Notes on Hebrews
In the concluding chapter of the Hebrews the writer drives home some basic and fundamental truths. These show that Christianity is more than a dogma, more than a creed and more than a code of laws. It is a way of life, a transfiguration, a process by which the Eternal Son of the Eternal God lives and moves through the lives of His people.
In our chapter mention is made of the law of the sin-offering of which our Lord was the Antitype. The blood was brought in, the body was carried out. This sums up the teaching of the Epistle, “Within the veil” (Ch. 1-10); “Without the camp” (Ch. 11-13) “Let us draw near.” “Let us go forth.”
In this process of transfiguration, if the Spirit of God is allowed to have His way the results will be: contentment in circumstances (v.6), unwavering faith in Christ (v.8), spiritual stability in holy doctrine (vs. 9-10), patience in bearing the reproach of our rejected Lord (vs. 11-14); an acknowledgement of the rights of God, (vs. 17-18) and the unceasing sacrifices of praise toward God and well-doing toward man (vs. 15-16). In these sacrifices the requirements of the law in its two parts are fulfilled in us, loving the Lord with all our hearts and our neighbour as ourselves.
The chapter may be divided into three major sections: love (vs. 1-6), loyalty (vs. 7-14), liberty (vs. 15-25).
Love. The first thing the writer draws our attention to is the sympathy of Christian love. The Church is what we might call “organicly united.” If one member suffer all the members suffer with it. So often we tend to become critical, condemning, censorious, fault-finding and unsympathetic in our actions toward each other. While we must be unswerving in our loyalty to our Lord and the Christian assembly, yet we must never forget that love alone is the bond or cohesive force in Christian fellowship. “Let Philadelphia continue.” In the exercise of spiritual gift there is a manifestation of God’s power, in the exercise of love there is a manifestation of His nature.
Second, the writer turns to the pleasure of Christian fellowship. He, no doubt, is thinking of Abraham when he speaks of those who entertained angels unawares. There is nothing more commendable than a Christian home opened for the Lord, a house where Christ is the centre. Stewardship extends beyond money to all that we have.
Third, the writer considers the suffering of Christian servants. Tertullian, an early historian wrote, “If there happens to be any Christians in the mines, or banished to the islands, or shut up in prison for nothing but their fidelity to the cause of God and His Church, they become the nurslings of their confession.” The Word of God teaches that the union of the Body of Christ is such that what affects one member affects all: If one member suffer then all suffer and if one is honoured all rejoice.
Fourth, we now turn to the sanctity of Christian marriage (v.4). The advent of Christianity brought a new morality to the world. Of course, the same morality was taught in the law of Moses, but Christianity put the stamp of universality upon it. The writer uses two words to describe the conditions that were prevelant in the world at that time. One word denotes adulterous living while the other describes such things as unnatural vice. They are translated here “whoremongers and adulterers.” Such impurity could not be tolerated in the Christian Church. The marriage bond was to be respected and honoured. The strength of the family unit became the strength of the local assembly.
Fifth, the writer turns to the satisfaction of the Christian life (v.5). The constant presence of the Lord not only meets our every need but it drives away all fear. Christ permeates and fills the Christian’s life. He therefore should not look at the world through coloured glasses, but look at it as it is. The Christian should not be concerned about the immediate future for his vision goes beyond the things of time and sense. Like Abraham, he should look for a city that hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. His horizons do not end with mountains, valleys, rivers or plains. His life is linked with the Throne of God and he need not fear what man will do unto him.
Loyalty. Verses seven and eight deal with Christian leadership. These verses describe the kind of leadership that is necessary for assembly welfare and progress. Christian leadership must be characterized by (a) loyalty to the Word of God. It may be necessary to resist the tide of public opinion. A leader must stand, provided he stands for principle and truth. With the rise of the young people’s movement among assemblies and the improvement in the standards of education there is a tendency to despise godly and spiritual overseers. Let us remember that the tree of knowledge can never become the tree of life. The true overseer will gently, carefully and constantly pour the Word of God into the ears of the hearers thus giving the Spirit of God opportunity to work. He will attempt to mold the saints by the Word of God.
(b) A leader is one who has set his faith on the proper object, Christ. The object of his whole manner of life is Christ (v.8). The leaders mentioned in verse seven had passed on by death. Those of verse 17 were still living at the time of the writing.
(c) A leader is one who portrays Christ. The saints had been bereft of these leaders but the fragrance of their testimony remained among them. The issue of their manner of life was Jesus Christ. But why is the unchangeability of Christ emphasized here? Because He is the High Priest for all succeeding generations. Let the saints take courage. Others will be raised up of God to fill the places emptied by the death of these men.
Verses nine and ten bring into contrast the altars of Judaism and Christianity. “We have an altar,” Christ in all the value of His atonement. The Jews had an altar for expiatory sacrifices. We have no such altar. Expiation has already been made by the Son of God. He is at the same time altar, sacrifice and High Priest. The priests of the old economy have no right to serve at this altar. A new priesthood has been born in association with the One Judaism cast out. It functions outside that religious system and all systems that are patterned after it. However, the priests who served the tabernacle were meant to be a type of the new order of which Christ is the Head.
“Behold Israel after the flesh, are not they who eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar?” (1 Cor. 10:18). Grace now shines with a lustre never seen before. The hearts of the priests of the new order are established but not by meats. (Lev. 6:1418, 24-30, Num. 18:8-11). The death of Christ reveals the grace of God in all its fullness. We are now partakers of the new altar. We feed upon Christ in all His atoning value.
Our Lord is now outside that camp. As the typical sin-offering He was crucified outside the city walls of Jerusalem. We must go forth unto Him. He is not only the altar at which we as priests minister, but He is now the gathering centre of His people. They share the outside place with Him. Our priestly functions have liberty only outside the religious systems of our day which follow the Judaistic pattern. In loyalty to our rejected Lord we can only be, as to fellowship, where He is acknowledged Lord.
Since the offering of Christ can never be repeated, the writer now turns to the offerings that are and should be repeated daily in the Christian’s life.
First, we can offer our praises. Down through the centuries the spontaneous note of praise rising from redeemed hearts has rejoiced the heart of God. Gratitude and praise are the ear marks of a healthy Christian life. The one who is enjoying the presence of God is, without exception, a man or woman of praise. Paul prayed for the Colossian church that it might be strengthened, that it might be filled “giving thanks unto the Father.”
Second, we can offer the fruit of our lips, that is a glad confession of our faith in Christ. Someone has said that the Christian should neither be ashamed of the gospel nor a shame to it.
Third, we can offer the humanitarian acts of kindness to our fellowmen. Not only is the Christian’s heart opened to receive Christ, but his eyes are opened to see the need around him. These are the double exercises of our priestly prerogatives, the requirements of the law in its two parts are fulfilled in us. Our Lord Himself has pointed out that loving the Lord and loving our neighbour are the two great pillars upon which the whole teaching of the law and the prophets hang.
The writer now turns to the government of the local churches of the saints. In verse seven he exhorts them to honour the memory of their deceased leaders. Here in verses 1719 it is incumbent upon them to obey their present guides. A twofold duty is required of the saints, to obey them and to pray for them.
A threefold exercise belongs to leaders: “They watch for your souls.” They should seek to know the flock personally: its condition, character and need, to guide it safely through all the snares that are laid by the devil for its downfall.
They should not only know how to feed the flock but they should know the dangers to which the flock is exposed.
They will give account to the Chief Shepherd. The Judgment Seat of Christ must ever be before them. It will be joy or grief to them when each of the flock is examined for reward by the Lord Himself.
At the close of the Epistle God is revealed as the God of peace. Peace has been made by the blood of the everlasting covenant and peace is enjoyed between God and His people.