COMMENTARY ON THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS
A Word of Warning and of Comfort
by Rev. Bassam M. Madany
We learn from Chapter 3 that the Messiah is greater than Moses as well as the necessity to listen obediently to the call of God. We are also warned about the consequences of hardening our hearts when we hear the proclamation of the Injeel. Equally, the inspired author warns us about the danger of putting off to the future what we must do today.
1.The Messiah is greater and more important than Moses.
The recipients of the letter were accustomed to regard Moses as the greatest prophet among the messengers of God during the OT times. The author did not deny this fact nor the special mission entrusted to Moses, i.e., to lead the people out of Egypt into the land of promise and to give the people the Shari'a. Moses was a faithful servant in God's house, i.e, among God's people. The author called Jesus the Messiah an apostle in the sense that God sent him to accomplish a special mission, i.e., to save God's people from the bondage of sin and death. [God's people during this NT age are found among all the nations of the world]. The Messiah was also called the High Priest since he, as the representative of the new humanity, played a role similar to that of an O. T. high priest. But he was not only a high priest, but he himself atoned for the sins of mankind by his death on the cross.
2. While there are points of similarity between Moses and Jesus, we must equally notice the differences between them. Moses was a part of the house of God, but Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as He who built the house has more honor than the house. The author arrived at this conclusion: whose house we are if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end. In other words, if we do not cling to our savior the Messiah and place our trust in him to the end, we will not be counted as part of the house of God. In Psalm 95 we find several warnings which are relevant to God's people in all ages and all places. The readers of the epistle were reminded of what happened to the children of Israel. Having left Egypt, the vast majority died in the wilderness of Sinai. So we see that they could not enter in [the land of promise] because of unbelief.
Hebrews 4: 1 - 13
The author of the letter continues to discuss the subject of entering into God's eternal rest.
1. God's promise of entering his rest is still valid on the condition that man accepts this promise with a true faith. The author looked upon the experiences of the children of Israel during the OT times as a symbol for the experiences of all believers who receive the good news and who live on this basis. As for the land of promise, it symbolized the eternal rest which believers obtain by faith in Jesus the Messiah. The OT informs us that the vast majority of the children of Israel died in the wilderness because they did not believe the word of God which they had heard through Moses. As the author put it: For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it. And since they did not believe in God's promise, they showed that they did not trust him. God detests such an attitude. Therefore God said: So I swore in My wrath, they shall not enter My rest.
2. The temporal rest which was symbolized by the land of promise was not the lasting rest which was mentioned by God. God looked upon the land of promise as a symbol of the spiritual and eternal rest which was to become the portion of every true believer. As the author said: For if Joshua, who led the children of Israel into the land of promise, had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day. Even the children of those who had died in the wilderness of Sinai and who entered the land of promise, did not enter the true rest which God had spoken about. In the first book of the Tawrat, it is mentioned that God, having created the world, rested on the seventh day. Now since David lived centuries after of Joshua, the rest which he talked about in Psalm 95 was not a temporal rest. The children of Israel were already living in the land of promise for hundreds of years. What is mentioned in this Psalm as coming from the mouth of God has to do with God's eternal rest which he offers to all who believe in him and in his promises. And since God repeats this call to enter his rest throughout history, it is necessary for every person who hears the Word of God to accept this call with gladness and thankfulness in order to enter into God's rest.
We learn from Psalm 95 that the call of God must be accepted today. No one should postpone a decision about this call for an unknown future date. A time comes when a man may not be able to benefit from the call of God because his heart may have become hardened. Thus the Holy Spirit warns us saying: Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, in the day of trial in the wilderness. Let us, therefore, work hard in order to enter God's rest lest we become like those Israelites who died in the wilderness and never entered into the temporal rest which God had promised them and which symbolized the eternal rest of God.
3. We must respect the Word of God. God gave us his word in order that we may do it and live according to its life giving principles. He who neglects the Word of God will be among the losers. For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account.
Hebrews 4: 14 - 5: 11
We begin now a study of the priesthood of the Messiah. We shall notice that just as God had prepared the OT priesthood, he has given us in this NT age his only begotten Son, Jesus the Messiah, as our great and unique high priest and the Mediator between God and man.
1. Jesus the Messiah is a great high priest. We learn from verses 14 - 16 of chapter 4 that Jesus the Messiah is a great high priest. During the days which preceded the Messiah, i.e., in the OT times, the high priest acted as a mediator between God and man among the children of Israel. He used to offer sacrifices and offerings in the worship of God. Then on the day of atonement, the high priest would enter the Holy of Holies to offer the prescribed sacrifices. This taught us that he as the high priest was a sinner just like all the children of Israel. The high priest himself with the other priests needed the forgiveness of their sins. But Jesus the Messiah is without sin; after his atoning death on the cross, his resurrection and ascension into heaven, He is now in the very presence of God, the Father and is interceding for us continually.
Since He is a great and unique savior as well as a high priest, He is greater than all the high priests of the children of Israel. We must cling to him and never forsake him, regardless of the persecutions which may befall us. We should not imagine that the Messiah is so highly exalted above us that He is unable to sympathize with us and with our weaknesses. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. These words teach us that the Messiah is aware of our circumstances, including the temptations which come our way. He sympathizes with us since he also had similar experiences during his life on earth but with this great difference: He never fell into sin. The Messiah fought sin and was victorious over it.
2. The qualities of the high priest are found in the person of Jesus the Messiah. During the OT times, the priests had to be from the tribe of Levi who was one of the twelve tribes of Israel. So the priest was taken from among the people and he was expected to represent them before God and to offer on their behalf sacrifices and offerings to God. The high priest was to be patient, humble and capable of sympathizing with the ignorant and with those who had gone astray. After all, he was human and was exposed to all types of temptations. He also fell into sin, and his life did not conform perfectly to God's law. Since this weakness persisted in the life of the high priest, he was required to first offer a sacrifice on his own behalf, before offering sacrifices on behalf of the people. It was also required that the high priest be called by God in order to enter upon his sacred office.
When we contemplate the priesthood of the Messiah, we may ask ourselves; did He have the same qualifications which were possessed by the priests of Israel? The answer is that the Messiah certainly had all the qualifications for the priesthood and in a manner which surpassed all human high priests. The Messiah did not glorify himself and he did not take it upon himself to enter upon this sacred office. For He who said to Him: You are My Son, today I have begotten You, He also said: You are a priest forever according to the order of Melkizedek. It was God the Father who called the Messiah to be our great high priest and according to the order of Melkizedek. We also notice that Jesus the Messiah had a true human nature and was therefore able to sympathize with us in all of our life experiences. The incarnation of the Son of God enabled him to have all the requirements and qualifications of a high priest. This means that he became a true man and learned through his life experiences to be obedient to the will of God. So he became the cause of salvation for all those who obey him and receive him as their savior.
Hebrews 5: 11 - 6:20
The author of Hebrews began to discuss the priesthood of the Messiah showing that he was a priest in the order of Melchizedek. But before he began a thorough discussion of this important subject he chided the recipients of the letter because of their lack of growth in the Christian faith. He sent a warning to all the believers cautioning them about the terrible consequences of going back on their faith in the Messiah. He reminded them of the necessity to look to God for help. He will certainly save all those who seek shelter in him through Jesus the Messiah.
1. The slowness of the recipients of the epistle in their understanding of the Christian faith and their lack of proper spiritual growth. It was expected of the believers that they would grow in their new life. Instead of that, they stopped growing in their faith and began to slip backward. They were in need of the milk of the Word of God, i.e, the elementary Christian teachings. They were not able to receive strong food which is found in the Word of God. The person who does not advance in his spiritual life is actually going backwards. Should he continue on such a course, his life will end in a terrible failure.
2. The necessity of walking steadfastly on the road of faith and of listening carefully to the warnings of God. The author went on, in the sixth chapter, to emphasize the necessity of not being content with the first and elementary teachings of the faith. Believers must advance continually on the road of faith. He issued a very strong warning about the tragic consequences of going back on the true faith and returning to their old life within Judaism. He was pointing to some people who had been influenced by the Injeel, who were thus enlightened, and had tasted some of the heavenly gifts and became partakers of the Holy Spirit having experienced the Word of God. Should such people go back on their faith in the Messiah, it is impossible to renew them. It would be as if they had crucified the Lord of glory a second time, placing themselves in the ranks of the enemies of the Messiah.
3. We must put our trust in God who has not and will not leave us. He will certainly fulfill all that he has promised in his holy Word. The author did not leave the community of faith in a sad mood but he pleaded with them to reflect on the attributes of God and his promises concerning their lives and their complete salvation. Only through that way would they receive the needed strength to continue on their journey of faith. Since they were subjected to many persecutions, it was their duty to learn the virtue of patience and ward off despair. For example, they should reflect on the life of Abraham, the friend of God. For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, Saying, "Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you. 6:13,14 Actually Abraham did not receive in his lifetime, all the promises of God; he died without all these promises being accomplished. Abraham was armed with patience and so God gave him Isaac who became one of the human links in the chain of the realization of God's promises. The Messiah descended from him and became the savior of the world.
God did not only promise, but He swore by himself to show Abraham as well as all the believers, that his promises will be fulfilled regardless, of the opposition of human beings. We who have taken refuge in the Lord have indeed a great comfort and consolation since our savior, Jesus the Messiah, is now in heaven as our High Priest. He is our mediator and watches over our lives. All the promises of God will be realized in our lives according to God's will and time. Is there any reason to go back on our faith, we who have such a great Savior as the Messiah?
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