The Epistle to the Hebrews presents to us the continuation of the testimony, by Christ Himself, of the Old Testament prophets. At the same time, this epistle unfolds the glory of Christ according to the testimony which these prophets have attributed to the Person of Christ the Messiah. He, Son of God and Son of man, came down here as an Apostle, bringing to us the divine truths; then returned to God from whom He has received the mediatorial office of Priest, waiting for the moment when He shall come in the governmental glory of Messiah. To this present glory of Jesus as High Priest in the heavenlies is conjoined a change of great importance in the operations or actings of God. A heavenly call takes the place of the earthly Jewish dispensation. This change of dispensation is one of the principal features of the book.
In this epistle Israel is acknowledged of God as a people, but is only recognised as such as seen in the remnant. Accordingly this remnant is not separated from the whole of the people, as the church is, but presents itself under the figure described in the emblem of the olive tree (Rom. n), forming the branches upheld there by God. It crosses the period of Christianity, partaking of the blessed promises with the Gentiles who are also admitted on the olive tree during that time. We are put, we Gentiles, by the doctrine of Romans n into the place given to the believer in the Epistle to the Hebrews.
The church is not at all in question in this epistle, unless in chapter 12, where only it is named amongst those gathered by God for glory. The church is a heavenly body formed outside the arrangements of God in the ways of His government on earth. It is not a continuation of anything that preceded down here. Amongst the blessed families of God it is the one nearest to Himself. The remnant of Israel, alive during the period of the gospel, belongs to it; it partakes of the nature of the new man (Eph. 2), in which it ceases to keep its distinctive character of remnant of Israel. But the doctrine of the Epistle of the Hebrews gives it that character, and this gives a double place to this class of saved ones, namely, the one of remnant of Israel on the earth, and the other of members of the church united to Christ in heaven.
By the fact of a heavenly call resulting from the setting up of a new dispensation, confided to the Messiah in the heavenlies, the Epistle to the Hebrews pours upon the remnant a blessing which is also heavenly. And besides this blessing adapting itself to the purposes of God towards His people Israel, the epistle unfolds to us the privileges of the second covenant, which can already be realised under the present state of things, although in truth the covenant may only receive its accomplishment in the future. What is also remarkable is to find some expressions speaking of a blessing which could have a fulfilment only after the rapture of the church.
There is no mediator for the church; it is seen in Christ and perfect; but the saints, seen as individuals, receive succour from the Mediator: this shews that in them there may be weakness or failure.
Let us remark also that the Holy Spirit, in putting under the eyes of the Hebrews these numerous developments concerning the change of dispensation, purposes by it to detach the remnant from the first covenant, in order to bind it in heaven to a heavenly Christ.
Chapters 1 and 2 unfold those glories of Messiah which pertain to His apostleship. It is, although a new feature, joined in chapter 2 to the humiliation of Christ. The Prince of salvation, for the benefit of the children of God He is bringing to glory, has borne the suffering of death and passed through afflictions. By this He is made bearer of the qualities necessary to priesthood. Accordingly in these two chapters are laid the foundations of His apostleship and also of His priesthood: of His apostleship in that He as God came Himself to bring the word to men; of His priesthood in that He as man passed through the experiences of the God-fearing man.
Verses 1, 2. “God spake to us in his Son,” not in the Son as instrument of His word, but Himself, God the Son, by the prophets, but in [the] Son.
“In these last days.” At the end of the prophetical period God Himself spake to us: His testimony follows that of the prophets, but His is necessarily superior to theirs. As to “the worlds,” the Greek word in the Epistle to the Hebrews is used in a general sense to indicate all that is in existence: it is used in the plural again in chapter 11:3.
Verse 3. “The exact expression of his substance”; Christ, “the image” of the invisible God. He has revealed down here by His presence the God who dwells in inaccessible light. All His acts did shew that He was God. He shewed His grace when He pronounced the forgiveness of a sinner, and His kindness when He took little children in His arms, etc. “Having made by himself the purification of sins.” The purification of our sins is here attached to the divine title of Jesus; it is part of His divine glory as much as the creation and preservation of all things. The title is the same also when it is mentioned a little further on: “He sat down.”
Verses 4-14. The Son, who brought us the word, is put in contrast with the angels by whom God dictated His law.
Verse 4. “Having become” or having taken a place. These words indicate the place taken by Jesus at a given time, without looking at what He was previously.
Verse 5. “Thou art my Son: to-day have I begotten thee.” Scripture speaks of Jesus as Son in two different aspects: as Son of God, born in the world, and Son according to the eternal relationship. This verse refers to the first of these: Jesus is seen here not in His glory as essentially divine, but in His glory as born Son. Nevertheless it is very important to consider the glory of Jesus as Son of God before His incarnation; for we could not speak of the love of God as we do, if the One He gave us was not His Son.
Verses 7-9. “Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire.” It has pleased God to give to these agents of His power this nature of spirits. But as to the Son it is said, “Thy throne, O God! “God, in the exercise of His will, makes of His angels spirits, or flames of fire; but of the Son we do not read that God makes anything of Him. God said of Him, “O God!” This Son exists or subsists in the divinity. Though the angels are in a state superior to that of man, they are, notwithstanding their glory, in a condition very inferior to that of the Son.
In these three verses the Lord is seen in a personal glory higher than what is shewn in verses 4-6. There we have the Son begotten of God, here He is God Himself. “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever.” How much doth this raise the dignity of Messiah! Nevertheless the same One, who is God, is anointed by God. He becomes man and is in a condition where He finds companions. Wonderful link of man with God in Christ!
“Thy throne”; not the Father’s throne, but the governmental throne of Messiah. “Thy companions,” or, as in Psalm 45 from which these words are quoted, “thy fellows.” When Christ is in the humiliation of the cross God calls Him His Fellow (Zech. 13); when He is in glory, God then gives us to Him for companions.
Verses 10-12. Here is a higher degree of Christ’s glory. He is the eternal God, creator of all things. It is no more Godhead hidden in the anointed Man, but the Creator-God— Godhead fully revealed. Thus, there is no room for misconception as to the Person of the Messiah.
Verse 13. The superiority of Jesus over the angels is doubly established. The Holy Ghost, after having put Him in contrast with the angels as regards His divine Person, views Him as man; “To which of the angels said he at any time, Sit on my right hand?” This contrast of the Man-Messiah with the angels goes on in the next chapter.
Verses 1-4. This is an exhortation of the Holy Ghost brought in parenthetically. We must keep close to the word of God, the more so as having been pronounced by the Lord Himself. How shall we escape if we neglect it? This greater privilege imposes greater responsibility. It is the preaching of a great salvation, made by the Lord Himself when on earth; not the gospel preached and the church united after the death of Christ. This testimony consequently goes on to the millennium without speaking of the church, a fact to be noticed not only in these verses but in the whole epistle.
We find also in this exhortation that the testimony of the apostles is swallowed up in the apostleship of Christ. Paul is apart from it; thus we see a difference between the testimony of Paul and that of Peter. In Peter’s discourses in the Acts he never presents the Lord as Son of God. In conformity to the testimony addressed to Israel, he presents in Jesus the Man approved of God down here, risen afterwards, and glorified by God in seating Him at His right hand, “as Lord and Christ.” Whilst Paul, who was brought in outside the teaching of the twelve to reveal that free grace of God which forms a church united to Christ in heaven, sets himself from the beginning of his testimony to shew clearly that Jesus is the Son of God.
Verse 5. “For unto the angels hath he not put in subjection the world to come of which we speak.” This is millennial glory. The words “the world to come” do not apply to heaven, but there will be a change on earth. Angels are the instruments of the providential government of God during the present period. We are still in the age which existed before the coming of Christ—an age which began with Noah. But we must notice the two principal phases of it: Moses and Sinai, the time of separation from the age for Israel; and Nebuchadnezzar in whom God entrusted the power to the Gentiles when He declared His people Lo-Ammi; “not my people.”
Verse 9. “A little inferior to the angels for the suffering of death”; “a little” refers to the degree rather than time. Jesus went down to the lowest of creation to be able to grasp it all. But this point is not unfolded here; it is only said that He went lower than the angels. Notice that in this place the death of Jesus is attached to God’s grace; “By the grace of God,” it is said, He suffered death for all. It is the Man who died to accomplish the grace of a God of love. Other passages present, in the death of Christ, the Man falling under the judgment of God.
Verse 10. “For it became him for whom are all things,” etc. The first object was to bring many sons to glory; but it was necessary that the One who presented Himself before the majesty of God for man should bear the consequences of the state in which man was found. “It became him,” God, “for whom are all things and by whom are all things.” It became His Majesty that the Prince of salvation should pass through the suffering of death.
Verse n. “For both he that sanctifieth and those who are sanctified are all of one.” Christ is a separated Person and exercises a sanctifying power. We, as children of faith, are sanctified by the double fact that we are separated in Him, and we receive of His power a new life. What He is as man, we are by the new life in us. When on the earth He was dependent on His God, obedient, separate from evil, etc.: we are such also by a moral fact, and become so practically.
“Are all of one.” We are in the same condition as the Head of this new family, which could not be the case with angels. The first time we see Jesus identifying Himself with man is when entering His public career. At John’s baptism He identified Himself with those in whom grace had produced the first movement of faith in answer to the testimony of God. He did not place Himself with the infidels who despised the testimony of John and refused His baptism, but with the pious remnant in whom, though very weak at the beginning, grace was operating. That class of people, put aside by John’s baptism, formed at the time the sanctified ones, “the saints in the earth “on whom the good pleasure of the Lord was resting; Psalm 16. But it is not said of Jesus and of men, that they are all of one: it is said, “He that sanctifieth and those who are sanctified are all of one.”1
“He is not ashamed to call them brethren.” Jesus gave this title of ‘brethren’ after His resurrection, not before. He has put us into His position, but not when He came down to ours.2
Verse 12. “I will declare thy name to my brethren, and in the midst of the church will I praise thee,” Ps. 22.3 Jesus knows so well the Father’s favour towards anyone who finds himself in the grasp of death, that He can declare to His brethren the name of a Saviour-God and reveal all His kindness.
Verse 13. “I will put my trust in him,” as God. Taking the position of man, He had necessarily to take this condition. He walked as a pious man in the dependence of faith. These words “I will put my trust in him” correspond to the expression “all of one” (v. n). They shew that walking by faith and realising the life of the remnant were in Jesus who identified Himself with the rescued ones of His people. The two things, the life of faith in Messiah, and His association with the remnant of Israel, are found in Psalm 16:1-3.
Verses 14, 15. Jesus had to meet Satan in the very circumstances where man was. The adversary, in stamping death upon man’s conscience, kept him in entire captivity. The law did nothing less than add to the power of the enemy on the conscience; but Jesus comes forward, and the enemy sees himself compelled to throw against Him this dreaded death. Jesus received the blow, overcomes death, and delivers His own.
Verse 16. “The seed of Abraham.” It is always the same thought: Christ identifying Himself with the sanctified.
Verse 17. “The sins of the people.” It is an expression of the Old Testament. The Jews are kept in view all through this epistle.
Verse 18. “He himself hath suffered being tempted.” Christ Himself has experienced our trials; He has endured the temptations, etc. But let us not forget that He was found there not by necessity but by the Spirit of God.4
“Himself has suffered.” There is no suffering when one gives way to temptation, but there is suffering if one resists it. In that case, the more there is of suffering, the more of spiritual life is revealed. Christ was really tempted; and though for Him the evil could come only from outside, still He suffered under the pressure of temptation. Having known temptation, Christ can sympathise with those who suffer being tempted, and He can come to their help. He does not bring any help to innocent man, nor to man in sin, but He brings succour to the saints in their struggle with sin. The power of temptation is less when it is felt than before it is felt or discerned. But when the struggle comes we find Christ to sustain, however serious may be the case. If one has fallen, two things remain to do; to extirpate whatever opened the door to the enemy (in other words, to judge the evil to the root); and in the future to leave oneself in the Lord’s hands. The two things are seen in Peter’s case; John 21.
Chapters 3 and 4 are a digression; they present a subject totally different, which, though not the apostleship nor priesthood, is nevertheless attached to these two subjects. There are literally two digressions: the first (chap. 3) looks at the Son as set over His house, and is linked to the glory of God in chapter 1; the second (chap. 4) takes up the promised rest, and links itself to the glory of the Son of man in chapter 2.
Verse 1. This chapter begins by presenting an outline of the two first chapters. It follows from the apostleship and priesthood of Christ that there is for the saints a heavenly calling. ‘You, brethren, who are partakers of it, consider the One in whom we possess such high privileges.’
“Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the holy calling.” It is only in chapter 3 that the author of the book speaks to the Hebrews. It presents many indications that the epistle was by Paul; but, not being an apostle of the circumcision, he does not mention his name. He writes not as an apostle but as a teacher. The expression “holy brethren” indicates here individuals called from heaven, and walking towards heaven without meaning the church, although that is composed of persons equally called from on high. The holy calling admits, with the saints of this dispensation, those of the Old Testament, and probably also the saints which will be on the earth after the rapture of the saints. In the course of the epistle the holy calling is put in contrast with the earthly calling of the Jews.
Verse 2. “As also Moses was faithful in all his house,” Christ is faithful to the One who appointed Him.
Verses 3-6. In contrast with the lawgiver, who had only the place of servant in the house which pertains to God, Jesus is counted worthy of a glory so much the greater, for He is the One to whom the house belongs; He is appointed over His house, and He occupies that place as Son. He Himself rules His own house that He has built. And more than this, this Son is God Himself: “he that buildeth all things is God.”
This house, as we see, answers to the tabernacle formed in the wilderness, and presents its two features. It is first the house of God as uniting the whole of creation (v. 4). God dwells amid His works. It is in that sense, and alluding to the High Priest passing through the tabernacle with the blood, that it is said of Jesus, “He has passed through the heavens.”
Secondly, It is also the house of God as gathering the called ones. God resides in the midst of His saints. We Christians are “his house,” the family He governs. This, though gathering those who are called, does not present itself under the special conditions of the church as a body. It is one thing to say of a man he is the head of a house, and another to say he has a wife. The called saints form the house of God existing now, as the house of Israel formed the previous one. The expression “house of Israel “signifies the posterity of Israel, but considered in the conditions and collective privileges of the whole family. It is in the same sense that it is also said, “the house of David,” and “the house of Aaron.” There is this difference between the house of Israel and the house which to-day unites the holy brethren: the one was formed by descendants, and the other is by calling. Peter speaks also of the saints as being the house—a spiritual house; the edifice. The Epistle to the Hebrews views the house in the members which composed it.
Verse 6. As it is by calling, it is necessarily by faith that this house is formed. If faith is forsaken, the house exists no more. This is what the Holy Ghost is putting before the consciences of the Hebrews to encourage them to persevere: “Dwell in faith, else you will not be recognized”; for they were always inclined to keep to things that were visible. “If we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.” This advice, given for the interests of the house, is nevertheless given to individuals. Responsibility is always individual, even when it is meant for common interests. We must keep firm confidence and rejoicing of the hope. Glorious privileges which bind us together! The security of the saints is in no way touched by this; for the advice is for each individual practically, and not on the doctrine of security.
If there is a real giving up on the part of any one, it just shews that the plant has no root; Matt. 13:21.
Verses 7-19. In these verses are many exhortations to the Hebrews to warn them of the dangers of a fall. These exhortations are founded upon the declarations in Psalm 95, where the Holy Ghost puts before them the misery of those who, after having left Egypt, murmured and fell in the wilderness. To prevent such an end we must guard the way. Verses 7-11 are a parenthesis, we must read, “Wherefore … take heed, brethren.”
Verse 13. “While it is called to-day.” It is “to-day” as long as the word of God is proclaimed, and there is a call on God’s part; the judgment will be the close of this calling.
Verse 14. Instead of the word “confidence,” we may read “substance,” “assurance.” It is a figure to explain something so very sure that we might think we could take hold of it materially. This word occurs again in chapter 11:1.
Verses 16, 17. The Greek is indefinite in this passage, but it is only a question of punctuation. The principal object of the counsel is to point out, that those who had sinned in the desert did not enter into Canaan. In consideration for the Hebrews, and not wishing to be too hard upon them, Paul gives us to understand that but few among them entered the promised land. The warning which precedes leads us on to chapter 4, where rest is spoken of.
Verses 1-11. The first portion of the chapter is occupied with two subjects: one is the revelation that those who fell in the desert fell by unbelief; the other, a demonstration that a rest is still before us. From which a new warning comes to us to be careful, to live a life of faith. “Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief … let us labour therefore to enter into that rest lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief,” verse 11. There are privileges which we possess; let us fear to lose them: we are His house, and to keep to that state, let us take fast hold of what placed us there—the assurance and glorious object of this hope. We have privileges set before us—the rest of God and His glories; “Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest,” not missing the walk of faith. It is always faith which sustains and takes us out of difficulties in reference to the place of testimony, or as belonging to that house which professes the hope, or our individual portion, or our possession of that rest. The rest that remains, into which we enter, is God’s rest.
Verses 12, 13. All that does not agree with that rest, to which we are walking, must be judged on the way. We are judged by the word of God. He Himself, by His searching word, discovers to us the state of our soul, and probes it to its deepest and dearest feeling. All that is within us must be revealed before Him. God, in reference to His government, generally judges only the outward state of things; but when it is His intercourse with His people, or His rights of love towards them, He judges more deeply. We are shewn by the historical books of the Old Testament how the merciful Lord renewed His blessing whenever the people returned to Him; but if we read the prophets, we shall see how God searches deeply and judges the evil which must not remain after the blessing has returned. During the time of Josiah we see a good return of the people towards God, and there was also abundant blessing; but this does not prevent Jeremiah saying to the people by Jehovah’s orders, “Acknowledge thine iniquity,” Jer. 3:13.
Verses 14-16. Though we have the word of God to keep us when in danger, we have also the priesthood of Christ to help us through the difficulties of the way. His word judges in us what shews itself as the principle and will of the flesh. The priesthood comforts us in what is weakness or infirmity. Verses 14-16 are the beginning of chapter 5, without detaching them from chapter 4; it is indeed very precious to see the connection of the priesthood with our trials in the wilderness.
Verse 16. We go to the throne of grace, and not to the High Priest; because there is on the throne of grace a High Priest; and we draw near to God with assurance full and free. If we cannot approach God with the assurance of His love towards us, we are not yet made free. We address ourselves to the Lord in reference to the testimony, His church, and His work; or to the Father, in His relationship to His children; to God, when referring to the state of man, or creation—what belongs to the relation of the creature with God.
We enter here into the main subject of the epistle, namely, the priesthood of Christ. The developments of it extend to chapter 10:22. During the course of these developments a contrast is drawn between Christ and Aaron, and also between the two priesthoods with the view of unfolding how the new institution is far superior to the old one.
Chapter 5. The principal subject brought to view is the glorious introduction of Jesus into the priesthood, and the appreciation of the qualities with which our Lord entered into this new office.
Verses 1-4. The priesthood being a mediatorial charge, established to maintain the relationship of the weak and the infirm with God in His majesty, it was necessary that the high priest should be endowed with qualities which enabled him to shew compassion to those who were weak and infirm. Aaron as a man subject to infirmities as other men, would have failed in this condition of the priesthood if he had not found in the priesthood itself what fitted him for compassion and sympathy. He was to offer sacrifices not only for the people but also for himself, and these offerings produced feelings towards others; for at the same time that they established his position before God, they were also the commemoration of his own infirmities. Qualities then were necessary in the high priest’s person. But Aaron was trusted with the charge solely on account of God’s call. “And no man taketh this honour unto himself but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.” The high priest was called of God to that charge, and was formed by Him to maintain it. These are the two principles unfolded to us by the Holy Ghost in the Levitical priesthood.
Verses 5, 6. But if there are qualities and titles belonging to the dignity of a high priest, it is Jesus who possesses them and unites them gloriously in His own Person. In Him it is not a high priest as an infirm man under the obligation of offering for himself before offering for others; no, but we have the Son of God proclaimed High Priest by God Himself— Him to whom God said, “Thou art my Son, to-day have I begotten thee… Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedec.” Jesus has before God a position entirely His own, a position which belongs to Him as Son. And more: His Person presents the high dignity that He could not only offer the sacrifice, but could offer Himself. It is according to these personal perfections that Jesus was entrusted with the priesthood, and is now before God. Blessed be God! who has given us for High Priest the Son of His love, He who gave His life for the life of wicked man, and whose mercies towards the infirm could not fail us whose weakness demands of the High Priest every day new supplies of compassion and mercies!
Verses 7, 8. Nevertheless, if Jesus did not require to be formed in order to shew compassion, He had to learn something: “He learned obedience through the things which he suffered.” He learned, not to obey, “for the law of God was in his heart,” but He learned obedience, having been obedient in circumstances the lowest and most painful which it was possible for man to pass through, for He went down to death. If Jesus suffered, it was not for Him a necessity which He could not avoid: it was according to the will of God who had appointed Him that portion in the world. The Holy Ghost makes us feel the right Jesus had not to pass through death, when He says, “though he were Son.” Jesus passed through all the degrees of man’s sufferings, so that there is nothing in the sorrows of His saints which He does not know, and is unable to sympathise with them in. But this school of suffering He went through, before being made High Priest, “during the days of his flesh”; and now that He has gone through it all He succours us. This is a case very different from that Of Aaron and his sons. It was needful that they should be in the same circumstances as their brethren, infirmity being necessary to them for the fulfilling of their functions, whilst in the new priesthood the One who exercises it is not a man in infirmity. It is the Son without weakness, who knows by past experience the whole truth as to the state of man.
“Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplication with strong crying and tears, unto him that was able to save him from death.” At this time the enemy, who at the outset had sought to seduce Jesus by offering Him the things that are agreeable to man (Luke 4), was presenting himself against Him with the terrible things. Jesus never asked that any cup should pass from Him, save that one which meant that God would hide His face from Him. He felt in His soul at that hour of Gethsemane all the pangs attending the reception of the blow which God Himself was about to direct against Him. However, when He enters into the thought that it is the Father who has prepared the cup, He accepts it and offers Himself. In Gethsemane Jesus had to contend with the power of the enemy: “This is your hour and the power of darkness.” On the cross He bore the wrath of God, and cried, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
“And was heard.” Jesus was heard, in the first place, by an internal deliverance, inasmuch as He was enabled to take the cup from His Father’s hand, and not from the hand of Satan. In His struggle in Gethsemane He overcame the direct power of the adversary. The latter, conquered in the conflict he had entered into against the soul of Christ, was powerless when he came in his instruments. The hour of the power of darkness was not entirely spent; but Jesus, delivered from the terrors the enemy had pressed on His soul, and free to escape death if He chose, gave Himself up. He advances towards the wicked and delivers Himself into their hands. Evidently His soul was no longer under the pressure of the enemy. But He was more entirely heard in His resurrection. “He asked life of thee, and thou gavest it him, even length of days, for ever and ever,” Psalm 21:4.
“And was heard in that he feared.” It may be quite as well rendered “on account of his piety” or “of his respect.” It is the same word as in chapter 12:28, “with reverence and godly fear.” “By the things which he suffered.” Instead of fulfilling righteousness in an even path, He met with constantly growing difficulties. He suffered in order to learn obedierice.
Verses 9, 10. All trial being ended for Jesus, God brought Him to perfection by placing Him in a condition where no trial is possible and into which Jesus entered; being acquainted with the suffering of a holy man, struggling with this world, and the power of darkness. It is in this position that God has proclaimed Him High Priest. Thus Jesus, far from being with us in a fellowship of suffering, is the One who is with God (having overcome everything) and who gives us the help needed to bring us out of our distresses. It is as Man that Jesus exercises the priesthood, but, what is very remarkable, it is as the Son that He has been declared Priest.
If, by the very nature of this office, it was needful that He should be the Man-mediator, it was necessary also that His work should commence with God, from whom all grace flows. But the Son, before receiving the priesthood, was led by God through suffering in order to prepare Him for this office. This sums up into two leading subjects the truth concerning the priesthood of Christ which are put forth in this chapter.
Verses 11-14. Before presenting fuller details on the subject of the new priesthood, the writer of this epistle stops to exhort the Hebrews, whose slowness in the faith made the unfolding of this truth difficult.
Considering the time that had already elapsed, they should have been in a better condition to bear the word of the doctrine of Christ. This warning takes up the end of chapter 5, and the whole of chapter 6.
Verses 1-3. Leaving the weak notions of Christ which a Jew or a Pharisee could have understood and admitted, “let us go on to perfection,” receiving the testimony of God respecting the Christ whom He has raised to a heavenly glory. Why cleave to these Jewish notions when in possession of the precious revelations which belong to the heavenly calling?
“Let us go on to perfection,” to the perfect man, to that stage in which our faith lays hold of Christ in His present glory and cleaves to the blessing which flows to us from this Christ in heaven.
Verses 4-8. To return to these early Jewish notions, after having received a promised faith in a heavenly Christ, is to be in the road to forsake Christ Himself. Now, from such a fall there is no recovery. All the characteristics mentioned in verses 4, 5, may be possessed in the church without being born of the Spirit. One may be a partaker of the Holy Ghost, that is to say participate in His operations, without necessarily having received the Holy Ghost who dwells in the saints and is in them the seal of their faith and redemption. Indeed, it was by the Holy Ghost that Balaam, viewing from the heights the beauty of the camp of Israel, rejoiced and exclaimed: “How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel!” and yet the sequel shews that he was not a child of God.
“If they shall fall away” —have forsaken Christ—a warning similar to that in chapters 3 and 4; but with this difference, that the warning of chapter 6 looks at the Hebrews as in a lower and more general condition. In the former case they are exhorted to press forward and not to stop in their way. Here they are reminded of their responsibility as having been the objects of God’s care. Such care should be responded to.
Although we do not now see the glorious operations, which in the beginning accompanied the testimony of the gospel, by which through their merely external effects individuals were often led to profess the faith, yet things remain in principle the same.
A man may find himself in the sphere where God is acting in grace, he may go so far as to profess the faith and may after all remain unconverted, in spite of the share which he has had in the blessings God was pouring out for the conversion of souls. Grace has lavished her riches upon him, but in vain. At last the time comes when it is shewn that, though it has received the rain from heaven, this soil has remained barren. It is then nigh unto cursing and its end is to be burned.
Nevertheless their state gave reason to hope better things than this sad picture. The rain of the blessing of God which had fallen on them by the word had produced fruit. God could acknowledge their work and labour of love.
Verses 11, 12. But it was desirable they should shew fresh diligence to the full assurance of hope.
Verses 13-20. This warning being given, the Holy Ghost presents to their view the glorious certainties which God has given for the hope of His own—hope founded on God’s promise and oath, and secured in Jesus within the veil, whither He has entered as our forerunner. This is how the grace of God acts towards the saints; it sustains their faith and their courage by directing their gaze to the things which are before. If godliness declines, there is a temptation to go back to works, to return to Judaism, which can give no help, but which on the contrary is a plague in the heart,—yes, in the very heart. But Christ seen in His fulness and glory gives fresh energy to faith.
We now return to the subject of the priesthood. Christ having been declared a Priest after the order of Melchisedec, His introduction into this new office is now considered in its relation to the principles of that priesthood, and in respect to the change that results in the priesthood.
But first there are some general remarks.
Verses 1-3. Priesthood and royalty were combined in Melchisedec. He was priest of the Most High God, possessor of heaven and earth. This name Most High God is that which God takes in the millennium, and the royal priesthood is also that which Jesus will exercise in the times of the restitution of all things; but it is not under this aspect that the priesthood is unfolded in the Hebrews. With regard to the type of Melchisedec it is shewn that Jesus was appointed High Priest after that order; but where the present exercise of the office entrusted to our Lord is spoken of, the Holy Ghost takes the type from the priesthood of Aaron.
“Without father, without mother, without descent.” Melchisedec, though a typical man, is nevertheless a real personage whom sacred history brings on the scene in circumstances calculated to set forth the great principles of the glorious priesthood of our Lord, who is shewn exercising a priesthood as endless as His days. Scripture does not speak of his birth, death or pedigree, thus making an exception, for usually in the Old Testament, when persons having a prominent place in the ways of God are spoken of, we get their genealogy, etc.
Verses 4-10. This king, priest of the Most High God, is a greater man than Levi, the root of the priestly family established under the law; for when he met Abraham, the father of Levi, he received tithes from the patriarch and blessed him: a first proof of the superiority of Christ as priest after the order of Melchisedec over Aaron, priest of the lineage of Levi.
Verses 11-19. The bringing in of Jesus as priest after the order of Melchisedec involves the substitution of a better priesthood than that of Aaron.
Verse 11. It is evident that this old priesthood was not perfect, since God, after having instituted it, speaks of another.
Verses 12-17. The order being changed, the new priesthood is necessarily founded on new principles. Christ, consequently, is not subject to the Levitical ordinance by which the priests entered into office in virtue of their hereditary right as sons of Aaron, and that only for a limited number of years.
After the similitude of Melchisedec He is in the priesthood, without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days nor end of life. He possesses an intransmissible office and holds it in the power of an endless life.
Verses 18, 19. By reason of the connection between the priesthood and the law, if the first is changed, the second must be affected by it. “For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before, for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof [for the law made nothing perfect], and the bringing in of a new hope by the which we draw nigh to God.” A perfection never to be obtained by the law is now enjoyed through the excellency of the new priesthood; besides the privilege of drawing nigh to God—a blessing never even suggested by the law.
“A better hope,” that is, the hope of heavenly things and the favour of receiving them, not by righteousness of man but by grace. See chapter 6:19, 20. Our hope adds, to the privilege of inheriting heavenly things, that of being brought nigh to God. There was nothing of this kind under the Levitical economy; all was connected with the possession of Canaan and the government of Jehovah. Far from admitting man into His presence, God remained hidden in the sanctuary. But the excellency of the priesthood of Christ further appears by many more privileges.
Verses 20-22. Christ is honoured by being made a priest by the word of the oath of God, and by being declared by His word to be a surety of a better covenant.5 Keep in view the parenthesis and read: “And inasmuch as not without an oath, … by so much was Jesus made a surety of a better covenant.”
This covenant derives its dignity from the oath of God. It is as sure and stedfast as the oath of God is weighty.
Verses 23-25. The perpetuity of Christ’s priesthood keeps our interests permanently in the same hands, for we have not to fear that our Priest should fail and leave the work of our complete salvation unfinished.
“He is able to save them to the uttermost,” to save us in the difficulties we meet with in the wilderness. He is able to make good to us from day to day the value of that eternal redemption accomplished once for all. The priestly service is to save us in passing through the wilderness.
Verses 26-28. The position of Christ as High Priest made higher than the heavens, His blessed and holy Person, His finished work, are all in harmony with the grace which has brought us to God. But more, the care He bestows upon us here below maintains us practically in that position. Instead of leaving us in a stifling atmosphere He raises us (that is, the new man) to the level of our heavenly hopes.
“For such a High Priest became us.” Because our calling gives us a place far above the heavens, it becomes us that our High Priest should have His place there also. In chapter 2 we have already noticed that it became God that Christ should pass through sufferings; and in this chapter it becomes us that He should be lifted up higher than the heavens. How much this exalts our heavenly calling!
“Such a High Priest who is holy, harmless, undefiled.” Appearing in the presence of God for us, it is necessary that all the qualities answering to the divine majesty should be found in His Person. Before God Jesus is a High Priest, holy, harmless, undefiled; towards us He is a merciful High Priest, having compassion on the weak.
“Separate from sinners and made higher than the heavens, who needeth not daily as those high priests to offer up sacrifices, first for his own sins and then for the people’s, for this he did once when he offered up himself.” In the glorious place which our Priest occupies, He is entirely separate from sin, and He occupies this place after having accomplished on earth a perfect redemption, having abolished sin and overcome Satan and death. From the heights of His glory He helps His distressed saints on the earth, but He Himself is never in distress.
It is important for us to discern this position of Christ and to see that the priesthood has for its basis the complete victory over everything with which we struggle here below.
If priesthood is a mediation rendered necessary by the glory of the God who holds intercourse with His own down here, it is also the means whereby God unfolds towards them His tenderness and all the riches of His grace. It is the channel through which blessing is poured upon us from above. Here arises the question: How far is my infirmity the subject of priestly service? It is well to know at once that Jesus never intercedes for the flesh. His care has its object, the maintenance of the new man in the height of the standing He is in Himself before God; and He leads the new man in the path of submission and dependence in which He walked Himself when down here. He is the head of the new man in us as being essentially in Himself the new man.
The necessity of priesthood is owing to our weakness, to the flesh being still in us. Accordingly priestly service dispenses to us mercy and grace: mercy which bears with us, and grace to help us. If it is a question of weakness or infirmity, Jesus comforts us, but never does He pity the flesh. It is written, “Ye are dead.”
Now, outside of this state of death for the flesh, there can be no occasion for intercession. Are we out of the path, walking after the flesh? Christ will then require that the two-edged sword, which discerns the state of the soul, should pierce us and mortify in us those roots of carnality within. This discipline will have its effects, and then it will be followed by the intercession of Jesus in favour of the new man; and God answering by the Holy Ghost will act in power to give the new man victory over the flesh.
Having seen in the preceding chapter the substitution of the priesthood of Christ for that of Aaron, we get in this chapter the position of the new priesthood and the change in the covenants which it involves.
Verses 1-5. The Priest of the new priesthood does not exercise His office on earth. He is in heaven at the right hand of Majesty, a minister of the sanctuary and the true tabernacle which the Lord pitched and not man. Here the Holy Ghost points out to us that the administration of heavenly things by the hands of Jesus is the principal subject of the teachings of this epistle.
Verse 4. For if He were on earth He should not be a Priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law. Therefore, at the very time when the heavenly priesthood was being unfolded to the Hebrews, there existed on earth another priesthood, which though no longer recognised, was yet in operation. This was a time of transition between the two dispensations. We gather from this that the Epistle to the Hebrews was written before the fall of Jerusalem. For what object? First, to shew the Hebrews their heavenly privileges; but also to bid them go forth without the camp. When the link of Christians with the world is morally broken, final separation is easier, whether the path is trod quietly in obedience to the word “come out,” or if it is a question of acting when events compel us to do so.
Verses 6-13. The priesthood of Christ brings in also a new covenant more excellent than the first, and grounded upon better promises. When God gave the first covenant, He also gave a priesthood which was the key-stone of the whole economy. This being changed, there is consequently a change of covenant; the first falls with its obsolete priesthood, and the second takes its place.
Verses 8-12. God had declared by His prophets that the day would come when He should bring in a new covenant different from the first.
Verse 13. However, touching the old covenant, the Hebrews are treated with consideration in this epistle; for the only conclusion expressed is that the promise of a new covenant makes the first one old and ready to vanish away. Yet the cross had actually abolished it, the blood of Jesus being the blood of the new covenant.
The covenant being changed by the bringing in of the priesthood of Christ, the whole system undergoes the change; the sanctuary, offerings, worship, the state of the worshippers— everything is altered. Here the question arises: How near can we approach to God through the new priesthood? The answer is: We draw nigh even to God Himself. This privilege is founded on the perfect value of the blood of Christ; which value is unfolded in these two chapters.
In chapter 9 the special subject is atonement; the blood shed and carried into the sanctuary. In chapter 10 it is the application of the blood to the individual, conscience being perfected through sprinkling of the blood.
Verses 1-10. Under the first covenant there was an ordinance of service with regard to the worship which Jehovah received from His people. A tabernacle had been made in which God concealed His glory; and sacrifices were offered, the blood of which was carried into this tabernacle by the high priest.
We must notice that it is the tabernacle pitched by Moses in the wilderness which is spoken of here. There is no mention made of the temple built by Solomon. The temple was not the shadow of heavenly things; but a figure of the government of God during the millennium. When the ark of the covenant was placed in it, it contained neither the pot of manna nor Aaron’s rod, which are both symbols of the resources displayed by grace in the wilderness. But the tabernacle, with its furniture and service, set forth the provision of the grace of God to help us during our journey here below. In fact this tabernacle belongs to a higher order of things; for it was not, like the temple, the expression of a terrestrial rest; it exhibited the grace of God going with His people till their introduction into the heavenly rest.
Verse 2. The table of shewbread and the seven-branched candlestick in the sanctuary set forth the manifestation of God in man. God revealed in Christ the anointed man and by the Spirit, according to the riches of a grace which opens its treasures to man.
Verses 3-5. The arrangement of the holiest of all set forth the supreme God in the immediate manifestation of His divine Person: God manifested in testimony to man, as well as in government and judgment in the midst of His people; but remaining in darkness and keeping man at a distance.
Verses 6-8. The priests went daily into the holy place, accomplishing the usual service; the high priest only went into the holiest of all. He carried blood in, that God should not come out in judgment.
The Levitical service was for the children of Israel the means of approaching God. In the state they were in they never could have approached God in the light; therefore it was necessary that there should be this order of things between them and God. Evidently in an earthly system of religion, and under a regimen in which God reveals Himself to man in judgment and providence, God must remain veiled: only the grace which is in Jesus is that which fits man to approach to God without a veil.
Verse 9. “Sacrifices that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience.” It cannot be said that, under this order of things, the conscience of the Israelite remained deaf to the communications of God; but by the sole effect of sacrifices, it was never in a state to bear the presence of God. Their conscience was formed more by personal communications with Jehovah. David, for instance, in his wandering life had found God; and he was nearer to Him in the wilderness than the Israelites were when approaching the altar with the tabernacle and the ordinances, between themselves and God. This advantage was also limited: certain springs of conscience remained inactive. In that state they could not have sustained communion with God in that full light which penetrates man and searches into the motions of his soul. Never would a Jew have been heard speaking of the flesh, saying that it is opposed to the Spirit. In summing up what we learn in these verses of the priesthood under the first covenant, we find that there was a tabernacle in which God was hidden in obscurity, and sacrifices which were not able to perfect the conscience of the worshippers.
Verses n, 12. But the contrast of the new priesthood presents a much more excellent order of things, “Christ being come an High Priest of good things to come by a greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands … but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption.” O! how far Christ surpasses that which was greatest under the Levitical economy. Heaven is the sanctuary into which He has entered; and the blood which He has carried in is His own, the blood which has obtained an eternal redemption.
We notice that the truths declared in these verses present the value of the blood of Christ according to the efficacy of the day of atonement. The unfoldings which follow are, generally speaking, given from the same point of view.6
“By his own blood he entered in once, having obtained eternal redemption for us.” The sacrifice is shewn here as forming part of the glory of Christ; the humiliation of the cross, and suffering for sin, do not appear here. But Christ having obtained eternal redemption by His blood entered into heaven carrying the value of that blood into the presence of God. Moreover the relation of the blood to the state of man, its application to the sinner, is not unfolded here.
It is primarily for God that this sacrifice took place; to Him was the blood offered; and before Him, in redemption, as in all His works, things are set in their proper place before reaching down to man.
Verses 13, 14. If the blood of Christ belongs to God, it is nevertheless on man’s account it was shed. Christ, the anointed Man, offered Himself without spot, and His blood purged the conscience of the believers. But what perfection is in this work of salvation! There is no room left for man to take a part in the divine operations; a redemption which saves him is accomplished, but this work is entirely of God. Christ offered Himself by the eternal Spirit. The work of the cross is perfect and absolute; wrought wholly between Christ and God, to the exclusion of all outside. Christ in His death has been lifted up from the earth. “How much more shall the blood of Christ… purge your conscience? “The purification of the conscience by the blood is simply maintained here. The effect of the blood of Christ unfolded in its extensiveness will be the subject-matter of chapter 10.
Verse 15. The blood which Jesus has shed gives Him a title to be the Mediator of the new covenant. This blood could not belong to the first one under which purification only applied to defilements of the flesh; but it belongs to the second: it is the foundation of this covenant under which sin is no more before God. “That by means of death for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant.” This first covenant brought in consequences for which it was not provided: for law makes sin to abound and only acts towards transgressors by punishing them with death. But here is another covenant founded on the value of the blood of Christ and this blood answers for the transgression committed under the first.
It is a retro-active effect applying itself to transgressions committed beforehand, as it applies now to the state of the called. “They which are called might receive the promise of an eternal inheritance.” Everything in this present dispensation is done by calling. Calling opens the door of the new covenant to those who found themselves under the grave consequences of the first, even as also to those who did not belong to it at all. Nevertheless it is with reference to the first of these classes that these truths are unfolded.
Mark how the expressions “entered in once,” “an eternal redemption,” “through the eternal Spirit offered,” “an eternal inheritance” contrasted the heavenly priesthood, and the new covenant with the earthly privileges of the Jews and their conditions under the first. Yet these expressions are still Jewish, they describe very little of heaven; the privileges of saints united to Christ on high are not touched upon.
Verses 16, 17. As the death of Jesus is the redemption of transgressions committed under the first covenant, it is also the surety of the inheritance promised under the second. The word inheritance of verse 15 seems to bring in the idea of “testament” for verses 16, 17. These two verses may be read as a parenthesis. Translating by “testament” the Greek word, the expression “there must also of necessity be the death of the testator” is made to signify there must be the death of the testator to make sure the provisions of it; for as long as he lives he can alter them. Elsewhere in the epistle we always translate the Greek word by “covenant.”
Verses 18-22. The second covenant grounded on the value of the blood of Christ is not on this basis without having a type answering to it in the first. This one, of whom Moses was the mediator, was inaugurated by blood; it had also, by the sprinkling of the blood, means of purification connected with worship.
Verse 22. “And without shedding of blood there is no remission.” There are purifications made by water; also the purification by sprinkling of blood made once; but for the remission of sins the shedding of blood was necessary: blood must flow, some one must die. It is important to notice this; for it often happens that a soul without peace sighs for fresh sprinklings. That soul might as well ask God to renew the sacrifice, for without shedding there can be no sprinkling. It is on the value of the shed blood that the peace of the soul rests. Now the shedding of the blood of Christ has taken place, and it can only take place once. So is it also as to the sprinkling granted to the believers.
Verses 23, 24. The blood of Christ purifies the heavenly places; even as the blood of bulls and of goats did purge the tabernacle. The reason of this rite for the tabernacle in the wilderness is given in these terms, Leviticus 16, “the tabernacle of the congregation that remaineth among them in the midst of their uncleanness,” v. 16. By this we understand the purification of the heavenly places. God has established His dwelling-place amidst His people. We are in contact with His tabernacle. Our transgressions and our sins are named there. What a thing for sin to be named in heaven! Perhaps there is more general reason for the purification of the heavenly places: the defilement of creation by the entrance of sin into the world. Creation seen as a whole is unclean by reason of the presence of sin.
Verse 24. The entering of Christ into the heavenlies, also His appearing in the presence of God, correspond to a privilege infinitely blessed to our souls. Not only is Christ seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high, but in this place of perfection He “appears in the presence of God for us “and represents us there.
Verses 25-28. The end of the chapter is specially given up to shewing mat Christ could suffer but once.
Verse 26. For then must He often have suffered since the foundation of the world: the offering could not take place without Jesus suffering. This connection of the offering with suffering is remarkable; the Holy Ghost does not separate them. Some speak of “unbloody sacrifices,” but sacrifice only takes place through the sufferings of death. If then the sacrifice has not been effected, it never will: for Christ cannot suffer any more.
“But now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” Until Christ, the question of sin had not been settled, but every trial of man under responsibility was being made; in the case of man without law or man under a law, sin had come to maturity. Besides, there was no more occasion for the existence of an age with man in the same way as before, under the same responsibility: the ages were accomplished; Christ appears; He closes the preceding period by abolishing sin, and opens new ages for the glory. Therefore He can now call souls to enter into this heavenly glory. During the call the “present evil age” continues for this world, but the called partake already of the blessing of the ages to come. He appeared (the Greek verb is in the perfect tense); the fact has passed and still subsists.
Verses 27, 28. The offering of Christ made once answers to the condition of man as son of Adam. The fate of sinful man is once to die, and after this the judgment. But Christ offering Himself once hath put away sin and removed the judgment for His own. He will be seen a second time by those who wait for Him, it will be unto salvation.
“Unto salvation.” This expression is in contrast with the judgment to come for man, after death. He has for his end two terrible passes: death and judgment. On the contrary, the Christian possesses two boundless privileges: he partakes of a Christ who died for his sins; and he waits the coming of this Christ in glory unto salvation. Jesus having abolished sin on the cross, the only thing that remains to accomplish after His death is His return to bring His own into the glory.
Having shewn in chapter 9 the value of the blood carried into the sanctuary, the Holy Ghost in chapter 10 considers the application of the blood to the conscience of the saints and the price of the sacrifice for their introduction to God.
Verses 1-4. The sacrifices offered under the law could not give a perfect conscience; “for the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sin”; and those offerings repeated year after year, far from taking them away, were, on the contrary, their commemoration. The people were always conscious of sins.
Verses 5-7. In contrast with the sacrifices in which God took no pleasure, Jesus Christ presented Himself to God to do His will, and this will required a sacrifice which could take away sin. It is beautiful to see Jesus, when coming into the world, presenting Himself to obey, and speaking to His Father, saying, “Lo, I come to do thy will, O God!”
“In the volume of the book it is written of me.” Books at that time were rolls of parchment with a label on the outside to indicate the contents; it helped to find the roll when it was on the shelf with others. Well, the spiritual label of the sacred roll, the summary of the scriptures, is that Jesus Christ would come to do the will of God. The offering of the body of Jesus Christ answers to all the sacrifices offered under the law. “Sacrifice [peace offering], and offering [meat offering], and burnt offerings, and offering for sin.” The different sacrifices are gathered together here to shew under all aspects the efficacy of the one sacrifice by which there is not only purification of conscience, but liberty and privilege to approach to God.
Verses 8-10. Two principal effects result from the will of God being accomplished in the offering of Christ Himself. First, the work of the obedience of Christ takes the place of the Jewish system. Secondly, a new people, sanctified by the offering of the body of Jesus Christ, is brought forward in connection with the new order of things.
Verse 10. There is here a principle of the highest importance: “We are sanctified by the will of God,” and this will Jesus Christ alone has accomplished. This leaves no room for the will of man: the work by which we are sanctified is absolutely, wholly, of God.
Verses 11-14 are effects more particularly for the conscience. The offering which separates a people also renders the sanctified ones perfect; it places them before God with a perfect conscience. The proof given to us is that Jesus Christ having offered one sacrifice for ever sat down at the right hand of God, until the moment He will rise against His enemies. It is not necessary for Him to come out of the sanctuary to offer fresh sacrifices.
Verse 12. “For ever sat down,” read, “sat down in continuity” (eis to dienekes)7
Verse 14. Perfected as to the conscience; it is the subject presented in the beginning of the chapter. In verses 1 and 2, we read that the sacrifices offered repeatedly could not “make perfect,” also that the fathers had always “conscience of sins,” and in chapter 9 we also saw that gifts and sacrifices of that period could “not make perfect as pertaining to the conscience,” but in this verse of chapter 10 we read, By one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. Our position before God is final; “perfected in continuity,” is the same word as in verse 12. As truly as Christ’s session at the right hand of God does not change for an instant; so truly does our position through grace remain unaltered.
Jesus will rise from His throne once, and it will be to come against His enemies; but the first thing He will do on rising will be to take us to Himself. There we shall no more require a priest to appear for us in the presence of God, nor the Epistle to the Hebrews to shew us our privileges and to encourage us.
Verses 15-18. The testimony of the Holy Ghost confirming the position in which the sanctified are through the offering of Jesus Christ. It is not a question here of the work of the Holy Ghost in the believer, but of the testimony which He gives to the work of Christ accomplished down here. There are three things to be noticed with regard to grace in what precedes: the will of God resolving on the work to be done for us; the sacrifice of Christ accomplishing this divine will; and the testimony of the Holy Ghost given to this will of God accomplished by Christ.
Verse 17. “And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.” According to these words it was necessary that the question of sin should be solved, for God does not say, “I will not remember,” but, “I will remember no more.” He saw our sins and remembered them, since He determined upon the death of Christ to abolish them. And now that they are abolished He remembers them neither to-day, tomorrow, nor for ever.
Verses 19-22 are application. The way into the holiest being open to us by the blood of Christ, let us realise our privilege of drawing near into the presence of God; but let us approach in the condition in which the sacrifice has placed us.
Verse 22. “Having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience.” The sprinkling of blood is an introductory privilege accomplished once for all. “And our bodies washed with pure water “is also an introductory privilege, but which extends also to daily communion, making allusion to the washing of the priests; Lev. 8; Ex. 30. On the subject of the perfect sacrifice, we find many unfoldings to exhibit the value of the blood of Christ, and our acceptance through it, but we have relatively little as to the daily exercise of the grace which is based upon this offering. Why? It is in order to keep our thoughts and communion up to the height of our privileges, and to remove from us any occasion of delighting in our wretchedness. If we suffer in our souls, let us turn to that perfect grace, let us go to God directly through Jesus Christ.
Verses 23-31 are warnings. “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith; … let us consider one another, to provoke unto love and good works; not forsaking the assembling of ourselves; … but exhorting one another.” We must be bold enough to profess with all the saints the hope which God has put in us.
In verses 26-31 the author of the Epistle presents the other side of the truth. The sword which he uses is indeed a two-edged sword. What he says signifies, you are perfected through so perfect a sacrifice that there is only one such. If you despise it, there is no other to which you may turn. The Jews, under the law, were always able to return by new sacrifices; under the gospel this possibility does not exist.
Verses 32-39. Besides the perfection of the grace in which God had placed them, and also the warning they received concerning the irremediable state of those who abandon Christ, the Hebrews had other motives for persevering in the faith. They had walked in that path amidst difficulties, and the Lord had given them the victory. A few more steps in the same path, and the Lord will have come. We must not draw back when so near the end of the journey. The just shall live by faith.
Following on the exhortations and encouragements which close chapter 10, we find in chapter 11 a review of the illustrious lives of the Old Testament, with the object of putting before the eyes of the Hebrews all the resources of faith. The subject is thus brought forward: “We are not of them who draw back unto perdition, but of them that believe to the saving of the soul; chap. 10:39. Now this is what faith is.
Verse 1. Faith produces two principal effects in the believer: first, it gives to the soul a full certainty as to the object it lays hold of; secondly, it puts the soul in the enjoyment of the object.
Verses 3-7. To know creation is the work of God, to trust in the sacrifice, to walk with God on the earth, and be a witness for Him. Such are the great principles of faith. This comprises the whole Christian system.
Verses 8-16. The child of faith is heir of the promises of God. These promises are for the future, he possesses them only in hope; but God takes care of him and by marvellous ways leads him through this world towards the goal where they will be accomplished.
Verses 8-10. At present the heir possesses nothing, save the earnest of the Spirit. Abraham, though heir of Canaan, dwelt there as a stranger; but he set his estimation of the promises high enough, so as to meet with Him who built the city.
Verses n, 12. The power of faith acts in the things which are necessary for the accomplishment of what is promised. We must wait by faith for the blessing of the church in another world, and realise now by the same faith the things which work together to the accomplishing of this hope, for instance, the work of ministry.
Verse 13. All these died in faith; in an attitude of faith waiting for the promises. This is how the Hebrews should die if death overtook them before the accomplishment of their hope.
Verse 16. Because these men of faith formed a heavenly people, God was not ashamed to connect their name with His. The same thing occurs for the saints of this dispensation; therefore this is said to the Hebrews.
Verses 17-19. Meanwhile faith is tried, Abraham had to sacrifice the one on whose head the promises had been put, so as to hold them from God only. There is much power in this example set before the Hebrews, for they also were to follow Abraham; they were to leave the Jewish Christ to receive a risen and heavenly Christ.
Verse 19. In the trial one always makes new discoveries as to the resources which are in God. The measure of grace which sustains us in ordinary times is not sufficient in the day of trial’, but then the glorious God unfolds new riches of His grace, to make a way out for His child. It is when death was ready to strike Isaac that Abraham tasted the grace of God who raises the dead. His faith was not confounded.
Verse 20. Very little is said of Isaac himself. This agrees with the place given him as type of Christ in the resurrection state, where He makes sure the promises and receives the church. Jacob, seen as a typical person, represents more Israel.
Verse 21. The blessing given to the sons of Joseph conferred upon them a double portion; Gen. 48. In fact, that portion is the birthright (Deut. 21:17), the portion of Christ. Therefore there is worship on Jacob’s part, Christ being discerned in this prophecy.
Verse 22. Lastly one simple principle of faith is shewn us in the life of Joseph: his faith looked to the future. The various examples taken from the life of the patriarchs, present to us faith in connection with the promises of God. The life of Moses, related in what follows, presents faith, in connection with the system appertaining to these promises.
Verses 23-29. The testimony God gives of the faithfulness of Moses in Egypt is, that he illustrated the faith which stands true in the presence of evil, and firm before difficulties. We learn by this example that providence is not the rule of conduct for faith: for if ever providence was clearly seen, it was indeed by Moses being placed in Pharaoh’s court. Was he to remain there?
Verses 32-40. The list of the men of faith under the Old Testament is not yet exhausted; but the example of those who served the Lord after the establishment of the people in the promised land would be less appropriate to the need of the Hebrews, so the author of the epistle confines himself to presenting them in a summary way, and citing only the names of some. They also were commendable for their faith, and have not as yet received the promise. There are better things for us, and though they do not appear to inherit all of them, they have nevertheless a part in them; they wait to receive them with us.
Chapters 12 and 13 are exhortations and encouragements given to the Hebrews. Wishes made in their favour.
Verses 1, 2. A cloud of witnesses bear witness to the success of faith; and it is for us an encouragement to run the race. But, far above all these witnesses there is One who has shewn faith in its perfection, it is Jesus; and the word directs our eyes towards Him. “The race that is set before us.” Allusion is made to the games of the Greeks; these games were contests in which there were different exercises, such as wrestlings, racings, etc. Responsibility attaches to the race of the Christian, and the Lord will deal in judgment with our race. “Jesus the author and finisher of faith.” In all that touches faith, Jesus has had the pre-eminence, having passed through all difficulties and having overcome them all.
Verses 3, 4. If we have to bear with the contradiction of men, it is no reason for fainting. Christ has met and vanquished this contradiction; in Him we shall also be conquerors. “Resisted unto blood.” In persecutions; Luke 12.
Verse 5. But persecution may assume the character of discipline from the Lord. If so, there are two things to heed: not to despise it, for it is chastening; not to faint, for it is sent in grace.
Verses 6, 11. Satan is the instrument of the troubles we suffer, be it under persecution or under the discipline of God; but it is from God Himself we receive the strokes. Job received the blows God had intended for him, by the instrumentality of the enemy. Jesus bore the power and wickedness of Satan in the act of drinking the cup of His own death, and yet He took this cup from His Father’s hand. We find the same connection of facts in Psalm 118:10, 13, 18.
Verses 17, 18. Several warnings are given to the Hebrews in verses 12-16. Here are now two motives given to support them: “For you know how that afterwards when he would have inherited the blessing, he [Esau] was rejected… . For ye are not come to the mount that might be touched.” You are waiting for a fine inheritance: would you make light of it as did Esau? And consider also that it is not the case with you as with those who were at Sinai; you are come unto mount Sion, you have to do with grace which is followed only by judgment.
Verses 22-24. The enumeration of the families which compose this glorious company gives to us the whole history of the last days. The order to be traced seems to me to be this: the enumeration begins at fhe first step of the ladder to go up to its highest step, even to God, and comes down again to the millennium. There are eight particular subjects. The conjunction “and” which unites them, being repeated each time, serves to distinguish them.
“Unto mount Sion,” the seat of royal grace. When all was lost and the name Ichabod [the glory is departed] was written on Israel, God intervened for His people. He gave prophets to bring back this erring people; but especially David, the king, through grace. It is by his service the Lord established His ark in rest in Sion. There was through grace the mount of deliverance for Israel after they had failed in everything. This grace abides for the future: Christ shall reign in Sion. “And unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” The church in its heavenly position is seen in contrast with Sion on the earth.
“And to an innumerable company of angels, the general assembly.” It is the universal congregation of the heavens, seen as a whole. “And to the church of the firstborn which are written in heaven “is the church in particular. “And to God the judge of all.” It is God in His character of Judge, for the bringing in of the millennium. The church being mentioned, we reach to God the centre of everything.
“And to the spirits of just men made perfect”: the saints of various dispensations before the church. Having ascended up to God, we find the saints of the Old Testament. They are “made perfect,” they have run the race, but have not yet received the crown. It is with them as with those who, among the Greeks, had won the prize in the stadium; the reward was not given immediately. They had to wait for a special festival on that occasion.
“And to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant.” Jesus pressed to accomplish the promises and to bless Israel.
“And to the blood of sprinkling” is the blood of the new covenant. Although it has an application at this present time, this blood belongs especially to the millennium.
Verses 25-27 are a very remarkable testimony to the authority of Christ. He who speaks from heaven now is the One who shook the earth in the day of Sinai, and who will soon shake the heavens and the earth.
Verses 20, 21. God is He “that brought again from the dead that great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the everlasting covenant.” The blood shed by Jesus gave Him the right to rise from death with the same efficacy for others.
1 This contradicts the doctrine of the Irvingites, whose error is to identify Christ with sinners and not with the sanctified.
2 To shew the preference He had for His disciples when on the earth, the Lord said, “My mother and my brethren are those who hear the word of God”; but it was not for them a title of relationship with Jesus.
3 We remark in Psalm 22 three classes of people associated with the joy of Messiah delivered from death. In verse 22 are those whom Jesus names His “brethren,” and of whom He makes a congregation— the “little flock”—“Go and tell my brethren.” In verse 25 is “the great-congregation”: Judah and Israel; in verse 27 “All the ends of the earth.” The title of “brethren” belongs to the remnant which will be on the earth after the rapture of the saints, also to the one which exists now, and the blessing of Hebrews 2 will be free to have its course in favour of the saints till the moment of Christ’s appearing.
4 “Being tempted” is to be induced to act beneath the position in which we are before God. There man fell. Jesus alone could stand. The Christian is also tempted; the worldly man, as slave, is the more easily carried away by Satan.
5 A testament (or covenant) is an ordering, an appointment of God for man, by which man maintains intercourse with God.
6 Chapter 9 of Hebrews takes us back to Leviticus 16 and, though not a complete exposition of its contents, presents the leading features. On the great day of atonement the service of the priesthood consisted in this: the sacrificing of the goat offered to Jehovah and whose blood was sprinkled upon the mercy-seat; the sprinkling of blood on the tabernacle; and the sending off of the scapegoat to the wilderness, bearing away the sins of the people. We find these three actions in this chapter now before us: the blood put upon the mercy-seat (v. 12); the sprinkling on the tabernacle (v. 23); and the scapegoat bearing sins (v. 28).
7 See Notes in the New Translation of the Bible, Hebrews 5:6.