Hebrews: The Challenge of the Enemy.

Hebrews 13:22 And I beseech you, brethren, suffer the word of exhortation: for I have written a letter unto you in few words.

 

To understand a N.T. epistle we must first of all seek to discover the circumstances under which it was written and the purpose the author had in view.

Occasion of the Epistle.

There is no difficulty in discovering the occasion which led to the writing of the Epistle to the Hebrews. It was composed during one of the great persecutions—probably Domitianic. The writer describes it as a “word of exhortation(language intended to incite and encourage) (Heb 13:22 above). It was intended to encourage and inspire the Christians to meet the challenge of the enemy with fortitude and heroism. They had “endured a great conflict of sufferings.” They had been held up to public scorn. Reproaches and taunts had been heaped upon their heads; many of them had been imprisoned. Others had their properties confiscated, and they were ostracised from society. They were not allowed, as we are told in the book of Revelation 18:11, to buy or sell in the market places.

 

Revelation 18:11 And the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her; for no man buyeth their merchandise any more:

 

Every effort was taken to make the boycott as complete as possible. A systematic attempt was being made to establish Ceæsar worship on an extensive scale—and the clash between Christianity and Ceæsar worship entailed untold sufferings upon the followers of Christ. To profess the Christian faith meant the risk of martyrdom and the certainty of petty persecution in the ordinary vocations of life.

The first Epistle of Peter describes the sufferings of the church as a fiery trial sent to test the faith. http://www.godsplan.org.uk/episteofpeter.htm

 

1 Peter 4:12 Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you:

 

Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

 

Under the strange hold of persecution, the strain upon the loyalty of the members of the Christian Church became well-nigh intolerable, and it is not surprising that large numbers of men and women were tempted to renounce the faith.

The supreme peril of the church under the stress of persecution was the peril of relapse, and the primary object of the Epistle to the Hebrews is to face this peril and stem the tide of desertion. There is hardly a chapter in the Epistle which does not contain an appeal or a warning to those whose faith was faltering. The writer continually points to the sufferings of Christ http://www.godsplan.org.uk/thesufferingsandglory.htm as an example to be followed and urges his fellow Christians to be steadfast, that they too may be perfected through suffering. Even Jesus had to learn obedience “by the things which He suffered,” and His followers must be scholars in the same stern school. Suffering is always hard and cruel, but out of its soil there springs up the harvest of righteousness. Nor does the writer hesitate to warn his readers in the harshest terms about the danger that comes from the compromise of faith. The faith once lost can never be regained.

If we part with our birthright, it can never be restored to us. It is impossible to renew unto repentance those who crucify the Son of God afresh.

 

Hebrews 6:6 If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put H+im to an open shame.

 

“If we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of TRUTH, there remain no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain expectation of judgement.”

 

Hebrews 10:26 For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,

 

Intellectual Problems.

But though the dominant note of the Epistle lies undoubtedly in its practical appeal for loyalty, and its warning against the danger of relapse, it has also a strong interest in the intellectual problems of the time. It was never an easy thing in the first century to reconcile the Christianity with the old Jewish faith. To the mind of the Jews it was a fundamental belief that the O.T contained the final revelation of God, and that in the Law of Moses God had made known completely, His will and purpose.

·        If that is so, what need is there of any further revelation?

·        Does not Christianity become superfluous?

·        What room is there left for Jesus Christ?

Questions such as these were of intense interest in debates that took place in the apostolic age between Christianity and Judaism.

Paul had to face the problem in one of its aspects in the Epistle to the Galatians—and the Epistle to the Hebrews deals with another phase of the same issue. The Epistle denies that the O.T. contains a complete and final revelation of the will of God—God spoke to the prophets “in broken fragments” (Heb1:1) only. It is only in Christianity—in the revelation through His Son, that there has been a complete manifestation of His will 

 

Hebrews 1:1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,

 

divers = (obsolete spelling of diverse, in the sense of various or assorted).

 

sundry = (an indeterminate number).

 

Philosophical Background.

In order to understand the strength and force of the argument of Hebrews it is necessary for us to realise the philosophical background of the Epistle. Hebrews on the surface appears to be one of the most Jewish writings we possess. The argument seems to move entirely within the circle of Jewish ideas. From its commencement to its close—from the string of quotations in the first chapter to the appeal to the altar and the sacrifice of beasts whose bodies were burnt outside the camp in the last (thought of the Epistle seems to be) “cribb’d, cabin’d, and confine’d” within the narrow precincts of Jewish thought. In reality, however, when we look beneath the surface, we find that there is no book in the N.T. which is so tainted with Greek ideas. The nerve of the argument of Hebrews is Greek and not Jewish.

Hebrews is the first great attempt that was made to explain Christianity in terms of the Platonic philosophy. The heavenly archetypes are the supreme facts. They are not mere abstractions of thought. They actually exist in the heavens, the perfect types of their imperfect representations upon the earth. This idea is taken up by the author of Hebrews in the contrast which he draws between the earthly and heavenly tabernacles. http://www.godsplan.org.uk/earthlytabernacle.htm The true sanctuary “which the Lord pitched and not man” is in heaven.

 

Hebrews 8:2 A minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man.

 

The earthly tabernacle (us) is but a shadow and a copy of the heavenly reality.

 

Hebrews 8:5 Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount.

 

Hebrews 9:23 It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.

 

Hebrews 10:1 For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect.

 

The difference between the O.T. and Christianity is, therefore, this:

In the O.T. we have only the earthly shadows of the heavenly realities. In the N.T. the heavenly realities themselves have broken into the world of time and space. (Cp pages 1066—7, 1253—5) Abingdon Bible Commentary.

 

The Prologue: The Word Become Flesh. (p1066—7)

This is by some scholars regarded as giving the key to the Gospel, and as an integral part of it; others regard it as an introduction added to commend the Gospel to readers interested in current philosophical thought. Scott sees every part of the Gospel in the light of the doctrine of the Word (Greek logos, meaning “reason” as well as “Word”). Harnack denies any influence of the doctrine on the presentation of the Gospel.

In the exposition (Exposition is the portion of a story that introduces important background information to the audience); here, it is assumed that this Prologue is due to the Evangelist, that several passages in the Gospel show its influence, but that what is due to the Witness presents the conception of Christ as son of God, and not as Logos. The Prologue is regarded by Rendell Harris as “a hymn in honour of Sophia” (Wisdom), in which the term Logos has been substituted for that of Sophia, and in his view it need not be ascribed to the same author as the Gospel.  Burney (The Aramaic Origin of the Fourth Gospel), who ascribes an Aramaic origin to the Gospel, derives the doctrine of the Logos from a Palestinian source in the Targum; (The Targum are interpretive renderings of the books of the Hebrew) the Logos is the Mēmrā, the tabernacled among us is the Shekintā (Shekinah) and the glory is the Yekārā (P39) That the Word became Flesh, fully man, necessarily modified the conception of the Word.

 

John 1:14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

 

The associations of the Hebrew conception of the Word are carried over into the term Logos, while in Greek philosophy the emphasis lay on the meaning “Reason.” The Prologue has more kinship with Hebrew than Greek thought. The Word is God’s Self-revealing activity within God Himself before the world was, distinguished but not separated from God. (vv1—2)within the creation of all things (v 3), and within the animation and illumination of man (v 4), an illumination which men because of their spiritual incapacity failed to receive (R.V. mg. of v 5, overcame for apprehended). Here is sounded the tragic note of the Gospel, rejection where acceptance should have been (Cp v 11).

 

John 1:11 He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.

 

For all previous revelations of God suffered from necessary imperfection; Only through the Son in intimate relation to the Father could the Fatherhood be fully revealed.

 

John 1:18 No man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.

 

Page 1253—5 (Brief Extracts)

   We should probably take “the totality,” so interpreted, as the subject of the sentence, which might then be rendered (translated) In Him the totality chose to make its dwelling. “The Totality” = God is, then, also the subject of the following verbs. It is he acting in, and through Christ, Who will finally bring the entire universe into the unity of His Own rule.

 

Job 25:2 Dominion and fear [reverence] are with Him, He maketh peace in His high places.

 

The utter consecration of the life of Christ in self-sacrifice has about it something so absolute and final that it establishes once and for all supremacy of good in the presence of which all evil is powerless.

 

A Philosophy of the Christian Religion. http://www.godsplan.org.uk/knowledge.htm   

The Epistle to the Hebrews therefore is the first attempt to create a philosophy of the Christian religion. It defends and expounds (To give a detailed statement of; set forth) its Christian faith in terms of current philosophical thought. Its main theme may be condensed into a single phrase: Jesus Christ is the ideal High Priest, who offered the ideal sacrifice, in the ideal sanctuary. The writer does not make any attempt to prove the need of the priest or the sacrifice, or the sanctuary. He assumes that they are the three essential elements of religion and that no religion can exist without them. Like all the other facts of life, they have their heavenly counterparts. In their ideal forms they exist only in the heavenly sphere. As earthly institutions they are but imperfect representations of the true realities. The priesthood is defective. The priests are imperfect men. They are constantly changing. There is no permanence about them. The sacrifices are defective. They cannot cleanse the guilty conscience. They can make no real atonement for sin. Even the Temple is defective since it represents merely a copy of the heavenly original.

The religion of the O.T., therefore, only provides an imperfect sacrifice offered by imperfect priests in an earthly sanctuary. In contrast to this defective system, Christianity provides a perfect sacrifice offered by a perfect High Priest in a perfect sanctuary. The heavenly realities have been brought down to earth in the transcendent person and work of Jesus Christ, Who; as the Son of God has made the perfect revelation of the Divine will and purpose, and by His sacrifice has wrought out the perfect redemption for mankind.

 

The Plan of the Epistle.

These two main lines of thought in the Epistle—the practical and the intellectual—are so interwoven that it is not easy to disentangle them. The march of the argument is often side-tracked by the digressions. It is therefore necessary for the student to study carefully the map of the plan of the book. If we omit the digressions and the paragraphs of practical appeal, it will be found that the development of the line of argument proceeds along the following course.

1.      The writer begins in Heb 1:1—14 by proving the supremacy of Christ over the angels.

2.      After a digression in chapter 2 he demonstrates in a short paragraph, Heb 3:1—6, the superiority of Christ to Moses.

3.      Then after a long digression in the latter part of chapter 3 and chapter 4 he indicates in Heb 5:1—10 the defects of the priestly system of Judaism and suggests that Christ is the supreme High Priest after the order of Melchizadek.

4.      More digressions follow, and it is only when we come to Chapter 7 that the line of thought adumbrated (sketch) in Heb 5:1—10 is is worked out in detail and the supremacy of the High-Priestly work of Christ demonstrated.

5.      In Chapter 8 the writer indicates that Christ is not only the ideal High Priest, but that He ministers in an ideal Sanctuary, and His ministry constitutes the establishment of a New Covenant between man and God.

6.      In Chapter 9 the writer demonstrates that Christ as the supreme High Priest offered the supreme sacrifice for the sins of the world.

7.      The argument culminates in Chapter 10:1—18, where the writer again demonstrates the futility of the Jewish sacrifices, and the finality and completeness of the redemption wrought by Christ.

 

Thus the main argument of the book is found in the following passages. (Heb 1:1—14. 3:1—6. 5:1—10. 7:1—10:18). It is in the last section, (7:1—10:18), that the largest and most sustained and most subtle piece of reasoning in the Epistle is found.

The chief digressions from the main argument may be summarised as follows.

 

1.      In Chapter 2 the writer turns aside to discuss the significance of the sufferings of Christ. http://www.godsplan.org.uk/thesufferingsandglory.htm

2.      From Heb 3:7-4:16 there is a long digression on the promise of rest—a promise which has never yet been realised—and which, therefore is a great inheritance into which the writer summons the Christians of his own time to enter.

3.      From Heb 5:11—6:20 there is a long warning against relapse, in which the writer describes the supreme peril involved in forsaking the faith.

4.      Heb 10:18—39 contains another great appeal and a further warning of the fate which awaits those who fall away from the Christian faith.

5.      Chapters 11 and 12 contain a final challenge based on the heroic story of the saints and martyrs of the past, a further discussion of the meaning of suffering Heb12:7—13, and a very powerful description of the contrast between the Old Covenant and the New.

6.      Chapter 13 gives some final injunctions and personal messages.

 

No student should attempt to read the Epistle through until he has, first of all, constructed a map of its contents on the basis of the facts which have just been given. To understand Hebrews it is necessary to have a very clear idea of the writer’s objective in each section of the Epistle. The author of the Epistle is debateable, and Origen writing about the year 225 A.D., said, “Who wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews God only knows.” There are many speculations but none offer clear evidence, nor proof.

 

 Hebrews 1:4—5  

4 Being made so much better than the angels, as He hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.

5 For unto which of the angels said He at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to Him a Father, and He shall be to me a Son?

begotten = brought Thee to birth. I.e. at resurrection, when the Son became the glorified federal Head of a new order of beings.

FATHER. Gr. Pater. Expresses relationship, the correlative of which is "son". When used of man it not only denotes parentage, but it sometimes has the wider meaning of "ancestor", "founder", or a "senior" (as in 1John 2:13, 14); also the author or source of anything (John 8:44. Heb. 12:9); and expresses a spiritual relationship, as in 1Cor. 4:15.  When used of God it denotes His relationship to His "beloved Son"; and to those ("sons") who have been begotten (not "born", see note on Matt. 1:1) into a new creation. It implies "sons", not "offspring", as in Acts 17:28, 29. These were "offspring", and were existing (Gr. huparcho), as such, according to nature, on the ground of creation; not "sons" as being "begotten" into a new creation.

 

Compare Heb 5:5, Acts 13:33; Rom 1:4 with 1 Cor 15:45, and Psalm 2:7—8  (Sept).

 

Hebrews 5:5 So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee.

 

Acts 13:33 God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.

 

Romans 1:4 And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead:

 

Septuagint 1 Corinthians 15:45 As, then, he who was made a living soul [Adam] forfeited life when he turned aside to what was evil, so, on the other hand, the same individual, when he reverts to what is good, and receives the quickening Spirit, shall find life.

 

KJV 1 Corinthians 15:45 And so it is written, “The first man Adam was made a living soul;” the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.

And so, &c = So it has been written also. We have the proofs from nature and analogy of the variety and resources in the Divine working, and the testimony of the Word besides. http://www.godsplan.org.uk/firstandsecondadam.htm

 

Septuagint Genesis 2:7 And God formed the man of dust of the earth, and breathed upon his face the breath of life, and the man became a living soul.

 

Septuagint Psalm 2:7--8

7 Declaring the ordinance of the LORD: the LORD said to Me, Thou art My Son, today have I begotten Thee.

8 Ask of Me, and I will give the heathen for thine inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Thy possession.

 

The Natural Body and the Spiritual Body.

Paul turns to the doctrine of bodily resurrection, to remove difficulties by explain its true meaning. The main obstacle is a materialistic view of resurrection. By the parable of the grain of wheat we are reminded of the difference in outward form of the present and future body.

 

John 12:20-26

20 And there were certain Greeks among them that came up to worship at the feast:

21 The same came therefore to Philip, which was of Bethsaida of Galilee, and desired him, saying, Sir, we would see Jesus.

22 Philip cometh and telleth Andrew: and again Andrew and Philip tell Jesus.

23 And Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified.”

24 ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.’

25 He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.’

26 ‘If any man serve Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there shall also My servant be: if any man serve Me, Him will My Father honour.’”

 

The present body must perish (1 Cor 15:36); God gives a new body according to His own creative decree. (v38). Even in this world there are generic differences in types of fleshly bodies. There is also a vast difference between the kind of body suited for this region, and that suited for the higher region of life. In the same way, in that higher region there are differences in outer appearance, just as the “heavenly bodies” shine in the firmament with varying splendour. All this illustrates the resurrection of the dead (v 42). Our present life is the seed-time, marked by perishableness, dishonour, weakness.

 

Romans 8:10, 21

10 And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.

21 Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.

 

Philippians 3:21 Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself.

 

2 Corinthians 13:4 For though He was crucified through weakness, yet He liveth by the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, but we shall live with Him by the power of God toward you.

 

Through death we pass to the state of incorruption, glory, power.

 

Romans 8:18—23 

18 For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

19 For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.

20 For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of Him who hath subjected the same in hope,

21 Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.

22 For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.

23 And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.

 

Corresponding to these are two conditions are two different kinds of body, one natural, the other spiritual. The first corresponds to the  needs of the soul in this order of physical existence, fulfilling the requirements of thought, feeling, will,and is thus in process of adaptation for the higher service of the life above the realm of the senses.

 

Galatians 6:8 For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.

 

In that spiritual sphere a suitable vehicle of self-expression will be needed. The type of the first is the first man, who, in the words of Scripture, “Became a living soul”

 

Genesis 2:7 And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

 

As the first Adam was thus made of the earthly substance which befitted him for life on this earth, so there is a Last Adam, Who by His entrance into the realm above has assumed a form that accords with the Spiritual realm, and has also become a life-giving Spirit. It is the resurrection of Christ which assures us that as we have hitherto borne the image of the man of earth, so hereafter we shall wear the likeness of the man of heaven. The new humanity united in Christ has a solidarity no less than that of mankind on earth.

 

Death Swallowed Up in Victory. http://www.godsplan.org.uk/deathswallowedup.htm

In speaking of bodily resurrection, Paul has no material body in mind. The perishing cannot inherit the imperishable. so self-evident is this that Paul discloses the secret purpose of God. At the Advent of Christ we shall all be changed, whether dead or alive at the moment when the trumpet blast announces His arrival. For the conditions of that new order of life demand that this corruptible nature of ours should be clad in an immortal vesture.

 

2 Corinthians 5:4   For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.

 

When our mortality has been replaced by immortality the full meaning of Isaiah’s mighty affirmations will be seen (the quotation in verse 4 is from);

 

Isaiah 25:8 He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of His people shall He take away from off all the earth: for the Lord hath spoken it.

 

Hosea 13:14 I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction: repentance shall be hid from Mine eyes.

 

verse 55 is flung down in triumphant challenge to death. It is sin that has invested death with terror, it has brought desolation to the heart of man by alienating him from God (Rom 5:12—7:9 forward). It is the Law that gave power to sin.

(Rom 4:15. 5:20. 6:14. 7:1—25. Gal 2:16. 3:10, 13, 21. 5:1—3). So then the Word “the Word of the cross (crucifixion)” is made complete in the risen Saviour. God be thanked, who offers us the victory over both sin and death. Through our Lord Jesus Christ.

The notable feature of Paul’s teaching is the insistence on the spiritual nature of the future life, and the spiritual character of the resurrection body. The body that decays in the tomb does not rise again . “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God.” The body which is “raised” is a medium of expression and communication fitted to the spiritual conditions of the new life of the persistent self. Paul takes up the question again in;

 

2 Corinthians 5:1—10

1 For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. http://www.godsplan.org.uk/earthlytabernacle.htm

2 For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven:

3 If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked.

4 For we that are in this [earthly] tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.

5 Now He that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit.

6 Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord:

7 (For we walk by faith, not by sight:)

8 We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.

9 Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of Him.

10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.

 

“For of the soule the bodie forme doth take;

For soule is forme, and doth the bodie make.”