The first four verses of this chapter are an exhortation founded on the preceding one. Observe, this epistle does not begin with an apostolic address, as the others do; but Paul puts himself entirely among these Jewish believers, and speaks of Christ as their Apostle, not himself; and, throughout, he is unfolding all the riches of Christ, to keep them from sliding back into Judaism. Though the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed to Paul, as that of the circumcision was to Peter, yet is Paul the one used to these Hebrew believers. In chap. 1:1,2, God hath “spoken to us” that is, he puts himself among them. In the Hebrews, the Church is not addressed as such, but the saints individually—not in their aspect of oneness with Christ. Even in the Epistle to the Romans it is said “whom he justified, them he also glorified;” but here we get Him only “crowned with glory and honour.” Further, I would remark, as it is not of union with Christ of which the apostle speaks here, responsibility is pressed; continual “ifs” and warnings flow from this. These warnings do not one whit touch the final perseverance of the saints, as the doctrine is called; though I would rather say, the perseverance of God, His faithfulness, for He it is who keeps us to the end. “If you continue,” does not throw a doubt on your continuance. The quickening work of the Spirit of God is scarcely referred to in this epistle save in one or two cases. (Chap. 2:2) “The word spoken by angels,” means the law given at Sinai. In these verses the whole Jewish nation is addressed, while those only who had faith would receive the warning. And I would notice that the warnings of God are not merely against sin, but not to let slip truth, etc. Christ came into the world, not imputing their trespasses unto them, but they added to their rebellion of heart by rejecting Him who came to warn them. Neglecting salvation is despising it. By the rejection of Christ the Jews bound their sins upon them. To have broken the law was bad enough, but to reject grace was worse; and these first four verses press this upon them.
God’s purpose for man (ver. 5, and following), is to set him over everything; but that purpose is still unfulfilled. “The world to come,” is not heaven, for that does exist now; but it is the habitable earth to come, not this earth in its present state. The Jews expected a new order of things; they looked for blessing and peace, and they were right, for so it will be. The present world is in subjection to angels. God’s hand is not seen directly, but His angels are ministering spirits to the heirs of salvation. Everything in this world, however mercifully ordered in providence, is a proof of sin—the clothes we wear, the houses we live in, etc. All this was not God’s purpose. He is not, as I said, now acting directly. He permits and overrules, but He draws His own people from the world (delivering us “from this present evil world”), and then teaches them to walk through it, as not of it. He protects us through His angels; they are His ministers in His providential dealings. (Ver. 6) But it is a man who is to be set over the world to come. Once (in Adam) dominion was committed to man, but he lost it. (Ver. 8, etc.) God’s purpose, that is, His order of things, is not thereby touched. Now we see Jesus crowned, and when we are, then all things will be accomplished. The Head is now glorified, and the members are down here in suffering. Christ is sitting at God’s right hand, waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. Take Psalm 2 and compare it with Psalm 8 God says, “Yet have I set my king upon the holy hill of Zion.” Christ is come, and is not yet set there as king. Now Psalm 8 shows that, though rejected as Messiah, Jesus took the place of Son of man. So when Peter confesses Him as the Christ, Jesus charges him straightly not to tell any, for the “Son of man (His title in Psalm 8) must suffer many things,” etc. Sin must be put away before God could set up His kingdom. We are now passing through that order or state of things which is not yet put under Jesus. Christ has gone through this very world, and been tempted before He took His place as priest, that He might succour them that are tempted. This is not sin, for we do not want sympathy in sin, but help and power to get out of and overcome it, and all this we have in Him. He went perfectly through reproach and tribulation. All that Satan could do to stop Him in His godly course Satan did; but all was in vain. The Lord “resisted unto blood.” We need to pray God for help to judge sin, each in himself. Sympathy in distress and suffering is another thing, and this we have as well as forgiveness.
I began by saying there were two things—the purpose and the ways of God. Now, the latter it is our privilege to trace, while the former remains still unaccomplished. Instead of being merely Son of David, Christ is Son of man. He takes possession in our nature—not, of course, in the state in which it is in us, but still in our very nature. Now, as to the ways of God, we get these in ver. 10: “By the grace of God he tasted death,” etc. Mark this well—our sin brings us to the same place which, by the grace of God, He took. Perfect grace and perfect obedience we find in Him. When Christ came, as in Psalm 40 to do the will of God, God’s majesty needed to be vindicated; and I would say, unhesitatingly, that God’s truth, His righteousness, His love, His majesty were all vindicated by the death of Christ, aye, far more than they would have been, had we all died. In anticipation of this, He said, “I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!” His love could not fully flow forth till then, In the words, “It became him,” I find the character of God; while in the expression, “many sons,” I find the objects of his love. He could not bring us to glory in our sins. We get Christ taking up the cause of this remnant; and where, historically, did he begin? It was in John’s baptism that He outwardly identified Himself with His people, that is, with the sanctified ones. (Ver. 11 See Psalm 16:2,3) His association was with the saints; and there cannot be a step in the divine life in which Christ does not go along with us. Christ, in all that he is, is with us in the smallest fibre of divine life, from the repentance which is at the beginning. Not, of course, that he had aught to repent; yet His heart is with us in it. This is as true now, as it will be when manifested in glory. (Ver 16) There was no union of Christ with the flesh. The associates of Christ are the excellent of the earth; while in grace one of His sweetest titles was “the friend of the publicans and sinners.”
Verse 12 is a quotation from Psalm 22:22, where Jesus in resurrection takes the place of leader of the praise of His brethren. Our songs should, therefore, ever accord with His. He has passed through death for us; and if our worship express uncertainty and doubt, instead of joy and assurance in the sense of accomplished redemption, there can be no harmony, but discord, with the mind of heaven.
Verse 13 is quoted from Psalm 16, where as also elsewhere, Christ on earth takes the place of the dependent man. He is specially thus described in Luke’s gospel, where it is so frequently recorded that He prayed. Again, “Behold I and the children,” etc. This passage from Isaiah 8:18, is particularly applicable to these Hebrew believers. While waiting for Israel, He and His disciples are for signs.
In ver. 14 we find the consequence of His association with us. In these latter verses we have these two things: He took our nature that He might die, and also that He might go through temptation; We were alive under death; then Christ comes, and He takes upon Him all the power of Satan and death, and destroys thus him that had the power of death. By His death He made propitiation for sin. The feelings of His soul, the temptations of Satan, were before His actual death, in the garden of Gethsemane, where His language was, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.” This was because of Satan’s power; for He said, “This is your hour and the power of darkness.” But all this He went through, as part of His appointed sufferings. In the three first Gospels, we have His cry in Gethsemane. In John we have His remembrance of His Mother, and His other cries (“I thirst!” and “It is finished!”) on the cross; and this is in character with that Gospel in which His divine aspect is given. After the conflict with Satan was over, Christ took up the cup from His Father’s hand. They who were sent to secure Him had no power against Him for they all fell back; but He gave Himself up. Satan pressed the cup upon Him; but He took it from the hand of His Father.
As regards temptation, I shall hope to speak more about it another time. I would only now say that succouring is not dying instead of me; but now that I am going through this world, I need succour. The ark in Jordan was like Christ preceding us through the waters of death, which to Him overflowed its banks, while we follow dry-shod. For what is dying to the Christian? It is passing away from all sorrow into the presence of the Lord—the happiest moment in a Christian’s existence.