By Wm. C. Reid
Hebrews 1. The subject of the Epistle to the Hebrews is Jesus the Son of God crowned with glory and honour at God's right hand, and the heavenly system of blessing and glory centring in Him, founded on His redemptive work. The object of the epistle is evidently to detach the minds and hearts of the Hebrew Christians from the earthly system of Judaism, which was but the shadow of the heavenly, and to direct their gaze to Jesus in heaven in whom dwelt the substance.
Of old, God had spoken to the fathers of Israel in various ways, giving in the different dispensations fragments of divine revelation; but in the Person of the Son, God had given a perfect and complete revelation of Himself. None but the Son could reveal God, for only a divine Person could make God known in His nature and counsels of love. Here, as elsewhere, the Spirit delights to unfold the varied glories of the Son, glories consonant with the subject before the writer of the epistle. The first cluster of glories brings out what the Son is to God:
The next cluster of glories sets forth the Son in His own might and greatness:
Then follows the greatness of the Son as compared with angels. the most exalted of God's creatures. His place is much better than the angels; and He has inherited a Name, the Name of Son of God, which is more excellent than all angelic names. Angels are called upon to worship the Son, being the messengers of God and the executors of His judgment; but the Son is addressed by God as God, having an eternal throne and a kingdom governed in righteousness. Yet while very God, the Son is truly and perfect Man; and because of His perfection as Man, He has supreme joy among the companions given to Him as God's anointed.
If the Son is the creator of Genesis 1, He is also the Jehovah seen in relation to His creation in Genesis 2, for here He is saluted with "And Thou, Jehovah, in the beginning hast laid the foundations of the earth…" This is quoted from Psalm 102, being God's answer to His suffering and death. As Jehovah, He is compared with His works; His glory transcending all in the creation, which is growing old and shall perish, but the Son abides "The Same," the unchanging One. The present creation as a vesture sets forth His glory, but after serving His present purpose it will be folded up; but it is also a covering to be rolled up in the changing of the elements, which when accomplished will display His eternal purpose and glory in the new heavens and new earth. With this in view, God has set His Son down at His right hand until His enemies are made His footstool. This is not the portion of angels they are ministering spirits who wait upon those who shall inherit God's great salvation.
Hebrews 2. Because of the character of the present revelation men should give earnest heed to it; for if such as Lot's wife did not escape when she disobeyed the angelic word "Look not behind thee," how will any one escape the more terrible judgment awaiting those who neglect the great salvation, spoken by the Lord on earth, and con-firmed by the testimony of His disciples. As Apostle, the Lord Jesus inaugurated this great salvation; as High Priest He saves to the uttermost those who come to God by Him.
The world to come, which subject forms an integral part of the epistle, has not been put under angels, but has been subjected to Man in Christ, the Son of Man. Although lower in rank than angels, Adam was the lord and head of the lower creation, and as such was the figure of Him to come. Jesus, though higher than angels, so that He might die became a little lower than the angels (He became Man); and in His death has established an additional claim to the universe He inherits as Son, of which He is the creator and anointed Man. Having tasted death by entering into its dread reality, the Lord Jesus has been crowned with glory and honour; and the saints are privileged to see Him where He is, by faith, while awaiting the day in which there will be the public demonstration, in a display of glory, that all things are put under His feet.
Those who shall inherit salvation are the companions of Christ and the sons of God; and in bringing His many sons to glory, God has given to Jesus the position of Captain of their salvation. Because of all He suffered here, the Lord Jesus is perfectly qualified to bring God's many sons home to Him in the glory, safely through all the trials of the wilderness He knows so well. Christ is not ashamed of God's sons, His brethren, for they are all of one with Him, having His Spirit, His life, and His nature; and to them He makes known the Father's Name in the midst of the assembly, where He sings praise to Him. All this proves how real Christ's Manhood is: He is Son of Man; He has died; He has brethren; God has given Him children from among men; He took part in flesh and blood; He suffered being tempted; and was found in the place of dependence trusting in God. As risen from among the dead Christ's Manhood is unchanged, but He has entered into entirely new conditions; and it is with Him, on the other side of death, that we are associated as His brethren and sons of God; and it is beyond death that the Sanctifier and the sanctified are all of one.
One of the specific reasons for Jesus becoming Man was to deliver the children from the fear of death. To effect this He entered the "strong man's" domain, and annulled the despot's power. Like David, He slew the giant with his own sword: like Mordecai, He became the deliverer of His people from the hand of the tyrant who was hung upon his own gallows: like Moses, He led His people through the region of death, in which the oppressor and his host were overwhelmed.
Jesus, in grace, has espoused the cause of fallen men, not that of fallen angels; and because of this, in all the details of life He was made like to His brethren, in knowing sorrow, sufferings, hunger, thirst, weariness, and such things. Knowing all these He can be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things relating to God; entering with feeling into all the circumstances of His people, and bringing to them perfect help in their trials. Before entering upon this priestly work, He made propitiation for the sins of the people that every bit of dread might be taken from their hearts. It is noticeable that it does not say that He laid hold of the seed of Israel, else the blessing would have been confined to Israel; nor does it say that He laid hold of the seed of Adam; for Scripture does not teach universal salvation; but it says "the seed of Abraham," because Christ has espoused the cause of those who believe, the children of the faithful one.
Hebrews 3. Being Christ's brethren, and sanctified with Him as the Sanctifier, the saints are holy brethren. Israel's calling was earthly, and Moses was their apostle and Aaron their high priest; but our calling is heavenly, and Jesus is both our Apostle and High Priest; so that the Christian system is in marked contrast to Judaism. The Tabernacle was God's dwelling place, and Moses' work there serves to indicate the greatness of Christ's place in God's house. Moses was faithful as a ministering servant, but Christ is faithful as Son. Moses completed the Tabernacle in detail according to the divine instructions, carrying out faithfully the revealed mind of God; but how much greater is the glory of Him who designed and built the vast universe? Christ is the builder of the universe, for He is God, and in the wide universe the glory of the creator shines out. A similar contrast between the bondman and the Son is made in John 8, where the Son gives us liberty in which we are truly free. Solomon is a type of Christ as Son over God's house, where God says to David in connection with the building of the Temple, "I will be to him for Father and he shall be to me for son." If the house is to be ordered according to the mind of God, only the Son, who knows all His will and purpose can so order it. The house is not a material one as was the Tabernacle (and the Temple), but is composed of men and women, who bear this character, if they hold fast the truth of Christianity. If the Hebrews forsook the boldness belonging to the Christian system and returned to the bondage of law, how could they have the character of the house of God which pulsated with life and liberty? When the Lord was on earth, the Temple had lost its true character as God's house, and at the close He spoke of it to the Jews as "Your house"; and in 2nd Timothy that which still bore the name of God's house is likened to "A great house," where there are vessels to dishonour mingled with the vessels unto honour.
Our hope is heaven and the rest of God, but in the mean-time, the Christian (like Israel in the wilderness) is passing through a scene where he must be in constant dependence upon God for supplies. While in the wilderness there is ever the danger of going back; therefore are we warned in chapter 2 of slipping away, and here of hardening the heart. The Holy Spirit in Psalm 95 warned Israel that they were in danger of failing as their fathers before them and again, at the beginning of Christianity, there was need for the repetition of the warning. Israel's whole sojourn in the wilderness was a day of provocation for God, because of their refusing to listen to His voice. Seeing God's wonderful works, they were yet ignorant of His ways, and this because of the state of their unbelieving hearts. There are two if's in this portion: "If ye will hear His voice " and "If ye shall enter into my rest." Only those who listen to the voice of God, hearing it by faith, will enter into His rest; but this on account of God's settled purpose to bring believers there. God's rest in creation was soon broken by sin; nor did Israel enter God's rest but God will assuredly have a rest, where He Himself shall rest and His people with Him.
There is another warning in Hebrews 3:12 against turning away from the living God; but they were to encourage themselves in the day of grace, which would not always last. Many who took the place of Christians might be mere professors; but only real Christians were Christ's companions, although the others by their profession claimed to be such. The condition of the heart, not profession, proves what one really is, even as is illustrated in the host of Israel. All were in the position of the people of God; how few were right in heart towards Him. Three events are adduced to bring out Israel's true state:
Judgment did not result from the first as the people were not yet under law: the third was the crowning sin which revealed the source of every murmur, "unbelief."
Hebrews 4. Reverential fear becomes the people of God; the absence of it endangers the soul. Where no fear of God exists there is no faith in His word; and only those who believe will enter into His rest. It is not enough to be publicly associated with those who receive the good news from God; there must be living faith if we are to profit by the word, for the absence of faith deprived Israel of entering the rest of God. Faith produces fear of God the fear evincing that faith exists. Divine grace in no wise sets aside our responsibility; indeed it is in our responsible life that we show the fruits of divine grace.
The very Scripture which mentions the doubt of Israel entering God's rest speaks of His determinate purpose to have some there. This rest, which awaits the people of God, was typified in the rest of creation on the seventh day; and although that rest was broken, God has not turned from His purpose to have His rest; no, nor has Israel's unbelief affected this purpose. From the Spirit's witness in David (in Psalm 95) it is evident that when Joshua led Israel into Canaan, he did not bring them into the rest of God; nor had they entered it in David's day; so that the conclusion of the matter is, "There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God." We have not yet come to this rest, being in a world of toil; but after the days of labour are ended we shall surely have the rest, even as God rested when His work was done. With the rest in view, we are to be marked by diligence which faith begets, and not by indifference to the word of God.
God's word, which addresses itself to us, is living and operative; comes from the living God, and works in living power in the heart of him who receives it. The word is the living instrument which brings God's thoughts to His people, and maintains them in living touch with Himself and its penetrating and divisive qualities in a moral way are greater than those of the sharpest human weapon in material things, for it enters into the heart and divides what is natural from that wrought there by the Spirit of God. The word also enables us to distinguish between our movements and the springs that actuate those movements and gives us to discern the true character of all our thoughts and the intentions of the heart. How indispensable and invaluable all this is to the Christian; to be capable, as the word of God has its place within us, to test every inward spring, every feeling, every motive, every desire, and every action; so that the unsparing judgment of God might be brought upon all that proceeds from the flesh, and to delight in all produced by the word in the Spirit's power. When the word enters the heart it discovers every secret, and brings us consciously into the presence of Him who knows all about us. This is great gain for the Christian, for this knowledge leads him to order his course in the sense of being constantly under the all-seeing eye of God.
Passing through the wilderness to the rest of God we have therefore all the help of the word of God; and besides, the help of the Priest, Jesus the Son of God. To enter Gods presence, Aaron passed through the court of the Tabernacle, through the holy place, and into the holiest; but Jesus in ascending to His place in glory has passed through the heavens. Knowing this, we can hold fast the Christian profession in the exercise of faith. Although so great and glorious, our great High Priest enters into all the feelings of our troubled hearts, having, while here, passed through all the testings of the path He has called us to tread. But all His temptations were from without; there was nothing within of sin to entice Him. Our names, written on His breast, tell of the sympathy of a loving heart in regard to all we are passing through down here; our names written on His shoulders assure; us that His strength is available for us in our great weakness. The throne of God, by reason of man's sin, became for him a throne of judgment; now, through Christ's precious shed blood it is for us a throne of grace. Approaching the throne, not with cringing fear, but with holy boldness, knowing that Jesus is there for us, we receive the mercy needed for each step of the desert, and obtain the grace for seasonable help.
Hebrews 5. Israel's high priests were established to represent men before God, to offer the different gift offerings and the sacrifices for sins. Being frail, failing men they could enter into the conditions of those they represented: but required to have the efficacy of the sin offering for themselves also, because of their own state. Aaron's honoured office was not his by his own choosing, but by divine call, as Korah and his companions learned to their cost. In calling the Lord Jesus to the Priesthood, God has crowned Him with glory and honour; and the Spirit of God tells us that it is God's Son who has been addressed as "Priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec." So that if the calling of Christ's Priesthood is signified in the Aaronic priesthood, the order of His Priesthood is according to Melchisedec's.
Before entering into the glory, the Lord Jesus knew what it was to be suffering in the place of dependence, and this in all its depths in Gethsemane and on the cross. The pious Man cried "My God I cry by day, and thou answerest not; and by night there is no rest for me," yet is He able to say on reaching the limits of death's power, "Thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns." The Son, who had ever commanded, learned obedience in these circumstances of suffering; and having perfectly known obedience thus, became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him. He was delivered, saved out of death, after passing through all its judgment, because of His piety and obedience; He will therefore save those who obey Him from all that is against them, whether from death, the power of Satan, or any other enemy or trial in the wilderness. This salvation, an eternal salvation, that will bring us safely through the wilderness to the glory, is originated by One addressed by God as high priest after the order of Melchisedec.
Of Christ, the writer had much to say to the Hebrews, but it was difficult to make it known to them because of their low state: indeed, they required the elements of Christianity rather than advanced instruction. They ought to have been teachers, but they were not skilled in the foundations, the word of righteousness; they were in need of milk, having got into a very weak spiritual condition. Solid food belongs to matured Christians, who, by habitually feeding on the word, are exercised in their spiritual sensibilities to discern what is good and what is evil.
Hebrews 6. Although the Hebrews were in such an immature state, the writer would not proceed to speak of the elements of Christianity, but would go on to what belonged to the full-grown man. The foundations of the faith lie in repentance, faith, the teaching of baptism, what is involved in association with others, the truth of the resurrection, and eternal judgment. From apostasy there was no recovery; those once enlightened with the light of Christianity, and who deliberately turn from it, cannot come back in repentance. Such have never been true Christians, they have never had divine life in their souls. They have tasted of the heavenly gift, but it was never appropriated: they spat it out; they partook outwardly of the Holy Spirit, as Balaam and Saul the King, had done long before; they tasted, but had not eaten the good word of God; and had come into the benefits of the Spirit's presence in God's house. They were so near to the blessing, yet they despised it; and after professing to accept Christ, they rejected Him, thus crucifying Him for themselves, and exposing Him as One to be refused. God will not suffer this fresh insult to His Son! These apostates had been where the rain, the blessing from God, came; but instead of useful herbs they had brought forth thorns and briers, meriting the unsparing judgment that would certainly come upon them. Even if speaking thus, the writer was persuaded better things of the Hebrews, having the conviction that salvation was theirs. Nor was God unmindful of all that had marked the saints hitherto, their work, their love, their ministry to the saints; yet the journey was not over, and they were to go on until the end, imitating the faith and patience of such as Abraham.
God had made promise to Abraham, but long patience was needed before its fulfilment; a promise of which there was no doubt, for God confirmed His word by an oath, swearing by Himself, since there was no greater. How blessed to see the condescension of God, coming down to our creature weakness to show in a human way the immutability of His purpose; He first promised, then confirmed it with an oath, to give strong encouragement to the heirs of promise. Like the manslayer of old, we have fled to the city of refuge, to lay hold upon a heavenly hope. Israel in rejecting and crucifying Christ destroyed their earthly hopes; God, in mercy, has through the intercession of Christ on the cross, treated them as manslayers rather than as murderers, and so has opened up to them the city of refuge. Their hope is no longer an earthly one, but heavenly; it is an anchor of the soul both sure and firm, connected with Jesus within the heavenly veil, who has gone there as our forerunner. Within the veil, where we shall soon be with Jesus, He is a high priest after the order of Melchisedec.
Hebrews 7. Melchisedec was a suitable person to typify the Lord Jesus as God's Priest; he was King of Salem and priest of the Most High God. This King of righteousness and King of peace is presented without antecedent or descendent, without birth or death, as a subsisting priest; and is so great that he blesses Abraham, and receives from Abraham the tenth of all the spoils of war. Thus, in Abraham, the Levitical priesthood acknowledges the superiority of the priesthood of Melchisedec, both by paying tithes and in receiving blessing, for the inferior is blessed by the greater.
Since God had announced that Christ's priesthood was after the order of Melchisedec, it clearly implied that His highest thoughts were not connected with the Levitical order; and since the law was based upon the Levitical priesthood, a change of priesthood necessitated a change of law also. The law had never contemplated a priest from any other tribe than Levi, but Jesus came from Judah, of which Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood; and the change of law is more abundantly evident because the different priest has been constituted in the power of indissoluble life, and not according to the fleshly ordinance of the law. Christ's priesthood being for ever involves the setting aside of the commandment of the law regarding priests. The old system perfected nothing; man's conscience was not perfected regarding his sins, nor was there access to God; but in the new system of Christianity, with its better hope, we can draw near to God.
Israel's priests though called of God, were not priests by a divine oath, else they could not be set aside; but Christ is Priest by the swearing of an oath, even as it is written, "The Lord has sworn and will not repent, Thou art priest for ever." So that Christ's priesthood is irrevocable through the oath that makes Him the guarantor of a better covenant. Death prevented the Aaronic priests continuing in office, but Christ, who ever lives, has His priesthood intransmissible; therefore can He save right through to the end of the wilderness those who approach God by Him, ever living to intercede for them. Such then is the greatness and the superiority of God's priest, established in relation to a heavenly system, with a better covenant and an eternal salvation, with a better hope and with better promises; where we can approach God in holy boldness.
Now we have the moral perfections of our great High Priest; a priest becoming those called with a heavenly calling, who are God's sons and Christ's brethren. He is holy, harmless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and become higher than the heavens. His features are delightful to God, who has given Him a place of exaltation and majesty, yea, the highest place in the universe. Unlike the Levitical priests, He needed not to offer sacrifice for Himself; He was infinitely pure; holy in nature; harmless in all His activities; undefiled in all His movements; separate, in all the thoughts and feelings of His heart, from sinners. But He offered up a sacrifice for sinners in the giving of Himself; He was the perfect sin offering, so perfect that it needed not to be repeated. Priests ordained by the law were frail, failing sinners; but the word and the oath of God (although subsequent to the giving of the law) constituted His own Son a Priest. As Priest, God's Son is perfected for ever; perfected as having thoroughly qualified for the office in circumstances of sorrow and suffering, and as having been set down by God at His own right hand from whence He can minister to His own.
Hebrews 8. The things engaging us in these chapters are summed up for us in the beginning of this chapter. Our High Priest is so great that He has set Himself down on the right hand of the throne of the greatness in the heavens. First, the greatness of the priest is noted, "We have such a One high priest;" there is also the greatness of His office, "High priest;" then the greatness of the place He occupies, "The right hand of the greatness in the heavens;" and the greatness of His ministry, "Minister of the holy places and of the true tabernacle." How the greatness of the Person of Jesus is manifested in setting Himself down at God's right hand! Who but a divine Person could take this place? The tabernacle that Moses pitched was but the shadow of the true tabernacle, the divine, heavenly system of glory and blessing, founded on the finished work of the cross, where the saints draw near to God. So that the Lord's ministry is not only in contrast to Aaron's, it is also the substance of what was foreshadowed in Aaron's. In dressing the lamps in the holy place for the maintenance of the light over against the candlestick, Aaron was indicating how that Christ, during the night of His absence from the world, would sustain His own in testimony, bringing out in them His own heavenly features, for the pleasure of God. There was also the ministry belonging to the table and the showbread, which foreshadowed how Christ would keep Israel before the eye of God until He renews His public dealings with them. The Minister of the Sanctuary is within the holiest, having the golden censer; maintaining His own there in the savour of His own Person, and as a company of worshippers for God's glory and delight.
Christ as the antitype of the high priest must have something to offer, answering to the gifts and sacrifices of the law; but His priesthood is heavenly, not earthly; and His Ministry includes that of mediator of a better covenant, established on better promises. While building the tabernacle, Moses was instructed by God to make it according to the pattern shown him on the mount; for the earthly building was but the shadow of the heavenly things introduced by Christ as mediator, and maintained by Him as High Priest. This heavenly ministry of the risen and glorified Christ is more excellent than that of Moses and Aaron.
Had the covenant made with Israel at Sinai been faultless there would not have been the need for another covenant; hence the new covenant is of an entirely different order from the first. This new covenant was intimated to Israel through the prophet Jeremiah, and was to be made with both the houses of Israel. Israel had not kept the first covenant, hence God had set them aside; but the new covenant could not be broken by Israel, for it did not rest on their doing, but on what God would do. God's laws were not to be presented on tables of stone, as at Sinai, but He would give them in their minds and write them also upon their hearts, where, in the sovereign working of God they would be kept for the glory of God and the blessing of His redeemed people. Therefore would the knowledge of God be in the hearts and minds of His people, so that they would not require to be recalled to Him, as in the past; and having remembered their sins at the cross, He would remember them no more. The word NEW covenant involves the passing away of the old.
Hebrews 9. The first covenant was connected with a system of ordinances, and its sanctuary was a worldly one: all the furniture and other articles having special typical value, yet themselves belonging to a system of religion for man in the flesh. (It may be profitable to look briefly at the typical meaning of these things. The holiest is God's dwelling-place, where we can enter the holy place indicating the future place of Israel's priests. Christ is the candlestick, whose beauty is seen by the light which the Spirit produces in the saints; as the table He is our support, and we feed upon Him as the true showbread. Normally, the golden censer would be kept in the holy place, but it went with the high priest into the holiest once a year; now that Christ has entered into God's presence, the censer, and all it speaks of abides in God's presence. The absence of the altar of incense may be on account of its function being taken up by the golden censer; the fragrance of Christ's Person, all His moral excellency and perfections, subsists before God continually. Christ's perfect Manhood and divine glory are seen in the ark covered with gold; the golden pot with the manna tells that God has treasured up in the glorified One the remembrance of all that He was as the Man of sorrows here. In Aaron's rod that budded we see Christ's priesthood confirmed in the power of resurrection (He lives in the power of an endless life); while in the tables of the covenant we see every thought of God for man fully and perfectly answered in His own Son. The cherubim of glory shadowing the mercy-seat are the witnesses that every demand of the throne of God, in righteousness and holiness, has been met in Christ and in the shedding of His blood.)
The ordering of the first system distinctly showed that man remained at a distance from God; he could not come within the veil. And this is the system of things upon which the great systems of Christendom have fashioned themselves. Their great buildings have railed off portions, from which the people are excluded in their worship. Then in the first order of things there was a priesthood coming between the people and God; and this too we find in the great religious systems of today. Into the holiest the high priest only could go, and that but once a year on the day of atonement, when he sprinkled the blood on the mercy-seat and seven times before it. All this showed that Israel remained at a distance from God, with the conscience unrelieved by all the ordinances, ordinances which only touched the flesh, and given until God made known what was in His heart for man's blessing.
In marked contrast to the system of things spoken of, a system of good things, promised in connection with Messiah, has been established in Christ. These things belong to the better and more perfect tabernacle, not of the old creation, nor through the sacrifices of animals. Christ's priesthood is not by the blood-shedding of calves and bulls, but by His own blood; that is He does not present sacrifices like the priests of old, but His priestly ministry relates to the work He wrought for God's glory on the cross. Having finished the work given Him to do here on earth, the Lord Jesus has entered into the presence of God having found an eternal redemption. When Aaron entered in, he had to come out again and go in the following year, the sacrifice enabled God to go on with Israel for one year only but Christ has no need to come out in regard to His sacrificial work, the redemption He has found is eternal in its efficacy. The blood shed on the day of atonement, and the ashes of the Red Heifer, had no intrinsic value; their sanctification only related to what was external, to man's flesh, the cleansing of the body; but the precious blood of Jesus purifies the conscience, and enables us to worship the living God. How great is the work of the cross, how precious the blood of Christ! On the cross He was the spotless victim, and He was the true offerer who offered Himself to God by the eternal Spirit. Here is a sacrifice in marked contrast to the beasts offered under the law, but He is the great anti-type of them all He is the true sin offering to which every sin offering pointed. See how the Trinity is engaged in the work of the cross! The Son is the offerer and the offering; it is by the eternal Spirit He offers Himself: and the offering is to God (surely the Father), to secure His will. All the works of the law were dead works, they could not bring peace to the performer; but the blood of Jesus sets the Christian free in conscience from all connected with that order of things so that he might truly worship God as revealed in Jesus.
Although the sacrifices of old could not remove the guilt of the offerer, where there was faith in God there was blessing. There could not be the revelation of the truth of redemption as now known in the death of Christ, nor could there be the knowledge in the heart of no more conscience of sins; nevertheless God, in view of the sacrifice of Christ, could remit the sins of those who believed in Him. Therefore we see Christ presented as mediator of a new covenant, secured by His death, by which there is redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant: and those called to partake of the blessings of the new covenant receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. This is in marked contrast with the law, which if Israel had kept they would have retained the earthly inheritance: but those partaking of the heavenly calling receive their inheritance by divine promise; it does not rest on their responsibility and cannot therefore be lost.
In natural things, a testament has no force until the one who has disclosed in it his disposition has died. So it was in connection with the law: when the commandments were given there was the evidence of death in the blood sprinkled on the book and the people. It was a covenant of blood which bound the people to the book of the law whose commandments they had promised to keep. When the tabernacle was set up, it was sprinkled with blood; as were also all the vessels of service belonging to it. These figurative things emphasised that all God's dealings with man depended on blood shedding; and the truth, now fully revealed, is that without shedding of blood there is no remission. This divine necessity was therefore evinced in the representation of the heavenly things being purified by blood, but the heavenly things required a better sacrifice, the death of the Lord Jesus.
Christ, in verse 12 (Heb. 9:12), has entered into God's presence, having glorified Him in accomplishing an eternal redemption: but verse 24 shows that He has also entered there on our account, as our representative before God's face. Like Aaron He has two sets of garments; the linen garments in which the work of atonement was performed; the garments of glory and beauty, in which the names of
God's people were engraved on His heart and on His shoulders. Both garments are involved in verse 24 (Heb. 9:24), for Christ is there as having secured an eternal redemption which glorifies God and brings eternal blessing to us, and as representing His own, bearing their names in God's presence, before His face. But Christ is not in heaven as the high priest of yore was annually in the holiest; Christ is there with His own precious blood, the blood of a sacrifice which needs no repeating because of its abiding efficacy. Once He appeared on earth, in the consummation of the ages, for the removal of sin by His own sacrifice: now He appears in the presence of God for us; soon He will appear for the salvation of His people. Because of sin, the sentence of death lies upon the whole human race, and divine judgment follows death, at the great white throne; but Christ has borne the sins of many, the sins of all who believe in Him, so that they no longer fear death, and have been delivered from the judgment. His saints do not look for death; they look for Christ, who is coming the second time, not to offer another sacrifice for sins, but to save His people from every foe, whether the church at the rapture, or Israel when He comes out of heaven to put the earth right.
Hebrews 10. The good things of Christianity although foreshadowed in the law could not be clearly seen there. For example, although man's approach to God was envisaged, it never could have been discovered there that men would be allowed into the holiest, to be there with holy boldness in the light of the full revelation of God. Moral cleansing was in the shadow of the law, but not in the perfect way disclosed in the teaching of the Gospel. Although the annual sacrifices foreshadowed redemption, they had no intrinsic value; they could not give the worshippers the knowledge of sins forgiven once and for all; else there would not have been the necessity for repeating the sacrifices year by year. How blessed for us in Christianity to have no more conscience of sins, to realise that all our sins have gone completely through the shedding of the precious blood of Jesus. Instead of removing sins, the yearly sacrifices brought sins to remembrance; ever reminding the people that their sins were there, for indeed the divine sentence of the sacrificial system of the law is, "for blood of bulls and goats (is) incapable of taking away sins."
Coming into the world, as fulfilling the words written concerning Him in the book of God's counsel, the Lord declares by His presence that the accomplishing of God's will is bound up with Himself and not with the sacrifices and offerings of the Levitical system. God had no pleasure in the death of the animals sacrificed on the altars of Israel but how deep and infinite His pleasure in the One who said, "Lo, I come to do Thy will." Thus God has taken away the first order that gave Him no pleasure, that He might establish a new order, founded on the death of Christ. God's will, established in this new order of things, sets apart the Christian for the pleasure of God; and this by the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. How great then is our blessing in Christianity: we have no more conscience of sins; and God Himself has set us apart to be for Him, through the death of Christ. The former blessing comes through the shedding of Jesus' blood the latter by the offering of His body.
The work, and consequences of the work of Christ, are in marked contrast to what the priests in Israel wrought and ministered. Every priest stood, but Christ sat down, His was a finished work. Every priest stood daily; but Christ sits down in perpetuity; there is no repetition of the work. Every priest ministered often, but Christ needed only to carry out this ministry once, because His precious blood is infinite and eternal in its efficacy. Every priest ministered often the same sacrifice, but Christ offered the ONE sacrifice of abiding value. The sacrifices of the priests could never take away sins; Christ's sacrifice is indeed a sacrifice for sins. Now, sitting at God's right hand, in the acceptance of the great work He has wrought, Christ, in fulfilment of Psalm 110:1, awaits the time when His enemies are put beneath His feet. Because of this great work, Christ has given us, the sanctified company, a perfection that can never be lost. He sits down in perpetuity we are perfected in perpetuity. We are completely rid of our sins by the wonderful and glorious sacrifice of Christ!
If Israel under law could not know this wonderful blessing the Holy Spirit had nevertheless witnessed concerning it in the Old Testament. In Jeremiah 31:33-34, the Holy Spirit foretold through the Prophet the blessings of the New Covenant. Those blessed under this covenant, which depends entirely upon the goodness of God, will have His laws in their hearts and minds; and He will never again remember their sins and iniquities. Every sin, every iniquity, is remembered at the cross, where God deals with them all in the death of His Son: but having fully dealt with them once, having remembered every one then: they are gone in the death of Jesus, and He remembers them NO MORE. Our sins then having been remitted through that ONE sacrifice, what need is there for any other sacrifice for sins? If the poor Roman Catholic knew the meaning of this precious passage of Scripture, he would not want any other sacrifices.
The Priesthood of Christ having been established, the great character of Christ's sacrifice having been brought out in detail, and the results of that sacrifice and its application to us having been clearly unfolded, we are exhorted to enter the Holiest, the very presence of God. How wonderful, that we, once poor sinners, can come before God, where our spirits can range over the vast sphere of Christ's glories, our hearts can rest in His deep perfections: and we can give to our God the praise and worship that give Him pleasure. At all times, whether individually or in the assembly, though our feet are touching this barren wilderness, our spirits can be in the presence of God; and this is the Holiest. There we can learn, in God's own company, the meaning of the gold and acacia wood, and of the variegated colours of the sanctuary; and understand something of the deep significance of the furniture and vessels which speak of Christ to our hearts.
Our approach to God is by the blood of Jesus, in the boldness produced by "no more conscience of sins: not in the old way of Judaism, in which there was no real approach, but in the new way of Christianity, where everything lives in the life of God. This is not down here, but within the veil, in the immediate presence of God: and in order that we might have part in that living system, the Word became flesh, and in death secured our title to enter there. In resurrection He is our "Great Priest," and with Him we can enter within the veil. But the heart must be true; we could not be in God's presence with a wrong thought or feeling, or in ignorance of the God revealed in Jesus. We might be before Him as suppliants if ignorant of the true character of God made known in the cross; but the full assurance of faith is produced by the heart resting in what He is thus, and in knowing that God delights to have us in His presence. God, too, has given us the suited state for His presence: like the priests of old we have been sprinkled and washed: our hearts have been sprinkled by the blood of Jesus, and the word has morally purified us, removing the defilement of our old state.
Approach is our present portion, but soon we shall be for ever in God's presence: this is our hope. Therefore are we exhorted to hold fast the confession of the hope unwavering, realising that God will soon fulfil His promise, and bring us into His rest. But we are also to think of each other, and to regulate our conduct in the light of the approaching day. Apostasy will receive a fearful judgment, for some, having embraced Christianity, gave it up and returned to Judaism, thereby insulting the Spirit of grace, and treading on the Son of God, and treating Christ's blood a common thing.
In the earlier days the Hebrew Christians had suffered much for Christ: but they were in danger of slackening and drawing back. They required endurance, so that they might continue to do God's will. It would be but a very little while to Christ's coming. and faith would keep them going on till the end.
Hebrews 11. The just live by faith, and it is by faith the soul is saved; so faith has a very important place in the life of the Christian, therefore does the Spirit of God deal with it at some length in this chapter, pressing its importance in an epistle that views the Christian passing through the wilderness. Faith lays hold on God, and manifests itself in obedience to His will: counting upon Him to fulfil His promises, and displaying an energy that overcomes every obstacle. Two of faith's main features are brought before us in the opening verse of this chapter: it gives the present substance of what is actually in prospect, and brings the reality of what is spiritual and heavenly into the soul. Faith brings to us now the light of the world to come, and the understanding of what exists now in relation to God and His Christ in heaven. In the power of this faith, the elders have obtained testimony; for they laid hold by faith on what lay ahead, and on what lay outside the natural vision. It is by faith too that we apprehend how the creation came into being. We refuse all the theories and speculations of men, for they cannot take account of what lies outside the natural senses; we know by faith that all sprung into existence by the word of God; "He spake, and it was done."
Abel's faith discerned the need for a sacrifice of blood, which was more excellent than Cain's, the fruit of a cursed earth; for which he received God's approbation, and in which he speaks even until now. He witnesses to the Gospel of God, in telling us, in his sacrifice, that if we desire to be accepted of Him we must present a spotless victim, whose excellency is pleasurable to God. Enoch, the man who pleased God, was taken up to heaven without seeing death: his faith recording that God is able to set death aside. Here then are two men who pleased God; one by the character of his sacrifice, the other by his walk; both evincing the faith that delights the heart of God. Those who approach God, must approach in faith: believing in a living God, altogether interested in us, and rewarding those who believing in Him, seek Him out. If Enoch's faith tells us that God is able to set death aside, Noe's instructs us in the truth of salvation from judgment. Hearing God's word, and believing it, Noah builds the ark for the salvation of his house: an act which condemned the world in his acceptance of God's verdict that it must be destroyed. This faith made him an heir of righteousness.
In Abraham we have the obedience of faith, in relation to the calling and inheritance of God; and the faith that makes the called a stranger and sojourner here, while awaiting the heavenly city that God builds. Sarah's faith laid hold on the divine promise, and it gave her strength to accomplish what was contrary to nature.
Having lived by faith, the heirs of God's promise died in faith but their lives were lived in the power of what had been promised. The promises were not realised in this life, for they really belonged to the world to come, where God has given them a better, heavenly country, and has prepared for them a heavenly city. Our present life is therefore in strangership here, not dwelling on the earth, but sojourning not having our hearts and minds in the world we have left behind, but seeking what is heavenly, knowing that God is not ashamed to be called the God of such a heavenly-minded people.
Abraham's faith rested in the God of resurrection, so that when tested, he offered up his only begotten son. He knew that God's promises were connected with Isaac, and therefore that God would raise him if he were put to death; and indeed, he received him back as from the dead. Isaac's faith comes out in his taking account of the future, when blessing his sons, for faith is the substantiating of things hoped for. Jacob's faith shines brightly when he is about to depart this life, blessing Joseph's sons in the light of God's purpose, worshipping in dependence, and manifesting until the end his pilgrim character. Like his father's, Joseph's faith comes out brightly in his death: in giving commandment concerning his bones, he manifested his faith in God's word about the exodus of Israel from Egypt, about the promises of God in regard to the land, and in the God of resurrection.
The faith of Moses' parents discerned that their child was fair to God; they therefore hid him, not being afraid of the command of Pharaoh. Moses' faith was manifested when he had reached the height of fame in Egypt. It was then he refused the attractions of the world, and chose to share the afflictions of God's suffering people rather than have sin's temporary pleasure. With his eye on the distant future, the outside place that Christ had was of much greater value to him than Egypt's treasures. But with Moses, faith was not only the substantiating of things hoped for, it was also the conviction of things invisible, therefore he left Egypt and all connected with it, because his eye was on the unseen, living God. The faith evinced in the keeping of the Passover that Israel's firstborn might be preserved, God here attributes to Moses.
Israel's faith comes out in their crossing the Red Sea; the Egyptians, taking this path without faith, find it the way of death. At Jericho, its great and high walls are no barrier to faith: nor is nationality a consideration to Rahab, with whom God and His interests were supreme. Names of renown in the Old Testament shine with the lustre of faith in this divine record; and many, whose names are not recorded have displayed faith in its manifold features and energies. These are not yet made perfect, but shall be, when God, who has given us a very special portion in association with Christ, calls us to our heavenly part.
Hebrews 12. The great cloud of Old Testament witnesses have exhibited to us the working of faith in the soul; therefore are we exhorted to lay aside everything that would hinder us in the race towards the glory. Weights are doubtless the unnecessary burdens we shoulder connected with things down here; the sin that so easily entangles is unbelief. Endurance is called for, as the race lasts all the time we are here; but the eye is to rest on Jesus, Who has been in the course before us, the Leader, and Who has completed the course. To reach the heavenly goal, the cross lay in the path of the Lord Jesus; but with His eye on what lay ahead, His place at God's right hand. He endured all the judgment of the cross, and despised its shame. Now He has entered into that which was before Him; His is the fulness of joy, and the pleasures for evermore, at God's right hand. And this is our portion after the race is over; the fulness of joy, and the eternal pleasures.
Lest we should become weary of the way, we are to consider well the path of the blessed Lord. He is a wonderful object for us, and a perfect pattern. There are trials in the way, but let us think of what the Son of God had to endure from sinners in His path through this world. Whatever we may have gone through, we have not yet withstood in the conflict of good against evil unto the death. This the Lord Jesus did! It is one aspect of His death. Hebrews 9 and 10 give His vicarious death; here it is His death as a Martyr.
Much of what we have to pass through here is from the hand of the Father in discipline. This purifying work of God we should not despise, nor faint under; for it is the proof of the Father's love. Chastening helps us to endure, and is also the proof of the relationship in which we stand to God as His sons; the absence of it should make us feel that God is not interested in us. Earthly fathers chasten and receive reverence, should we not submit to the wise chastening of God Who desires through it to make us truly enjoy life? His chastening is for real and lasting profit, to make us partake of His holiness; and if there is grief, for chastening is not joyful, it is to bring exercise, which yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. There are therefore four attitudes to chastening here: we may despise it by treating it of no account; we may faint under it as feeling it is too much for us to bear; we may be rebellious and refuse to submit to it; we may be exercised about it and get great gain for our souls.
It is a time for the strengthening of the hands for God's service, and for walking in the right paths of the Lord; for our attitude and actions may have a detrimental or beneficial effect on others. Peace should mark all our steps, but holiness must be with it; and we are to be watchful lest any form of evil affects us. Grace, not law, is ours; the root of bitterness springs from the flesh profanity despises the inheritance. Finding no place for repentance (such a thing did not appeal to him) Esau, having despised the birthright, did not get the blessing. This was God's government.
Christianity is in marked contrast with Judaism. The latter is a tangible system, where all relates to man in the flesh; where there is ever the threat of divine judgment where the truth is not clear, and God remains unrevealed where there is neither rest nor peace for the heart; where man is constantly under judicial command and legal demand; and where man is utterly unable to answer to all required of him. Nor is there relief for the groaning creation under the law; indeed, the beast that came in contact with it shared the judgment of those under it. Even Moses, the man who knew God as no other in that day, confessed his trepidation in the presence of God as the giver of the law.
The divine system to which we have come in the faith of our souls is marked by grace. Mount Zion speaks of royal grace, in which we have our part now, and in which Israel shall rejoice under the new covenant. We have also come to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, anticipating that great day when the church, the living centre from which God will administer the world to come, reflects the living and divine rays of His heavenly beneficence to the confines of the vast universe. The earthly Jerusalem has been the witness of God's righteous judgments; the heavenly will witness His righteous grace in the display of His glory. Already we can behold the universal gathering of the myriads of angels. These great beings, who have carried out so many missions for God, and are even now SENT FORTH to minister to the heirs of salvation: that mission accomplished, they shall join the great throng in heaven, surrounding the Lamb. We also learn now the privileged place of the church as the "assembly of the firstborn enregistered in heaven." There will be many families in the heavens and on the earth, all named of the Father, but the church has a peculiar place among these families; it has the firstborn's place, the place of peculiar privilege and distinction. As enregistered in heaven we are the freemen of that glorious place; having liberty for praising and worshipping in the nearest possible place to God, ever delighting in Him. So that, if the church as the Heavenly Jerusalem speaks of our place outside in the glory, the church of the firstborn tells of our part within the Father's House. In that world God is the moral governor of the universe, maintaining His rights in the wide creation, ordering the vast scene for His own pleasure. What a contrast to the present time, when God is not acting publicly, but in mystery. There, the Old Testament saints will have their glorified bodies: the spirits of the just men are thus made perfect. Jesus, who has been the means, through His death, of bringing this wonderful system into existence, retains His precious and sweet Name that we have learned down here. It is the name of Jesus that will fill with fragrance that world to come; it is the blood of Jesus upon which it is founded. Abel's blood cried for vengeance; the blood of Jesus speaks of richest, eternal blessing.
This then is the glorious system of divine grace; and it is a very solemn thing to refuse the voice of grace in which God now speaks. Those who carelessly disregarded the words of Sinai came in for judgment; what then shall befall those who refuse the tender accents of grace, spoken by God from heaven. At Sinai, the voice of God shook the earth: but soon God is going to shake the whole universe. All connected with man in the flesh is drawing to a close, its days are numbered; and only what belongs to God in the working of His grace is to remain. In grace we have our part in the Father's heavenly kingdom; so that it becomes us, with thankful hearts, to serve God now with becoming respect and reverential fear; ever remembering that our God is a consuming fire, utterly removing in judgment everything inconsistent with His holy nature.
Hebrews 13. Brotherly love and hospitality are to mark us, like the saints of old; and we are to have in sympathetic remembrance those suffering for Christ's sake. We are to be marked by purity and the absence of covetousness, relying on God, who will not leave or forsake us, but will ever be our helper.
Those who had formerly led them in right paths, but who were now with Christ, the saints were to remember. They were true leaders, for they brought Gods word before them, not the reasonings and thoughts of men. Their conduct was in consonance with their word, therefore were the saints told to consider the issue of their manner of life. Such conduct was produced by a faith that might well be imitated. So that a true leader is marked by a ministry of God's word a walk consistent with the truth, and by living faith in God. But the leaders spoken of had gone, yet Christ remained, the unfailing resource of His saints at all times. Jesus Christ remains ever with us when the godly leaders go: and He is THE SAME yesterday, and today, and for ever. When the true leaders are gone, the enemy endeavours to bring in the various and strange doctrines contrary to the word of God which had been ministered. Therefore are the saints warned against them. Here, Judaizing doctrines were evidently before the apostle's mind; doctrines inconsistent with the truth of grace.
The doctrines of the law could bring no profit to a Christian, for they had brought none to the Jew. Moreover Christians have an altar of which they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle. The sin offering therefore witnessed a communion in which the Jews, even in their highest class, the priests had no part. But it is in relation to the death of Christ that our communion consists: it is the fellowship of His body and His blood. The blood of the sin offering, on the day of atonement, went into the Holiest, where our communion with God is: we have boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus. The body of this sin offering was burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus, the true sin offering, to set us apart by His blood, suffered, without the gate. Our place is therefore outside with Jesus: outside the system that put Him to death. It is to Him that we go, to bear His reproach. And if we are to he apart from the camp of Judaism, the system of religion for man in the flesh: is it not our privilege and responsibility to be apart from every religion that belongs to man in the flesh, apart from all the sects and systems of Christendom which imitate the Jewish camp? Our city, where our fellowship, our treasures, and our joys are found, is not here, but in the world to come.
While awaiting that abiding city, we are to be marked by the continual sacrificing of praise to God, confessing the Name of Jesus. There are also material sacrifices as well as spiritual; we are to do good and use our substance for meeting the needs of others. Those who lead are to be obeyed, for they are genuinely interested in the well-being of the saints, as having to answer to God for their service. As seeking to walk under God's eye, the writer, evidently Paul, can ask for their prayers: and especially that he might be restored soon to them.
Closing the epistle, the writer invokes the blessing of the God of peace, the God of resurrection, who brought the Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, out from among the dead, in the power of the blood of the ever-lasting covenant. The efficacy of the Lord's work abides eternally: and He gathers in power the sheep of His pasture, as coming out of the domain of death. In the midst of all their distresses the saints can look to the God of peace, the One Who cannot be disturbed by all the evil of the world. He is able to perfect us in the doing of His will through His own working within our hearts. This work within, so pleasing to God, is through Jesus Christ, the true Mediator, to whom glory is ascribed for the ages of ages. Timothy had evidently been imprisoned for Jesus' sake, but was now at liberty: and the writer hoped to see the saints along with Timothy. (This coupling of himself with Timothy is a very strong indication that Paul is the writer). This is the third time that the leaders are mentioned in the chapter; they are to be saluted, and all the saints. Happy are the saints when they have leaders of the character spoken of here; even as in the opening words of the song of Deborah, "For that leaders led in Israel, For that the people willingly offered themselves" (N.T.)
Finally, there is the salutation from those of Italy; saints greeting saints; and the invocation of grace to which God has called us..