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The Lord as the apostle and high priest of believers amongst the Jews
Hebrews 3. Thus the Lord is set before us as the Apostle and High Priest of believers from among the Jews, the true people. I say, "from among the Jews," not that He is not our Priest, but that here the sacred writer places himself among the believing Jews, saying "our"; and, instead of speaking of himself as an apostle, he points out Jesus as the Apostle; which He was in Person among the Jews. In principle, it is true of all believers. That which He has said is the Lord's word, and He is able to succour us when we are tempted. We are His house.
Moses, the faithful servant in the house, contrasted with Christ, the Son over His house
For we have here a third character of Christ. He is a "Son over his house." Moses was faithful in all the house of God as a servant, in testimony to the things that were afterwards to be proclaimed. But Christ is over God's house; but it is not as a servant but as a Son. He has built the house. He is God.
Moses identified himself with the house, faithful therein in all things. But Christ is more excellent; even as he who builds the house is more excellent than the house. But He who builds all things is God. And this is what Christ did. For in fact the house (that is, the tabernacle in the wilderness) was a figure of the universe; and Christ passed through the heavens, as the high priest passed into the sanctuary. All was cleansed with blood, even as God will reconcile all things by Christ in the heavens and on the earth. In a certain sense this universe is the house of God. He deigns to inhabit it. Christ created it all. But there is a house which is more properly His own. We are His house, taking it for granted that we persevere to the end.
The danger of the Hebrew Christians of forsaking Christianity and an unseen Christ for visible things
The Hebrew Christians were in danger — being attracted by their former habits, and by a law and ceremonies which God Himself had established — of forsaking a Christianity, in which Christ was not visible, for things that were visible and palpable. The Christ of Christians, far from being a crown of glory to the people, was only an object of faith, so that, if faith failed, He was deprived of all importance to them. A religion that made itself seen (the "old wine") naturally attracted those that had been accustomed to it.
The builder and the house
But in fact Christ was much more excellent than Moses; as he who has built the house had more honour than the house. Now this house was the figure of all things, and He who had built them was God. The passage gives us this view of Christ and of the house, and also says, that we are this house. And Christ is not the servant here; He is the Son over God's house.
The assembly as the body of Christ and its proper privileges not found in this epistle
We must always remember that which has been already remarked, namely, that in this epistle we have not the assembly as the body of Christ in union with Himself; nor even the Father either, except as a comparison in Hebrews 12. It is God, a heavenly Christ (who is the Son of God), and a people, the Messiah being a heavenly Mediator between the people and God. Therefore the proper privileges of the assembly are not found in this epistle — they flow from our union with Christ; and here Christ is a Person apart, who is between us and God, on high while we are here.
There are still a few remarks which we may add here in order to throw light on this point, and to assist the reader in understanding the first two chapters, as well as the principle of the instructions throughout the epistle.
The work of Christ as presented in chapter 1
In Hebrews 1 Christ accomplishes by Himself as a part of His divine glory the purification of sins, and seats Himself at the right hand of God. This work, observe, is done by Himself. We have nothing to do with it, save to believe in and enjoy it. It is a divine work which this divine Person has accomplished by Himself; so that it has all the absolute perfection, all the force, of a work done by Him, without any mixture of our weakness, of our efforts, or of our experiences. He performed it by Himself, and it is accomplished. Thereupon He takes His seat. He is not placed there — He seats Himself upon the throne on high.
Present state of the glorified man, looking forward to future full blessing in the Son of Man
In Hebrews 2 we see another point which characterises the epistle — the present state of the glorified Man. He is crowned with glory and honour; but it is with a view to an order of things which is not yet accomplished. It is the Person of the Man Christ which is presented, not the assembly in union with Him, even when He is beheld as glorified in the heavens. This glory is viewed as a partial accomplishment of that which belongs to Him, according to the counsels of God, as the Son of man. Hereafter this glory will be complete in all its parts by the subjugation of all things.
The present glory therefore of Christ makes us look forward to an order of things yet future, which will be full rest, full blessing. In a word, besides the perfection of His work, the epistle sets before us the sequel of that which belongs to the Christ in Person, the Son of man, not the perfection of the assembly in Him. And this embraces the present time, the character of which, to the believer, depends on Christ's being now glorified in heaven while waiting for a future state, in which all things will be subjected to Him.
Christ crowned as Son of man; Christ glorified, once dead on account of man
In Hebrews 2 we see also that He is crowned. He is not seen sitting there as in His own original right, though He had that glory before the world was, but, having been made a little less than the angels, God crowns Him. We also plainly see that although the believing Hebrews are especially in view, and even all Christians are classed under the title of Abraham's seed on the earth, yet that Christ is viewed nevertheless as the Son of man, and not as the Son of David; and the question is put, "What is man?" The answer (the precious answer for us) is, Christ glorified, once dead on account of man's condition. In Him we see the mind of God with regard to man.
Christians viewed as Abraham's seed, as forming part of the chain of the heirs of promise on earth, and not as the assembly
The fact that Christians themselves are viewed as the seed of Abraham plainly shows the way in which they are considered as forming part of the chain of the heirs of promise on earth (as in Rom. 11), and not as the assembly united to Christ as His body in heaven.
The earthly and heavenly parts of God's counsels forseen in connection with the present position of the Son of Man; the blessing of the remnant; the force of "us" in the epistle
The work is perfect; it is the work of God. He has by Himself made purification of sins. The full result of the counsels of God with regard to the Son of man is not yet come. Thus the earthly part can be brought in, as a thing foreseen, as well as the heavenly part, although the persons to whom the epistle is addressed had part in the heavenly glory — participated in the heavenly calling — in connection with the present position of the Son of man.
The remnant of the Jews, as we have said, are considered as continuing the chain of the people blessed on earth, whatever heavenly privileges they may also possess or whatever their especial state may be in connection with the Messiah's exaltation to heaven. We have been grafted into the good olive-tree, so that we share all the advantages here spoken of. Our highest position, and the privileges belonging to it, are not here in view. Accordingly, as writing to Hebrews and as one among them, he addresses them, that is to say, Christians and believing Israelites. This is the force of the word "us" in the epistle; we must bear it in mind, and that the Hebrew believers always form the word "us," of which the writer is also a part.
As I have said, we rightly appropriate it to ourselves in principle; but to have a clear view of his meaning, we must put ourselves at the point of view which the Spirit of God has taken.
Hardening the heart; consequences of departure from what was acknowledged to be true; the danger of forsaking the living God; the word "today" expressing the patient activity of God's grace and longsuffering
No one ought to harden his heart; but this word is especially addressed to Israel, and that until the day when Christ shall appear. In speaking of it, the author returns to the word that had formerly been addressed to Israel; not now in order to warn them of the danger they would incur by neglecting it, but of the consequences of departing from that which they had acknowledged to be true. Israel, when delivered out of Egypt, had provoked God in the wilderness (it was indeed the case also of Christians in this world), because they were not at once, and without difficulty, in Canaan. Those to whom he wrote were in danger of forsaking the living God in the same way; that is, the danger was there before their eyes. They should rather exhort each other, while it was still called to-day, in order that they might not be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. This word "to-day" is the expression of the patient activity of God's grace towards Israel even unto the end. The people were unbelieving; they have hardened their hearts; they have done so, and will alas! do so to the end, until judgment come in the Person of the Messiah-Jehovah, whom they have despised. But until then God loves to reiterate, "To-day, if ye will hear my voice." It may be that only a few will hearken; it may be that the nation is judicially hardened, in order to admit the Gentiles; but the word "to-day" still resounds for every one among them who has ears to hear, until the Lord shall appear in judgment. It is addressed to the people according to the long-suffering of God. For the remnant who had believed it was an especial warning not to walk in the ways of the hardened people who had refused to hearken — not to turn back to them, forsaking their own confidence in the word which had called them, as Israel did in the wilderness.
Practical danger; unbelief through sin and God's faithfulness
As long as the "to-day" of the call of grace should continue, they were to exhort one another, lest unbelief should glide into their hearts through the subtlety of sin. It is thus that the living God is forsaken. We speak thus practically, not with reference to the faithfulness of God, who certainly will not allow any of His own to perish, but with regard to practical danger, and to that which would draw us away — as to our responsibility — from God, and for ever, if God did not intervene, acting in the life which He has given us, and which never perishes.
Sin's effects; the warning against it arrests the living; the dead despise it and perish; Israel in the wilderness
Sin separates us from God in our thoughts; we have no longer the same sense either of His love, His power, or His interest in us. Confidence is lost. Hope, and the value of unseen things, diminish; while the value of things that are seen proportionately increases. The conscience is bad; one is not at ease with God. The path is hard and difficult; the will strengthens itself against Him. We no longer live by faith; visible things come in between us and God, and take possession of the heart. Where there is life, God warns by His Spirit (as in this epistle), He chastises and restores. Where it was only an outward influence, a faith devoid of life, and the conscience not reached, it is abandoned.
It is the warning against so doing that arrests the living. The dead — they whose consciences are not engaged, who do not say, "To whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life" — despise the warning and perish. This was the case with Israel in the wilderness, and God sware unto them that they should not enter into His rest (Num. 14:21-23). And why? They had given up their confidence in Him. Their unbelief — when the beauty and excellence of the land had been reported to them — deprived them of the promised rest.
Israel deprived of the promised rest through unbelief; the position of believers in connection with better promises
The position of the believers to whom this epistle is addressed was the same as this, although in connection with better promises. The beauty and excellence of the heavenly Canaan had been proclaimed to them. They had, by the Spirit, seen and tasted its fruits; they were in the wilderness; they had to persevere to maintain their confidence unto the end.
Doubting Christians not here contemplated; the exhortation given to preserve the Christian in confidence; the use of the epistle to sanction doubts a device of the enemy; a good conscience
Observe here — for Satan, and our own conscience when it has not been set free, often make use of this epistle — that doubting Christians are not here contemplated, or persons who have not yet gained entire confidence in God: to those who are in this condition its exhortations and warnings have no application. These exhortations are to preserve the Christian in a confidence which he has, and to persevere, not to tranquilise fears and doubts. This use of the epistle to sanction such doubts is but a device of the enemy. Only I would add here that, although the full knowledge of grace (which in such a case the soul has assuredly not yet attained) is the only thing that can deliver and set it free from its fears, yet it is very important in this case practically to maintain a good conscience, in order not to furnish the enemy with a special means of attack.
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