fact that true and total forgiveness was likewise a foreordained purpose of the new institution. Westcott said, "The consequences of sin are threefold: debt which requires forgiveness, bondage which requires redemption, and alienation which requires reconciliation." All of these, forgiveness, redemption, and reconciliation are found in Jesus Christ. The most precious words in all the Bible, perhaps, with reference to the hope of eternal life and in view of the number and weight of sins, are these, "And their iniquities will I remember no more." How sacred is this promise. Sins which people themselves cannot forget, God will forget! "`Remember no more' is a contrast to `remembrance year by year.' Man remembers, but God forgets when he forgives." F22
This is the final, irrevocable verdict. Remission of sins having been provided through Christ, by means of one final and complete offering, already accomplished, all the Jewish offerings simply do not legally exist any more. They are not. "There is no more offering for sin," as required by the old law. It has forever been changed and repealed.
Lenski was struck with the cosmic sweep and power of such words as "remission" and "redemption." Here are some of his words,
The remission of sins means, literally, "the sending away" of sins. (This means) to send away the sins of a sinner as far as the east is from the west. (Psalms 103:12), as a cloud is blotted out and vanishes (Isaiah 44:22), to the bottom of the sea (Micah 7:19), thus blotting out the sins even from memory. F23
When God sends away "these," namely our sins and violations of his law, so that even his memory does not recall them, they are gone indeed. But the Spirit testifies that God actually does this. F24
THE SACRIFICE OF THE MASS
The importance of understanding the final and complete nature of the heavenly offering of the blood of Christ for human sins is so great, and any denial of such a sublime truth, even though unintentional, is of such terrible consequence to mankind that we are led to inquire here as to the validity of the commonly held view that Christ's blood is DAILY sacrificed in such a thing as the mass. One cannot help viewing with alarm the inattention to such a thing as this by so many able and learned commentators on the New Testament, especially in this century. The writers sought in vain among modern scholars for a firm word on this subject; and not until Robertson's mild question, "One wonders how priests who claim that `the mass' is the sacrifice of Christ's body repeated explain this verse!" F25 does one even find it mentioned. The older commentators were more diligent to set forth the truth; and, in order to emulate their worthy example, we here register the words of the inimitable James Macknight on this subject as they were quoted in the words of Adam Clarke's great commentary.
If (says Dr. Macknight) after remission is granted to the sinner, there is no need of any more sacrifice for sins; and if Christ, by offering himself once has perfected forever the sanctified (Hebrews 10:14), the sacrifice of the mass, as it is called, about which the Roman clergy employ themselves so incessantly; and to which the papists trust for the pardon of their sins, has no foundation in Scripture. Nay, it is evident impiety, as it proceeds upon the supposition that the offering of the body of Christ "once" is not sufficient to procure the pardon of sin, but must be frequently repeated. If they reply that their mass is only the representation and commemoration of the sacrifice of Christ, they give up the cause and renounce an article of their faith, established by the Council of Trent, which in session xxii, canons 1, 3, declared "the sacrifice of the mass to be true and propitiatory sacrifice for sin." I say, give up the cause; for the representaion and commemoration of a sacrifice is not a sacrifice. Further, it cannot be affirmed that the body of Christ is offered in the mass, unless it can be said that, as often as it is offered, "Christ has suffered death"; for the apostle says expressly (Hebrews 9:25,26) that if Christ offered himself often, "He must have suffered since the foundation of the world." F26
To this paragraph, Adam Clarke appended the challenge: "Let him disprove this who can!"
Here in Hebrews we view the end of the most elaborate and impressive argument ever directed to human intelligence extolling the glorious superiority of Christ and his redeeming mission for mankind. Without doubt the author was guided by the Holy Spirit, since unaided human mind could never have discovered it. Like Lenski, we feel the burning words of this message and marvel at their power. Some of the words, especially, are charged with unbelievable emotion and eloquence for all who fully understand them. Throughout the New Testament, those words which certify man's salvation - how beautiful they are, how rich with the tenderness of God, how far beyond all mortal merit. Wonderful indeed are the words that teach people of the love of Christ; and, in the long and terrible night of this world's darkness and despair, how grandly do those words go marching in the gloom of human sin and transgression, RANSOMED, REDEEMED, PROPITIATED, BOUGHT WITH A PRICE, SAVED BY THE BLOOD OF JESUS!
The remainder of Hebrews is given over principally to exhortation and this concludes the great burden of theological discussion, though not all of it; and the words of Westcott are a fitting summation of this section. He said,
The prophetic words show that under the new covenant no place is left for the Levitical sacrifices. The Christian can therefore dispense with them without any loss. To be forced to give up their shadowy consolation is to be led to realize more practically the work of Christ. This is the last, the decisive word of the argument. F27
And, to go a little further, indeed the whole way, as intended by the author of Hebrews, it is not merely the "Levitical sacrifices" to be dispensed with, but the entire system. Christ took away the first that he might establish the second; and what is not in the second simply is not.
The intensely doctrinal part of the epistle now being completed, there follows at this point an urgent exhortation, the fourth thus far in Hebrews; and this begins with the repetition of a plea already made (Hebrews 4:16), the basis of that one being that our great High Priest can be touched with the feeling of human infirmities and is enthroned on high; the basis of the appeal here, on the other hand, is the further consideration that the great High Priest has offered a perfect and totally efficacious sacrifice of his own blood before the very presence of God and has opened up a way into that same holy presence, not merely for himself, who has already entered there, but for us as well.
Christians are here spoken of as entering "into the holy place"; and this is based upon the typical nature of the court and sanctuaries of the old order. The court was a type of the world, the holy place a type of the church, and the most holy place a type of heaven. An elementary representation of these types is given in the accompanying sketch.
In a progression from the gate Beautiful into the Holy of Holies, the following analogies are discernible in the various types. The gate itself stands for the beautiful innocency and joy of infancy and childhood, during which time, as William Wordsworth said, "The rainbow comes and goes; and lovely is the rose." F28 In the outer court stood the altar and the laver, both of them standing thirty feet in height and dominating the enclosure. The altar stands for the sacrifice of Christ, and appropriately, it was near the entry, suggesting that man's first concern in life should be the knowledge of that sacrifice. The laver was near the doors into the sanctuary and when the ancient worshiper had first paused at the altar to have his right ear, his right hand, and the great toe of his right foot sprinkled with the blood of the sacrifice, he proceeded to the altar where, after being washed all over, he received clean linen robes, symbolical of forgiveness, and then passed through the automatic doors into the sanctuary. Just so, the Christian worshiper learns and accepts for himself the sacrifice of Christ, receives forgiveness of sins, and is automatically added to Christ (Acts 2:47).
The Court North
Within the sanctuary, the only light was from the candlestick which represented God's word. The table of showbread suggested God's providence; and the altar of incense stood for prayer. The black and white checkered squares of the floor told of the lights and shadows of life, its joys and sorrows. The veil suggested many things; but in the large view it stood for death by which man passed to the higher and better world.
The most holy place with its ark and mercy seat symbolized heaven and the presence of God. For a more detailed study of the various analogies in all these things, see in Heb. 9.
Several lessons of vast importance appear in the overall dimensions and arrangement of the three compartments. The court was larger than the sanctuary, and it was larger than the most holy place, suggesting that the church is smaller than the world and that heaven, in turn, will not have as many citizens as were in the church. The only entry into the most holy place was through the sanctuary, suggesting that the only entry into heaven is through the church for which Jesus paid his blood (Acts 20:28).
to enter the holiest place of all is in sharp contrast with the timidity and circumspection by which the ancient priest entered it. Such boldness must not be thought of as brashness or arrogance, for it specifically honors the command of the Lord for his disciples to exhibit boldness, the means of acquiring which are given earlier by our author (Hebrews 3:6,13), and which include a constant glorying in our hope through repeated affirmations of our faith, not merely for the personal benefit of ourselves in so doing, but also for the benefit of others, also included is a constant and energetic campaign of exhorting close associates in family, business, recreation, or wherever in the private sector of life. See notes on Heb. 3:6,13.
The holy place
in view here is not the sanctuary but the most holy place, the identity of which being determined by the placement of the veil mentioned a bit later. This same usage was observed in Heb. 9:8.
The new and living way
properly denotes the means of access through Christ by believers into the very presence of God. It was a NEW WAY because: (1) only recently, in the historical sense, had it been made available; (2) it was an essential feature of the new covenant; (3) it is never subject to change or decay, being thus eternally new; and it is a LIVING WAY because: (1) it is through the eternally living Saviour that access exists, not through blood of dead animals; (2) it leads to newness of life for them that travel in it (Romans 6:4); and (3) it provides a way of living that culminates at last in eternal life, contrasting with all other ways which may be described as dead, dead-end streets that lead only to the grave.
Through the veil, that is to say, his flesh
is a reference to the typical nature of the veil that separated the sanctuary from the most holy place, plainly said here to typify the flesh of Christ. See under "Veil" in my comments on Heb. 9.
One needs to take note of the difficulty fancied by some commentators with reference to how the veil can represent the flesh of Christ, since the veil concealed the presence of God, and Christ in the flesh reveals that presence. It cannot be true that Jesus' incarnation conceals a knowledge of God, it being the precise intention of the incarnation to reveal God, not to conceal him. Westcott, particularly, finds this very difficult, and several scholars have followed his learned opinion; however, the difficulty does not exist for this writer. The so-called problem is quickly resolved by consideration of the dramatic fact that it was not merely the veil that represented Christ, but the rent veil! The sundered veil did not obscure or conceal anything. The perfect support of this understanding of the matter lies in the very verse before us. That typical veil which concealed for such a long time the way into the holy of holies at last parted asunder; and it thereby became in that miraculous event the perfect type of the rending of the flesh of Jesus, through which the way into heaven itself is opened up and revealed to people.
The house of God in this verse is the church of the living God, as an apostle declared: "That thou mayest know how men ought to behave themselves in the house of God, which is the church of the living God" (1 Timothy 3:15).
The drawing near enjoined in these words is drawing near to God, the very concept of such a thing suggesting what a wonderful privilege is involved. God is not like some head of a mere earthly state but is the eternal and all-powerful Ruler of Creation. In all times and places, the heads of human states have enforced the strictest conditions and requirements upon persons seeking admittance into their presence. Kings, prime ministers, and presidents throughout history have laid down specific rules to be followed by those seeking interviews. Therefore it is not illogical that drawing near to God should be possible only upon the fulfillment of the preconditions set forth in the Bible, such things not to be decided by men seeking to draw near, but prescribed and made mandatory by God himself in his word. The verse at hand reveals the divinely imposed preconditions to be fulfilled by them that would draw near to God. The importance of these things demands that specific attention be given to each one of them.
With a true heart
shows that no insincere person or hypocrite can ever really draw near to God. Jesus said, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8). The Holy Spirit says, "Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life" (Proverbs 4:23). Success is promised the obedient. "And thou shalt find him, when thou searchest after him with all thy heart and with all thy soul" (Deuteronomy 4:29). In the parable of the sower, the seed which produced the good fruit was that which fell upon the good ground, the honest and good heart. Only the honest and good heart without deceit or hypocrisy can approach God; none others need apply.
In fullness of faith
is another precondition of redemption, or drawing near to God. "Fullness of faith" means true and wholehearted faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God and with full confidence in his power and Godhead. Although it is a fact that people are saved "by faith," there are many degrees of faith, such as little faith, weak faith, vain faith, and dead faith. One should make sure that he has enough faith to be saved. The doctrine which has stripped the heart out of most modern religion is that old standby of the Protestant Reformation which announced justification by FAITH ALONE. Such a doctrine is a perversion of scripture, an addition to scripture, and a flat contradiction of scriptures (James 2:24). The faith that saves is a working, obedient, loving, living faith; and a faith that is none of these things can never save. It is not believing, merely, but believing WITH ALL THE HEART that is needed. The Christian confession from earliest times was never made without regard to this emphasis, as attested when Philip required of the eunuch, "If thou believest WITH ALL THINE HEART, thou mayest" (Acts 8:37). Yes, that verse is omitted from the English Revised Version (1885) and other versions, but it is still in the margin where it bears eloquent testimony to the practice of the primitive church, the same requirement being retained to this day in the universal practice of churches of Christ throughout the world.
Having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience
is a reference to penitent acceptance of Christ's sacrifice through knowledge and contemplation of it and also a humble willingness to accept as our own what Christ has provided. The comparison is between the sprinkling of blood upon ancient worshipers in the old covenant, which blood was actually sprinkled upon their bodies; and, in the new covenant, the sprinkling not of people's bodies but their hearts, by the blood of Jesus. The scriptural heart, of course, is the mind, as implicit in the words of Christ to the Pharisees, "Why reason ye thus in your hearts?" (Mark 2:8). See under Heb. 9:14 for the effect of Jesus' blood upon the heart and conscience of sinners.
And our body washed with pure water
is beyond all doubt a reference to Christian baptism, making it, therefore, a precondition of salvation, or drawing near to God. That such is true is attested by the vast majority of modern scholars and by the near unanimous testimony of the ancients. Only among writers in the post-Reformation period, when writers were influenced by the popularity of the "faith only" thesis, does one find any strong views to the contrary. Milligan's summary on this is helpful. He said,
Nearly all eminent scholars are now agreed that here is a manifest reference to the ordinance called Christian baptism. Alford says that "There can be no reasonable doubt that this clause refers directly to Christian baptism. The bath of water (Ephesians 5:26), and the bath of regeneration (Titus 3:5), are analogous expressions; and the express mention of BODY here, as distinguished from HEARTS before, stamps this interpretation with certainty. F29
To deny such an obvious meaning would be to pose an impossible alternative; because in the entire Christian religion, there is absolutely nothing else, other than baptism, to which this could have any possible reference.
The entire analogy here is drawn from the activities of the ancient worshiper as more fully elaborated above. For more on the subject of "Baptism," see under "Six Fundamentals" in Heb. 6. In keeping with the analogy are Paul's instructions from Ananias to "Arise and be baptized and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16).
All of the instructions, or preconditions, for drawing near to God as set forth here stand for that portion of the plan of salvation which brings people into Christ; which to be sure is not the whole duty, but the beginning. All of the duties, responsibilities, and requirements of the Christian life are to be received and discharged in faith as long as one is under the probation of life. This verse tells HOW to be enrolled as a Christian. How? Draw near to God: (1) with a true heart; (2) in full assurance of faith; (3) having the heart sprinkled from an evil conscience; and (4) the body washed with pure water.
The "confession" mentioned here is not to be identified with the formal subscription to any creed or catechism, not even the oldest and best of them; but it must be understood as a reference to the whole body of Christian faith and teaching as revealed in the sacred scriptures. The ground of confidence for people is not in their own merit or ability but in the faithfulness of the Saviour who has promised eternal life to them that love and obey him.
In a sense, the sentiment of this verse is a recurring theme in Hebrews. Again and again, the author stresses the maintenance of an enthusiastic morale in the hearts of the faithful, a subject he introduced in Heb. 3:6,16, and to which repeated reference is made. The apostles taught that if one member of the body suffers, or is honored, all the others are likewise affected (1 Corinthians 12:26ff). Christian living is here directly related to the appreciation and encouragement of the faith of one's fellow Christians, as well as of oneself; and, in a sense, all succeed or fail together. From this consideration, the utmost tenderness and concern should be felt for every one of the Lord's disciples; and the greatest diligence should be exercised in the cultivation of this community fellowship. Mutual love among the brethren and mutual participation in the common joys and sorrows of the entire membership, and the mutual encouragement in every good work are basic principles of the kingdom of heaven.
CONCERNING THE ASSEMBLY
Our own assembling together
is a reference to the Lord's day worship of the church, the regular Sunday services of congregations of believers, as set in motion by the apostles, honored by disciples in all ages, and fully recognized as a sacred obligation for all Christians by the author of Hebrews who penned this formal commandment regarding church attendance. The significance of this is that even prior to this epistle, faithful and regular church attendance was a distinctive characteristic of the faith in Christ. Pliny, a secular writer about 112 A.D., made a report to the emperor Trajan in which he unconsciously bore witness to certain vital aspects of Christianity. Of special interest was the witness he bore to the tenacity maintained by the Christians in regard to their assemblies. They attended the regular worship services in spite of every hindrance. Legal meetings on a publicly recognized day of rest, as in these days, were impossible. Christians met in the darkness of pre-dawn assemblies; and no impediment whatever was allowed to interfere. As Pliny said, "On an appointed day they had been accustomed to meet before daybreak." F30 He went ahead to relate that their services were nothing of a scandalous or improper kind, that they partook of a meal of the most harmless and ordinary variety, that each sang a hymn to Christ as God, and that they bound themselves with a promise not to commit fornication or theft or any other crime. This witness of Pliny reaches back to within a very few years of the apostles themselves and is a valuable independent testimony bearing upon the faith.
What was the scriptural foundation upon which attendance of public worship was so solidly grounded and perpetuated at such cost of personal inconvenience and even danger to the Christians? Evidently, Christ himself initiated the weekly meeting of the disciples on the first day of the week, actually attending them himself on successive Lord's days after he was risen from the dead. Thus he was present on a certain Lord's day, Thomas being absent, and again on the following first day of the week, Thomas being present (John 20:19-28). The establishment and beginning of the church on Pentecost occurred on just such a first day of the week when the disciples were gathered together. Such references as "Let every one of you lay by him in store on the first day of the week" (1 Corinthians 16:2), and "When the disicples came together on the first day of the week to break bread" (Acts 20:7), and "If there come into your assemblies a man with a gold ring, etc." (James 2:2-4) constitute the most positive and certain proof that regular assemblies were held by the church on the first day of the week; and the latter of these shows that the assemblies were of a public nature, open to the man with the gold ring, no less than to the poor. The second of the passages cited shows that the assembly was built around the Lord's Supper, the observance of which was the purpose of coming together. The apostle James' instructions to ushers, cited above, show that the assemblies were of divine origin. From all these, it is plain that the Christian assemblies on the first day of the week existed from the earliest Christian times, derived their authority from Christ and the apostles, and that it is no light thing to disregard them.
Perhaps there is nothing so much needed in current America as a return to the old-fashioned virtue of church attendance. Our beloved nation was founded by a generation of church-goers; and, although the Puritans and the settlers at Jamestown have been made to appear rather ridiculous in contemporary literature, being hailed as dull, hypocritical, and intolerant; it is nevertheless true that such a caricature is false. They were not dull or uninteresting. The eloquent literature of those far-off days denies the current slanders against that generation of spiritual giants who lived on the highest plane of religious conviction, whose emotions ebbed and flowed with the tides of eternity, and whose men of letters, such as Whittier, Hawthorne, and Longfellow, captured in their writings the immortal loveliness of that people. Moreover, as the noted radio preacher, Charles L. Goodell, said, "Wherever there is a town meeting house, a free school, a free church, or an open Bible, those forbears of ours might lay their hands upon them and say, `All these are our children'." Our greatest institutions are the fruits of their church-going; and when any generation shall forsake the house of prayer and worship, that generation is dangerously near to losing those institutions inherited through the piety of others.
As for the cliche that "mere church attendance" is without value, we do not speak of "mere" church attendance, but of wholehearted, sincere, devout, and faithful public worship of Almighty God through Christ; and as for the falsehood that people can worship God anywhere they are, it is refuted by the fact that they don't! When people do not attend worship, they do not give, nor pray, nor sing God's praise, nor observe the Lord's Supper, nor study the sacred scriptures, all of which things are related to the public worship and have practically no existence apart from it.
Then let people heed the commandment in this verse that they should not forsake the assembly of the church; and the fact that some do, as was the case then, is no permission for the faithful to follow an unfaithful example. Reasons why people forsake the assembly are rationally explained, ardently advocated by them that wish to defect, and established with all kinds of charges, excuses, allegations, and insinuations against the church; but the only true reason for disobeying this basic commandment is simply unbelief, or the carelessness and sin which lead to unbelief.
But exhorting one another
again brings into view the esprit de corps so vital to spiritual growth and attainment. Through this epistle (Hebrews 3:6,13, etc.), the necessity for constant encouragement and exhortation of the believing community is emphasized. Mutual exhortation is the divine means of counteracting the host of evil influences and distractions which are the perpetual enemies of faith.
And so much the more, as ye see the day drawing nigh
has been variously interpreted as the Lord's day, or first day of the week, the day of death, the day of judgment, or the day of destruction of Jerusalem. Basing his argument upon the usual import of the Greek word here translated "day," Westcott was sure that the reference is to the day of judgment, F31 a position rejected by Milligan who was equally certain it referred to the approaching fall of Jerusalem. F32 A harmony of these two learned opinions, both of which were supported by able argument, may be achieved by understanding the "day" as a reference to the final judgment as TYPIFIED by the fall of Jerusalem, the latter indeed being very near at hand and easily seen by all as "approaching" in the political developments of that period when Hebrews was written. In Matt. 24, by answering three questions with one set of answers, Jesus mingled the prophecies of the fall of Jerusalem and the temple with those of the final judgment in such manner that they would appear to be simultaneous events. That the interpretation of those events to be simultaneous was indeed an error, we know; but it would have been far too much to have expected the generation that first received Hebrews to have known this; because, as Barmby noted,
The blending together of the discourses in Matt. 24 and Mark 13, of the times of the fall of Jerusalem and of the final day, would naturally lead Christians to regard the signs of the first event as denoting the other also. F33
Any imputation of error on the part of the apostles and prophets of the New Testament, to the effect that they regarded the final judgment to be near at hand in their day, is not correct. There are very definite and concise teachings in the scriptures which represent the final judgment as an event far removed from that generation. Jesus plainly indicated that a very long period would intervene before his second coming (Matthew 24:48; 25:19); Paul warned that before the judgment, "the falling away must come first" (2 Thessalonians 2:3); and yet there was surely a conscious ambiguity in the words of the Holy Spirit in all references to the final judgment, the apparent reason for this being, according to Trench, that
It is a necessary element of the doctrine of the second coming of Christ, that it should be POSSIBLE at any time, that no generation should consider it improbable in theirs. F34
Thus, any allegation that the holy writers were untaught or ignorant with regard to the coming of that final day is, as Lenski said,
Groundless, as is every fear that the New Testament writers were mistaken as to the day of judgment. Jesus told the apostles that no man is to know even "times or periods" (Acts 1:7), to say nothing of the exact day; that he himself (in his humiliation) did not know the day; but that we must ever see the signs of its approach, ever ready for its arrival, in constant expectation of it. All the New Testament writers speak accordingly; we do the same today. F35
The conclusion, therefore, seems safe that the "day approaching" of this verse refers to the fall of the Holy City when Christ would "take away the first" that he might establish the new covenant; and the Holy Spirit influenced the writer of Hebrews in the choice of words that certainly included the destruction of Jerusalem, no less than the greater final event it typified.
This is a return to the warning uttered in Heb. 6 regarding the final and total apostasy of persons who were once true Christians, concerning whom it was affirmed that it "is impossible" to renew them. Here, the reason for that impossibility is stated in the fact that the rejection of Christ's one sacrifice can only result in the sinner's being left with none at all, "there remaineth no more a sacrifice"! Of course, it would be a mistake to construe every stronghearted and presumptuous sin as "an eternal sin," although the danger that it might become so should never be overlooked. The impossibility of apostasy, euphemistically called the final perseverance of the saints, is not a teaching of the New Testament; and the acceptance of such a doctrine can quite easily lead to a presumptuous arrogance that issues in eternal death.
Clarke's words here are appropriate:
The case is that of a deliberate apostate - one who has utterly rejected Christ and his atonement, and renounced the whole gospel system. It has nothing to do with backsliders in our common use of that term. A man may be overtaken in a fault, or he may deliberately go into sin, and yet neither renounce the gospel, nor deny the Lord that bought him. His case is dreary and dangerous, but it is not hopeless; no case is hopeless except that of the deliberate apostate, who rejects the whole gospel system, after having been saved by grace, or convinced of the truth of the gospel. To him there remaineth no more sacrifice for sin; for there was but the one, Jesus, and this he has utterly rejected. F36
This verse sharply focuses on the fearful and inevitable result of rejecting the sacrifice for man's sins (available in the vicarious death of Jesus Christ), that result being the judgment with its eternal fires of punishment awaiting the wicked. No wonder that such a terrible fate should be called a "fearful expectation." The word "devour" has the interesting connotation of"eating up" offenders! This is a subject people do not like to dwell upon; and some present-day Christians seem very sensitive to the plain teachings of the word of God on such a thing as "fire" for the wicked; but the burden of scriptural emphasis on this subject is far too great to be ignored or cast aside. Fire destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:24); Korah and his company were consumed by fire (Numbers 16:35); and it was by fire that God answered the prayers of Elijah (1 Kings 18:38). Strangely, God himself is described a moment later in this epistle as a "consuming fire"! (Hebrews 10:27); Christ will appear the second time "in flaming fire" (2 Thessalonians 1:8); and Peter consigned the entire present world to destruction by fire, contrasting it sharply with the first destruction of the world by the flood in Noah's day (2 Peter 3:14-18). John the Baptist did not hesitate to speak of the chaff which was to be burned up "with unquenchable fire" (Matthew 3:10), and even our Saviour made frequent mention of it (Matthew 25:41). Nor can there be any relief from the severity of such thoughts by construing them all as mere figures of speech; for just what, can it be supposed, is so terrible as to demand such a figure as "fire"? Many of the statements regarding eternal punishment seem to demand some degree of metaphorical interpretation, as for example in the combination of such terms as "outer darkness" and "fire and brimstone" in descriptions of eternal punishment; but the soul hardly dares to contemplate a fate that would require so terrible a representation of it. The utter horror of such a destiny seems to be in the mind of the author here who speaks of "fearful expectation." A guilty conscience to feel and a wrathful God to fear combine to remove every thought of tranquility from the mind of the wicked.
mentioned here are a grim reminder of the struggles identified with man's probation. Paul knew the meaning of "many adversaries" (1 Corinthians 16:9); and every wayfarer on the road to eternity is often made aware of those elemental antagonisms that rise on every hand, and from most unexpected sources, to harass, to discourage, and to prevent if possible the attainment of eternal life.
The fact stated here is exemplified by many instances in the history of Israel. There was the case of the man stoned for picking up sticks on the sabbath (Numbers 15:36), to name only one; and the use of the present tense in "dieth" indicates that the penalty was yet being invoked at the time Hebrews was being written. Annas the high priest was deposed by the Romans for putting a man to death as a lawbreaker; and it was precisely their readiness to execute such penalties that caused Rome to forbid their right to put people to death. It was that which forced them to seek the permission of the procurator to put Jesus to death. The words "without compassion" show the general concurrence of the Hebrew people in the enforcement of the law, their usual opinion being that the offender deserved no pity.
There are two directions one's thoughts may take in reference to this verse. The extremely powerful language used to describe the apostate has led some to suppose that only the most shameful and incorrigibly wicked are included in the author's thoughts. Thus, Thomas affirms that "It is obvious that this is no case of ordinary backsliding, but, as in Heb. 6, of willful and persistent apostasy." F37 On the other hand, there may be another intention of these holy words, namely, to show what dreadful guilt attaches to such ordinary lapses as forsaking the assembly or neglect of the Lord's Supper. Only a moment before this verse, the author had mentioned that very kind of failure on the part of some; and though not implied that an occasional or isolated instance of such failure could call forth such a proscription as this, it may very likely be intended that persistent and habitual neglect of such sacred duties may be accurately described as trampling the Son of God under foot and insulting the Spirit of grace. The demand for this understanding of the warning is inherent in the fact that one must look to the sins of the people whom this epistle was addressed in order to identify the condition described; and what were those sins? A neglect of Christian duty, lack of diligence in study, forsaking the assembly, and a tendency to revert to their old religion - those were the sins which were under consideration; and such were not the sins of reprobates, debauchers, or scoundrels, but the sins of"nice people"! - nice people who did not realize that their indifference and dalliance were not minor but major departures from the path of duty and that they were in deadly danger from such conduct. If the attitude of millions today may be taken as example of the same sins they committed, it is probable that they did not realize that their wrongs were of any serious consequence. For us, as well as for them, excuses are plentiful; cares, riches, and pleasures require a dreadful preoccupation of most; and it becomes quite easy to view the kind of spiritual lapse in view here as trivial, especially since it violates no law, is in fact customary for millions, and hardly viewed as sinful at all by the vast majority. But may God help Christians to remember that as custodians of the Light of all nations, their utmost endeavor is the least required of them, for their lives are forfeit to this task above all others that the lamp of truth be held aloft in the darkness of human sin and transgression. Any carelessness or preventable inattention, any conscious neglect of Christian duty shall certainly bring upon the offender a mountainous load of blood-guiltiness. When people who are generally supposed to be Christians live lives that lead others to despise the truth, they stand in the same condemnation as the Pharisees who did not enter the kingdom themselves nor allow others to do so.
Trodden under foot
here translates a Greek word used by Matthew for heartless and totally indifferent action. Bristol says:
The verb is used by Jesus of the useless salt cast out and trodden under foot (Matthew 5:13) and of the perils of being trampled down by swine (Matthew 7:6). Here it denotes that the sinner rejects the Son of God completely and brutally. F38
It is easy to take the penalties of neglect, and other so-called milder sins, as stated in this verse, and from the practical RESULT of such sins, impute to those that committed them "brutality," "harshness," and even reprobacy, as Bristol does both here and in the quotation below. This actually avoids the point of the exhortation, namely, that neglecting the assembly, absence from the Lord's table, indifference, and impiety - these things are said to make common the blood of Jesus, trample Christ under foot, and insult the Holy Spirit. Of course, this is the same manner of interpretation that imputes all manner of sins to the rich man at whose gate Lazarus lay. It is alleged that he had acquired his wealth dishonestly, that he was a drunkard, and that he even kicked Lazarus! The human mind finds it hard to believe that respectable people will be lost. It is in this tradition that commentators assign much worse sins to those ancient Hebrew Christians than any they committed.
The blood of the covenant ... an unholy thing
refers to a lack of appreciation of the blood of Christ, making it "common" (see Greek, English Revised Version (1885) margin). How does one make the blood of Jesus common? By his indifference to it, by responding to it not at all, or half-heartedly, by neglecting to enter by means of the access provided through it, or, in short, either by non-Christian or anti-Christian conduct.
Wherewith he was sanctified
is further evidence that the people addressed in Hebrews, and with such a powerful exhortation, were true Christians, as far as previous experience was concerned, and that they were not merely those "superficially" associated with Christianity. This poses so great a difficulty that translators and commentators alike often resort to radical devices in a vain attempt to remove it. Hewitt said, "The omission of the words `wherewith he was sanctified' by the Codex Alexandrinus was most probably due to an attempt to avoid this difficulty." F39 The difficulty, of course, is the sad, unwelcome fact, and one almost unbelievable, that even after one is a true and devoted Christian, enjoying all the privileges of salvation, even "sanctified" as in this verse, that even then such a person can defect from the Lord and lose his soul. All efforts to alter this fact, whether by tampering with the text of scripture or by explanations that deny the text, should be rejected. As an example of the latter, take Bristol's words concerning the passage here. Of course, they are true, at least on the surface; but they nevertheless fail to present one vital and overwhelming truth of God's word in these verses. He said:
(Regarding "hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace") The verb contains the thought of violent self-assertion and arrogance. Through his Spirit, God offers his love in action for man's redemption. But the defiant sinner thinks that he does not need this help in his life. His rejection is harsh and brutal. F40
It is in that last sentence of Bristol's words that the common fallacy comes to light. What about the sinner who is not "harsh and brutal" but who rather reluctantly turns away from the fountain of grace, as did the rich young ruler (Mark 10)? How about him who is merely too busy with this life to concern himself with another? What about the man who simply never has time to think about it, after the first blush of his conversion is past? What of the soul which merely drifts away from it? It is the solemn conviction of this student that such conduct on the part of men, however good they may be in the ordinary sense, and however justified by the customs of a permissive society - that such conduct is not merely deplorable but GUILTY. The verse at hand calls such behavior by its proper labels; it is a trampling under foot the Son of God, making the blood of Jesus common, and insulting the Spirit of grace.
These quotations are Deut. 32:35,36; but a check of those verses will show that their form, but not their meaning, has been altered by the author of Hebrews. The quotation is not like the Septuagint, nor like Philo, so what is it? It is the apostle Paul quoting a well-known scripture in his own words; and the proof of this is Rom. 12:19 where exactly the same quotation in exactly the same words is found; and, if the scholarship of the world will forgive us, by exactly the same author, namely, Paul himself. It is certainly a gratuitous assumption of intolerable dimensions to make Barnabas, Apollos, Luke, Clement, Mark or anybody else misquote a passage in exactly the same words of Paul's misquotation.
The fact of God's wrath is inherent in his holiness. These verses trumpet the fact that the God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament, and that he is angry with the wicked every day, that sin shall not stand in his presence, and that the utter and final destruction of everything evil is a part of God's eternal purpose.
The Lord shall judge his people
is a pointed warning of judgment for the saints themselves, a fact noted by Peter who said, "And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and sinner appear?" (1 Peter 4:18).
There is by us a line unseen That crosses every path, The hidden boundary between God's mercy and God's wrath.
When King David was offered a choice of three punishments for his sin in numbering Israel, he said, "Let us now fall into the hands of Jehovah, for his mercies are great" (2 Samuel 24:14). However, as Milligan wisely noted, there is a difference in falling into the hands of God for correction and in doing so for judgment. F41 The fearful penalties to be executed upon apostates are exceedingly dreadful.
The living God
is an expression used here and in three other passages of Heb. 3:12; Heb. 9:14; and Heb. 12:22; and in this place seems to be given in answer to a possible question of why it is a fearful thing to fall into God's hands. Because he is a living God!
This verse refers to fidelity and endurance of the Hebrew Christians who passed through the tribulations that arose around the martyrdom of Stephen and the following persecutions. The uncertainty of scholars about the original addressees of this epistle makes the positive identification of the "conflict of sufferings" somewhat precarious; but, if it was not THAT persecution, it was another one of sufficient priority to the date of Hebrews to have allowed the development of a prevailing indifference that arose after it and which is so strongly treated by the author. Certainly, the words, "Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin" (Hebrews 12:4), as used by the author, do not rule out Stephen's martyrdom as being the time of the sufferings mentioned here; because "Ye" could have reference to the generation receiving Hebrews, rather than to a congregation that had no history of persecutions. Hebrews was addressed to the living and not to the dead; and whatever persecution was referred to, it was "a great conflict of suffering."
The appeal in these words is to the truly heroic and faithful endurance of those Hebrew Christians who, at the first, had stood against every persecution and insult, endured every hardship, and had continued in spite of every shameful thing done to them, never deviating and never turning back.
The mention of "gazingstock" brings to mind the words of Milligan in his quotation of Seneca. "In the morning men are exposed to lions and bears: at midday to their spectators." F42 "Reproaches" included scornful words of vilification, slurs, insults, lies, and curses of them that hated the Christians. The particular thing the author stressed is that they had not merely endured such things but willingly identified themselves with any of their brethren thus treated, befriending them, accompanying them, and sharing their reproaches.
The student is aware that the KJV makes this place read, "compassion of me in my bonds"; but a fact not often noted is that the KJV rendition is supported by no less an authority than the Codex Sinaiticus, along with other ancient manuscripts. (See introduction.) Westcott noted that this expression is found nowhere else in the New Testament except as a reference by Paul himself to his own imprisonment. F43 This, of course, is another reason why many students are not convinced by scholarly fulminations against the Pauline authorship of Hebrews. The other-worldly emphasis in the thoughts of persecuted Christians shows that they had truly set their affections upon the things in heaven rather than upon the things on earth, "the better possession" being a reference to eternal rewards stored up for them that prevail through Christ. Jesus said, "Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven" (Matthew 5:12).
Yet another reference is here to that "boldness" so strongly advocated throughout this epistle. (See under Hebrews 3:6,13.) Christians are repeatedly commanded to maintain by the most vigorous affirmation of it at all times that boldness which they must exhibit under all circumstances, exhorting themselves by constant reference to it, continual glorying in it, and regularly persuading others, especially intimate associates in all walks of life.
Verse 36 and through the end of this chapter conclude the fourth great exhortation of Hebrews. The exhortation is based on a number of considerations, among which are these: (1) We have a great high priest who has opened up the new and living way through the veil, that is to say, his flesh. (2) Willful sin shall certainly result in eternal destruction. (3) The Christians who received this epistle had already endured great hardship and suffering and should not throw all that away by becoming indifferent. (4) Patience should be exercised in order to win the crown of life. (5) Christ is faithful and will surely come to reward his followers as he promised. (6) We are not of them that draw back to perdition but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.
is stressed as the opposite of that impatience which began to develop in the hearts of many who expected that the Lord should have come already. Their expectations were founded on a misinterpretation of the scriptures, but it was none the less a real disappointment. Their misapprehension might also have been due partially to the purposeful ambiguity of the scriptures relating to the second coming of the Lord. (See ) Jesus said, "In your patience, ye shall possess your souls" (Luke 21:19). One of the hardest things for the fleshly mind to realize is that the victory of faith is not achieved by one brilliant campaign but a lifetime of patient and faithful service. It is not so much the glory of a promising start that the Lord desires as it is the glory of a faithful finish. It is such a fidelity to the end that is urged by the author here.
This is a partial quotation from Hab. 2:3 which reads, "For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry." The import of this exhortation is that whatever may seem to tarry, as viewed by people, it is not really so at all. God's will moves inexorably to the fulfillment of his eternal purpose. Delay, from the human standpoint, is not delay at all from the viewpoint of God. His will is certain of accomplishment. The blessed Saviour will surely return. If it shall seem to people that Christ's return is delayed, let them remember that the final day, the consummation of all things, the judgment and overthrow of the wicked - all these are every moment nearer than ever before.
Here is the answer to all problems, the solution of all difficulties, and the removal of all disappointments. This is a strong and candid declaration that Christians must "live by faith"! The matter of "when" Christ will come, as well as countless other questions can be safely left with the Lord. Enough for us to know that what God has promised is not about to fail. That soul that draws back because of any considerations whatsoever shall confront the displeasure of God himself.
Not of them that shrink back
is an affirmation of the writer's confidence that his readers will, after all, continue in the path of duty and ultimately prevail. This same confidence was expressed also in connection with the powerful warnings of the sixth chapter (Hebrews 6:9,10). The dual mention of "faith" in these last two verses would appear to have thrust themselves upon the author's attention; and, immediately afterward, in what would be called by some a typically Pauline digression, there follows a moving, comprehensive discussion of faith, accompanied by a panoramic presentation of the great exemplars of faith.
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.