Vv 1-3: Jesus the perfect pattern. With the glorious history
of the faithful in mind, our author turns now to his readers. The standard of
faith has been set by the record of God's faithful people in the past, who moved
out into the unknown with confidence and who endured hardship without giving up
their expectation of a future fulfillment of the promise. But the author now
comes to the supreme example of this kind of faith in Jesus -- the name that
must be the climax of any list of paragons of faith. Jesus himself endured great
suffering without losing sight of the glory that was to come. The readers,
together with believers of every age, are called to walk in the steps of faith
that characterized the saints of the past and the one who has now been made
Lord. Only such an attitude of faith can sustain them during the adversities
they may be called to face.
THEREFORE, SINCE WE ARE SURROUNDED BY SUCH A GREAT CLOUD OF
WITNESSES...: The exhortation now to be given is based on the reality
expounded in Heb 11. The community of faith is such that it figuratively
surrounds us like a great cloud. The word "cloud" (Gr "nephos") is used commonly
in Greek literature to indicate a "host" or "company". "Witnesses" here (Gr
"martus") does not mean observers, but rather those who testify or give evidence
of the victorious life of faith. They show that it is possible to live by faith.
Motivated by the preceding catalogue of examples, the readers are themselves to
live the life of faith.
A GREAT CLOUD OF WITNESSES: At the Greek sports
festivals the foremost seats were occupied by the heroes of former contests
LET US THROW OFF: Not "lay aside" (AV), which is too
weak -- but rather "fling off", "rid yourselves of".
LET US THROW OFF EVERYTHING THAT HINDERS: "Let us lay
aside every weight" (AV). "What are weights? Strangely enough a weight is not a
burden. A burden is some adversity which we have to bear and cannot shed -- for
our own sake or someone else's. A weight is some hindrance which impedes our
spiritual progress which we could shed if we like, but which for some reason or
another we do not. It would not be right to think that weights are always some
form of adversity. Indeed there are some kinds of adversity which in the long
run have proved to be blessings, because they have a chastening effect upon the
"Sometimes weights could never be recognised as adversity
because they are so nice. Chastening is sent by God but God does not send
weights. God does not hinder people who want to progress in their pilgrimage to
His kingdom. A weight is a hindrance -- an impediment. It slows down the
progress, it puts the brakes on, it makes the road go uphill when it need not.
Weights are bad if you mean business about making progress. An unnecessary
encumbrance, best cast off but often retained because we want the best of both
"An honest examination of a disciple's life would unmask the
things which ought to be known for what they are and the weights would come out
of hiding ready to be recognised and repudiated. Sometimes our hindrances are
self-made -- an indulgence which gives us particular pleasure but which has the
effect of lowering the standard; some association which robs us of enthusiasm
for the Truth; some enterprise which would make us ashamed if the truth were
known. These forces are self-chosen and we cannot blame others or other things
for our own wilfulness. On the other hand some hindrances are almost wholly
circumstantial. Some disciples' work: they were pushed into it when they were
young and they have never been able to escape. A disciple's marriage: it started
right but deteriorated. A disciple's education: it was of the wrong kind and
developed tendencies which hinder and drag down in the search for the right way.
"Sometimes hindrances are in themselves good things but
because they are wrongly used become weights. Invested with too much power or
conceded too much authority they hold back and distract. Money is not evil.
Pleasure is not wrong. Business is not sinful. Friendship is not harmful.
Education is no snare. Yet all these are reasons why sometime people fail and
falter on the road to the kingdom. Sometimes the good is the enemy of the best.
When the man found the pearl of great price he had to sell his other good pearls
to get the best. In a way the good almost becomes evil when it keeps us from
something better. Indeed it may be one thing only. It seems unfair: a good life
hindered by one thing. The trouble is that very often it is the one thing that
THE SIN THAT SO EASILY ENTANGLES: Which sin is this?
The whole of the previous ch suggests the answer: "Lack of faith". It is the
worst sin of all, for it makes forgiveness for all the other sins
THAT SO EASILY ENTANGLES: "Close-girding" (Diag).
LET US FIX OUR EYES ON JESUS, THE AUTHOR AND PERFECTER OF
OUR FAITH: An even more significant example of the life of faith is to be
found in Jesus, now described as the "author" (or "pioneer": RSV) and
"perfecter" of our faith. The word for "pioneer" -- "archegos" -- is the sw used
in Heb 2:10 ("author," or "originator," of salvation: cp Acts 3:15). Is there a
sense in which Jesus can be described as the "originator" of faith? Like Paul
(Gal 3:23-26; cp John 1:17), our author believes that the people of God could
indeed have lived by faith in past generations, but that in a fundamental sense
the possibility -- or at least the validity -- of faith in any era depended and
depends upon the work of Christ. That is, because Christ is so central both to
the promise and to the fulfillment, because he brings into existence the
hoped–for consummation (and is therefore the "perfecter" -- Gr
"teleiotes", the "finisher" -- of faith), he is also the "originator" or
"founder" of faith. As "perfecter" of faith, he brings it to its intended goal.
Thus, whether one talks about faith as a possibility or as the experience of
fulfillment, all depends upon Jesus. For this reason, Christians must keep
looking away from this world to him. He is not only the basis, means, and
fulfillment of faith, but in his life he also exemplifies the same principle of
faith that were seen in the "witnesses" of Heb 11.
WHO FOR THE JOY SET BEFORE HIM ENDURED THE CROSS, SCORNING
ITS SHAME: So by faith he set his mind on the future joy, which was
perfectly sure, and assessing present circumstances in light of the glorious
future, he was able to endure all things (Phi 2:8). Crucifixion was one of the
most despicable forms of death in the Roman world. Roman citizens were
automatically protected against this form of capital punishment, which was
thought suitable only for barbarians. Jesus disregarded totally the shame
attached to this brutal mode of execution.
AND SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF THE THRONE OF GOD:
That future joy is already his in a preliminary way, for he has been enthroned
at God's right hand in heaven. This description of Christ in the language of Psa
110:1 alludes throughout the book to the completeness of his work (cp Heb
10:11-14; cp Heb 1:3; Acts 7:55,56).
CONSIDER HIM WHO ENDURED SUCH OPPOSITION FROM SINFUL MEN,
SO THAT YOU WILL NOT GROW WEARY AND LOSE HEART: The readers are encouraged
to consider carefully (or "analyze") Jesus as the one who suffered, who endured
such "hostility" ("opposition" in Diag; or abuse, derision: Mat 27:39; cp Psa
22:7,8) from wicked men. In this sense Jesus is a model of all the suffering of
the righteous at the hands of the enemies of God. Consideration of what Jesus
endured will prevent the readers from growing weary and losing heart. Following
Jesus as their model, they can endure the most trying of circumstances (cp
exhortations, Heb 3:12; 4:1; 6:4-6; 10:26-35).
Vv 4-11: The purpose of chastening. Suffering, far from being
a contradiction of the believer's status, as the world is inclined to think, is
actually a mark of his or her true status. Suffering is necessarily involved in
being a child of God and is not a contradiction of God's love.
IN YOUR STRUGGLE AGAINST SIN, YOU HAVE NOT YET RESISTED TO
THE POINT OF SHEDDING YOUR BLOOD: Struggle against sin here is not so much
the battle of the believer to keep from sinning, in general, as it is
specifically the struggle to avoid apostatizing, or leaving the Truth
altogether. There have indeed been difficult times in the past (cp Heb
10:32–34), and perhaps also in the present, but resistance for the readers
has not yet come to the point of sacrificing their lives. In that regard they
have not equaled the suffering of Jesus, the supreme example of faith who went
to the cross and paid the ultimate price (vv 2,3).
RESISTED: The Gr is "antagonizo" (cp the Engl
"antagonist"), and may suggest a boxing match (as in 1Co 9:24-27; this goes
along with the Olympic "race" alluded to in Heb 12:1). They had not even "drawn
blood" -- they were too defensive: they were "circling" and "defending" rather
YOU HAVE NOT YET RESISTED TO THE POINT OF SHEDDING YOUR
BLOOD: Perh an allusion to Jesus in Gethsemane, sweating as it were drops of
blood (Luk 22:44)?
Vv 5,6: They need to remember again that word of "exhortation"
("paraklesis") which speaks of the advantage of those who are children of God.
The quotation is from Pro 3:11,12. What is in view in the present context is a
positive kind of discipline that trains a person in obedience. This is the way
they are to perceive the adversity they are experiencing: it is a mark of the
Lord's love (cp Rev 3:19), on the one hand, and of their sonship, on the other.
They are therefore not to "lose heart" (cp v 3), or be discouraged and fall away
from the Truth.
"As this chastening is by means of evil, it follows that
circumstances of an utterly vexatious and apparently fortuitous character may be
of God, though His voice and hand may be unmanifest, and worse -- hid in storm.
We shall not in all things be able to read present experience aright till we can
look upon it from the serene atmosphere of the Kingdom of God" (WP 272).
"It is no sign that a man is deserted of God that he falls
into trouble; all depends upon the nature and effect of trouble and the attitude
of the man. It is no sign that a man is favoured of God that he prospers like a
green bay tree [Psa 37:35]; it all depends upon how the prosperity is employed,
and what the man's mental state may be. In these things we must intelligently
discriminate in the light of the fact that God taketh pleasure in them that fear
Him, and hath chosen him that is godly for Himself; and that His regard for such
may sometimes allow of prosperity while it sometimes calls for the chastening
rod. We must judge all cases from the point of view of the kingdom of God. If we
are guided there, no adversity is too bitter that may have prepared us" (WP
ENDURE HARDSHIP: "Hupomeno" is the same verb used in vv
2,3 in describing Jesus' endurance of the cross. The readers are thus called to
endure as he endured (cp Heb 10:36). Sw Mat 24:13: "But he who stands firm to
the end will be saved."
DISCIPLINE... DISCIPLINED: " 'Paideuo' primarily
denotes 'to train children', suggesting the broad idea of education ('pais', 'a
child'), Act 7:22; 22:3; see also Tit 2:12, 'instructing' (RV), here of a
training gracious and firm... hence, 'to chastise', this being part of the
training, whether (a) by correcting with words, reproving, and admonishing, 1Ti
1:20 (RV, 'be taught'); 2Ti 2:25, or (b) by 'chastening' by the infliction of
evils and calamities, 1Co 11:32; 2Co 6:9; Heb 12:6,7,10; Rev 3:19" (Vine). The
root word occurs several times, as both a verb and a noun in vv 7,8
IF YOU ARE NOT DISCIPLINED (AND EVERYONE UNDERGOES
DISCIPLINE), THEN YOU ARE ILLEGITIMATE CHILDREN AND NOT TRUE SONS: True sons
were disciplined by their fathers in order to become worthy heirs; illegitimate
children (Gr "nothos", which occurs only here in the NT) were not able to
inherit and thus were not worth the trouble of such training. Thus those who
suffer discipline have established not only their true sonship but also their
status as heirs.
MOREOVER, WE HAVE ALL HAD HUMAN FATHERS WHO DISCIPLINED US
AND WE RESPECTED THEM FOR IT: That is, we accepted the discipline without
questioning either the authority of our literal parent or our status as
HOW MUCH MORE SHOULD WE SUBMIT TO THE FATHER OF OUR SPIRITS
AND LIVE!: Then, the writer reasons from the lesser to the greater, we
should submit to our Heavenly Father -- "The Father of spirits" -- our creator,
to whom we owe our existence in an ultimate sense.
"Father of spirits" is similar to "the God of the spirits of
all mankind" in Num 16:22; 27:16. He is the one who "begets" us spiritually,
thru His Word (cp John 1:18; 1Pe 1:23).
The analogy between human fathers and the "heavenly Father" is
found several times in the teaching of Jesus (eg, Mat 7:9-11; 21:28-31; Luke
"Our Father in heaven" (Mat 6:9); "Father of glory" or
"glorious Father" (Eph 1:17); "Father of compassion" (2Co 1:3); "Father of
spirits" (Heb 12:9); "Father of the heavenly lights" (Jam 1:17); "a Father to
you" (2Co 6:18); "the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom 15:6).
OUR FATHERS DISCIPLINED US FOR A LITTLE WHILE AS THEY
THOUGHT BEST; BUT GOD DISCIPLINES US FOR OUR GOOD: As we are submissive to
his discipline we will begin to live the life of the age to come (cp 1Co 11:32).
The contrast contained in v 10 makes a similar point. We should be even more
receptive to God's disciplining than we were to our that of our human fathers.
They disciplined us "a few days"), that is, during our childhood, as they --
with their limited knowledge and experience -- thought best. The implication is
that God disciplines us throughout our life and in accordance with his own
absolute knowledge of what is good for us eternally. Cp Acts 14:22: "We must go
through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God."
THAT WE MAY SHARE IN HIS HOLINESS: In actuality our
character is being formed by the experience of suffering. We are being purified
and made to share the holiness of God, especially as revealed in his Son (cp Rom
8:29). By connecting suffering with holiness our author sanctifies suffering as
something that has a very special purpose in the life of the believer.
NO DISCIPLINE SEEMS PLEASANT AT THE TIME, BUT PAINFUL:
The author readily admits that, while it is being experienced, the discipline of
suffering seems to produce sorrow rather than joy. He makes no attempt to deny
the reality of discipline.
LATER ON, HOWEVER, IT PRODUCES A HARVEST OF RIGHTEOUSNESS
AND PEACE FOR THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN TRAINED BY IT: Yet with the perspective of
time the true purpose of such suffering will make itself plain, for those who
have suffered will receive "the peaceful fruit of righteousness" (RSV).
Righteousness, then, is the portion of those who accept the discipline of
suffering from their Father's hand. The point of this verse is the same as that
of 2Co 4:17, where Paul writes: "For our light and momentary troubles are
achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all" (cp the closely
related emphasis of 1Pe 1:6,7; 4:12-14).
The analogy of planting and a harvest is used also in Psa
126:5,6: "Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out
weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves
with him." The circumstance is a time of famine and danger, where food needs to
be hoarded and carefully preserved; but the man or woman of faith knows that
some of the seed must be planted, or there will be no harvest and no food for
the next year. And thus the lesson is taught, that we must, at times, "spend"
ourselves in the service of God, trusting in the future blessing that He has
promised for us!
LATER ON: "Afterwards" (KJV). "How happy are tried
Christians, afterwards. No calm more deep than that which succeeds a storm. Who
has not rejoiced in clear shinings after rain? Victorious banquets are for
well-exercised soldiers. After killing the lion we eat the honey... Our sorrows,
like the passing keels of the vessels upon the sea, leave a silver line of holy
light behind them 'afterwards'... See, then, the happy estate of a Christian! He
has his best things last, and he therefore in this world receives his worst
things first. But even his worst things are 'afterward' good things, harsh
ploughings yielding joyful harvests. Even now he grows rich by his losses, he
rises by his falls, he lives by dying, and becomes full by being emptied; if,
then, his grievous afflictions yield him so much peaceable fruit in this life,
what shall be the full vintage of joy 'afterwards'? If his dark nights are as
bright as the world's days, what shall his days be? If even his starlight is
more splendid than the sun, what must his sunlight be? If he can sing in a
dungeon, how sweetly will he sing in God's Kingdom! If he can praise the Lord in
the fires, how will he extol Him before the eternal throne! If evil be good to
him now, what will the overflowing goodness of God be to him then? Oh, blessed
'afterward'! Who would not be a Christian? Who would not bear the present cross
for the crown which cometh afterwards? But herein is work for patience, for the
rest is not for today, nor the triumph for the present, but 'afterward' " (CHS).
A HARVEST OF... PEACE: Cit Isa 53:5: "the punishment
that brought us peace".
TRAINED: With the word "gymnazo", the author returns to
the athletic games for his imagery, thus ending the passage with language from
the same source as that used in vv 1,4.
Vv 12-29: Warning against refusing God's offer.
Vv 12-17: A challenge to holiness and faithfulness. In the
light of the positive view of suffering set forth in the preceding section, the
author now again gives a pastoral exhortation to his readers. They are to get on
with the business of living the Christian life and to resist the temptation to
return to their former ways, though such a retreat may appear to be less
troublesome. A negative example, Esau, is provided as a further warning to the
readers. This exhortation has much in common with preceding ones (eg,
2:1–3; 4:1–2; 6:1–6; 10:32–36), but if anything, it
carries even more persuasive power because of the material surveyed in Heb 11
and the argument of Heb 12:1–11.
Vv 12,13: The unusual imagery is drawn from the LXX of Isa
35:3, where the context speaks of a Last Days fulfillment, and the following
sentence reads: "Tell everyone who is discouraged, 'Be strong and don't be
afraid.' " The exhortation of this verse, as the context in Isaiah indicates, is
thus very pertinent to the condition of the readers. The thrust of the
exhortation to strengthen your feeble (or "drooping": RSV, NEB) "hands" and weak
knees is that the readers should take heart and thereby receive strength to face
their difficult circumstances.
The opening words of v 13 are drawn from the LXX of Pro 4:26:
"Make level paths for your feet", where the parallel line is "order your ways
aright." "Disabled" is literally "turned aside," probably in the sense of
"dislocated" (cp RSV: "put out of joint"). Thus, if the readers make their paths
straight, living in a way that is pleasing to God, what is lame and painful will
be healed, rather than aggravated.
MAKE LEVEL PATHS FOR YOUR FEET: "Straight paths" call
to mind the figure of the Cherubim-Chariot of Yahweh, whose "legs were straight"
(Eze 1:7), and who "went straight ahead" (Eze 1:9) -- which itself suggests the
sureness of God's purposes.
MAKE EVERY EFFORT TO LIVE IN PEACE WITH ALL MEN AND TO BE
HOLY: The language "pursue peace" stems from Psa 34:14 and is found also in
Rom 14:19 and 1Pe 3:11 (cp Heb 12:18; 2Co 13:11; 2Ti 2:22; 1Th 5:13). The
exhortation to holiness, of course, is common in the NT. Holiness (cp v 10 here)
is set forth as an essential requirement of the Christian particularly in 1Pe
1:15: "Just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do," words that
are followed by a quotation from Lev 11:44,45; 19:2. See also Mat 5:48. If we
remember that suffering and holiness are connected, the one producing the other,
we may see the present exhortation as relevant to the readers.
WITHOUT HOLINESS NO ONE WILL SEE THE LORD: To "see the
Lord" suggests the end of the age. "But we know that when he appears, we shall
be like him, for we shall see him as he is" (1Jo 3:2). It is worth noting that
in two successive beatitudes Jesus refers to "the pure in heart" who will "see
God" and the peacemakers who will be called "sons of God" (Mat 5:8,9).
SEE TO IT THAT NO ONE MISSES THE GRACE OF GOD AND THAT NO
BITTER ROOT GROWS UP TO CAUSE TROUBLE AND DEFILE MANY: The continuing
exhortation -- not to fall away or apostasize from the Faith -- is restated in
the language of Deu 29:18 about a bitter root that can grow and defile others
around it. The appropriateness of the allusion is plain from Deu 29:19: "When
such a person hears the words of this oath, he invokes a blessing on himself and
therefore thinks, 'I will be safe, even though I persist in going my own way.'
This will bring disaster on the watered land as well as the dry" -- ie, upon the
good as well as the evil! The lapse of one member (or more) of the community
will have its inevitable effect on others and is therefore to be prevented
insofar as it is possible.
SEE TO IT: Gr "episkopeo" -- the work of an overseer.
Everyone in the ecclesia has the duty of "oversight" of the others, to help and
strengthen and encourage -- so that none may be lost.
SEE THAT NO ONE IS SEXUALLY IMMORAL, OR IS GODLESS LIKE
ESAU, WHO FOR A SINGLE MEAL SOLD HIS INHERITANCE RIGHTS AS THE OLDEST SON:
The reference in the preceding exhortation to the danger of "missing the grace
of God" is now reinforced by the example of Esau. The ecclesia is to attempt to
prevent anyone from becoming like him. Esau is described as "irreligious"
because he traded his "birthright: for a meal of bread and pottage (Gen
25:33,34). In this regard Esau is the antithesis of the exemplars of faith in
Heb 11. He trades off what is unseen and what lies in the future for immediate
gratification in the present (ct Heb 11:21,25,26: Jacob and Moses). He thus
forfeited the inheritance that was his right as the firstborn.
AFTERWARD, AS YOU KNOW, WHEN HE WANTED TO INHERIT THIS
BLESSING, HE WAS REJECTED. HE COULD BRING ABOUT NO CHANGE OF MIND, THOUGH HE
SOUGHT THE BLESSING WITH TEARS: Lit, "he found no way of repentance".
Repentance was not a possibility although he sought it with tears (Gen
27:30-40). This warning concerning Esau's sad plight is reminiscent of the
author's warning to the readers in Heb 6:4-6; 10:26-29) about the impossibility
of repentance for those who abandon the faith.
Esau found no way back from his decision; the readers must
learn from this how serious apostasy is, and not count upon an easy return to
the ecclesia if and when times become more convenient. Indeed, the warnings of
this verse, for us, are clear: (1) We must not choose present advantage and
satisfaction to the detriment of our standing with God; (2) We must never think
lightly of the promises of God; (3) For there is no guarantee, for any believer,
of ultimate salvation -- apostasy is always a possibility!
Vv 18-24: The glory of the believer's present status. The
author presents a vivid contrast between Mount Sinai and Mount Zion, between the
essential character of the old and new covenants. What they are presently
tempted to return to, their former Judaism, pales significantly in the
comparison (cp 2Co 3:4-18). Those who have been to Mount Zion can never
contemplate a return to Mount Sinai.
YOU HAVE NOT COME TO A MOUNTAIN THAT CAN BE TOUCHED AND
THAT IS BURNING WITH FIRE; TO DARKNESS, GLOOM AND STORM: The vocabulary of
this and the following verse is drawn to a large extent from the LXX accounts of
Moses on Sinai (esp Deu 4:11; 5:22-25; Exo 19:12-19). The allusion cannot have
been missed by the original readers. The manifestations of God's presence on
Sinai were tangible, that is, they could be experienced by the senses (altho, it
must be added, to "touch" the mountain brought death: v 20). The fire, darkness,
gloom, and storm made a vivid impression on the Israelites.
TO A TRUMPET BLAST OR TO SUCH A VOICE SPEAKING WORDS THAT
THOSE WHO HEARD IT BEGGED THAT NO FURTHER WORD BE SPOKEN TO THEM: According
to Exo 20:19, the people indicated to Moses their fear of God's voice. "Speak to
us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die."
This same fear is also recorded in Deu 5:25: "We will die if we hear the voice
of the LORD our God any longer."
BECAUSE THEY COULD NOT BEAR WHAT WAS COMMANDED: "IF
EVEN AN ANIMAL TOUCHES THE MOUNTAIN, IT MUST BE STONED": Cp Exo 19:16. It was
not only the actual hearing of God's voice that frightened the Israelites, but
also the stern commands he uttered. Our author provides an example in the
prohibition against touching the holy mountain. The awesome and absolute
holiness of God's presence was unapproachable. Even an animal was to be stoned
if it touched the mountain (the quotation is from Exo 19:13).
THE SIGHT WAS SO TERRIFYING THAT MOSES SAID, "I AM
TREMBLING WITH FEAR": Even Moses was filled with fear at the spectacle of
the theophany at Sinai (as he had been at the burning bush: Exo 3; cp Acts
7:32). The words attributed to him are from Deu 9:19, where, after the rebellion
of the Israelites in the wilderness, Moses says, "I feared the anger and wrath
of the Lord." The author's picture of the giving of the law at Sinai, then, is
one in which fear and the sternness of God's commands predominate. This picture
stands in very great contrast to the picture of the new covenant situation the
author now presents.
Vv 22-25: Brief refs to the many visions of Rev: (a) Mount
Zion = Rev 14:1. (b) Thousands of angels = living creatures in Rev 4:6. (c)
Jerusalem = Rev 21:2. (d) Firstborn = 24 elders (Rev 4:4), Levites and their
orders. (e) Mediator... blood of Abel (v 24) = Lamb slain (Rev 5:5,6,9). (f) Who
warns... from heaven = the Apocalypse itself, the only revelation of Christ
directly from hvn!
BUT YOU HAVE COME TO MOUNT ZION: A mountain of even
greater significance than the mountain alluded to in the preceding verses. Mount
Zion is synonymous with Jerusalem in the OT (eg, 2Sa 5:6; 2KI 19:21; Psa 2:6;
9:11). The man of faith is said to be "born", spiritually, in Mount Zion (Psa
THE HEAVENLY JERUSALEM: The expectation and hope for
the Last Days, referred to in Rev 21:2 (cp Gal 4:26).
HEAVENLY JERUSALEM: Our heavenly calling (Heb 3:1), by
a heavenly Father (Mat 18:35), thru a heavenly word (Joh 3:12), presents to us a
heavenly status (Eph 2:6), as we await a heavenly image (1Co 15:48,49), to be a
heavenly Jerusalem (Heb 12:22), in a heavenly country (Heb 11:16), within a
heavenly kingdom (2Ti 4:18). All this constitutes Christ's bre as a heavenly
people of God!
THE CITY OF THE LIVING GOD: A city already mentioned as
Abraham's true goal (Heb 11:10; cp Heb 11:16). In Heb 13:14 it is written: "we
are looking for the city that is to come."
THOUSANDS UPON THOUSANDS OF ANGELS IN JOYFUL ASSEMBLY:
In Deu 33:2, "myriads of holy ones" are associated with the appearance of the
LORD at Sinai; in Dan 7:10, "ten thousand times ten thousand" serve before the
throne of God. These hosts are also present in the city, the heavenly Jerusalem
(cp the marriage supper of the Lamb, Rev 19:6).
THE CHURCH OF THE FIRSTBORN, WHOSE NAMES ARE WRITTEN IN
HEAVEN: Cp Luke 10:20 (also cp Phi 4:3; Rev 3:5; 13:8; 20:15). The
"firstborn" may allude to Esau, the literal firstborn who forfeited his
inheritance, and to Jacob, to putative firstborn thru faith (cp vv 16,17). As
well, at Sinai there was a nation of "firstborns", Israel, who lost their
birthright thru disobedience (or lack of faith), to be replaced by the ecclesia,
or church, of the "firstborn" (cp Jam 1:17,18; Rev 14:4; Rom 2:29).
GOD, THE JUDGE OF ALL MEN: Cp H eb 2:3; 4:1; 6:8; 9:27;
10:27,30,31; 12:29. Despite the awesome reality of God as judge (cp v 29), they
have no need to be afraid, like the Israelites who were afraid at Sinai even of
God's voice, because through Christ they now are free to approach God even in
his role as judge. With this freedom we may compare the boldness of the
Christian's free access into God's presence through the sacrificial work of
Christ (eg, Heb 4:16; 6:19; 7:25; 10:19-22).
THE SPIRITS OF RIGHTEOUS MEN MADE PERFECT: Cp "the
Father of spirits" in v 9. The "spirit" is used here to distinguish from the
"flesh"; the spiritual life of the believers, as contrasted with the "fleshly"
lives of all men. Nothing here need suggest any disembodied "spirits" or
"immortal souls"! "Made perfect" recalls Heb 11:40: the promise that all men and
women of faith will be granted immortality together, and at the same time -- ie,
when Christ returns.
MADE PERFECT: Spiritually (thru justification), and
morally (thru sanctification), but of course not yet physically (by
JESUS THE MEDIATOR OF A NEW COVENANT: Cp Heb 8:6; 9:15.
This climactic fact is the very basis of all that has been described beginning
in v 22. And the reference to the new covenant here redirects the reader to one
of the author's central arguments (Heb 7:22; 8:6–13; 9:15). See Lesson,
Mediatorship of Christ.
THE SPRINKLED BLOOD: This refers to his sacrificial
work of atonement. This imagery has also been utilized earlier in the
description of the Levitical practice (Heb 9:13-15,19,21), and also once in the
description of the work of Christ (Heb 10:22; cp 1Pe 1:2).
THAT SPEAKS A BETTER WORD THAN THE BLOOD OF ABEL: In
Heb 11:4 the author took note of Abel, writing that "by faith he still speaks,
even though he is dead." Here, again, the reference is to Gen 4:10, where the
blood of Abel "cries out to me from the ground" -- as though for vengeance. This
is the message of the blood of Abel. But the blood of Christ speaks of better
things -- most conspicuously of the forgiveness of sins associated with the
inauguration of the new covenant (Heb 8:12; 10:17,18). Christ's atoning blood
speaks of the end of the old covenant and the establishment of the new. It is
this blood that has brought the readers to the benefits of the new covenant and
to their present glorious status.
Vv 25-29: A final warning concerning rejection. Our author
turns once again to warning his readers not to lapse from their faith and
commitment. This warning, however, is balanced by stress on the security of
those who remain faithful. The options are thus finally put before the readers
with the utmost clarity. If they reject the truth of the gospel they will not
escape judgment. But if they persevere in their faith, they are to know that
they are the recipients of a kingdom that has no end. This passage is
essentially the conclusion of the author's main argument and appeal.
SEE TO IT THAT YOU DO NOT REFUSE HIM WHO SPEAKS. IF THEY
DID NOT ESCAPE WHEN THEY REFUSED HIM WHO WARNED THEM ON EARTH, HOW MUCH LESS
WILL WE, IF WE TURN AWAY FROM HIM WHO WARNS US FROM HEAVEN?: This verse and
the next build upon the contrast drawn between Sinai and Zion in the preceding
passage. The author has presented virtually the same argument several times
already (Heb 2:1f; 4:11f; 10:28f). Arguing from the lesser to the greater... he
points to the obvious and painful reality of the judgment experienced by the
Israelites in their disobedience to the covenant at Sinai and then to the
proportionately greater judgment deserved by those who turn away from the
greater revelation of the new covenant. In the present instance, the Israelites
refused to hear God's voice (cp v 19f), not only literally, but in the sense
that they did not obey his commands (cp Heb 3:17f). It was God's voice they
refused to hear when he spoke to them on earth through his servant Moses (see
Deu 5:4f). And to refuse God's word is to reject God himself. Thus the opening
warning is that the readers not refuse him who speaks. The reference to "him who
warned them on earth" in the events of Sinai just described (vv 18–21)
should probably not be understood as Moses, but as God speaking through Moses.
If, therefore, the readers abandon their faith, they... 'reject' the one (NIV
adds, probably correctly, 'who warns us') from heaven. That is, they refuse
God's word from heaven, the gospel and all that is entailed in the fulfillment
it brings. Our author wrote at the beginning of his letter that 'in these last
days He has spoken to us by His Son' (Heb 1:2). This is the word from heaven
that the readers are tempted to reject. But the greater the light, the more
serious is its rejection. The readers are therefore to see to it that they do
not reject the truth they have received" (NIBC).
AT THAT TIME HIS VOICE SHOOK THE EARTH, BUT NOW HE HAS
PROMISED, "ONCE MORE I WILL SHAKE NOT ONLY THE EARTH BUT ALSO THE HEAVENS":
The Law was first given at Sinai, where the voice of God that then shook the
earth (cp v 19; Exo 19:18; Psa 68:8). "But now" moves forward to the
tnen-present expectation of the fulfillment of God's promises, in the
destruction of all natural, worldly kingdoms and powers, and the inauguration of
His eternal Kingdom with Christ (cp 2Pe 3:10). The quotation is from Hag 2:6 (cp
Hag 2:21): the judgments that will take place in connection with that coming
Kingdom. The future shaking of the heavens has already been mentioned by our
author in his quotation of Psa 102:25-27 in Heb 1:10–12 (cp Mat 24:29),
and more generally in Heb 8:13 (cp Joel 2:30,31; 3:15).
WHAT CANNOT BE SHAKEN MAY REMAIN: We have many things
in our possession at the present moment which can be shaken, and it ill becomes
a believer to set much store by them, for there is nothing stable under the sun;
change is written upon all things. Yet, we may derive real comfort from the
things that cannot be shaken, which will remain. Whatever your losses have been,
or may be, you enjoy present salvation. You are standing at the foot of his
cross, trusting alone in the shed blood of Jesus, and no rise or fall of the
stock markets can interfere with your salvation in him; no breaking of banks, no
failures and bankruptcies can touch that. God is your Father. No change of
circumstances can ever rob you of that. Although by losses brought to poverty,
and stripped bare, you have another permanent blessing, namely, the love of
Jesus Christ. He loves you with all the strength of his affectionate nature --
nothing can affect that. The fig tree may not blossom, and the flocks may cease
from the field, it matters not to the one who can sing, 'My Beloved is mine, and
I am his.' Our best portion and richest heritage we cannot lose. Whatever
troubles come, let us show that we are not such little children as to be cast
down by what may happen in this poor fleeting state of time. Our country is
Immanuel's land, our hope is the coming Kingdom, and therefore, calm as the
untroubled sea of the Apocalypse; we may see the wreck of everything around us,
and yet still rejoice in the God of our salvation.
THEREFORE, SINCE WE ARE RECEIVING A KINGDOM THAT CANNOT BE
SHAKEN, LET US BE THANKFUL, AND SO WORSHIP GOD ACCEPTABLY WITH REVERENCE AND
AWE: Since this kingdom is the result of God's work, it remains secure
through any future shaking of the world. By this thankful frame of mind and the
faithful response that will accompany it, we will "serve" God in a way that
produces reverence and awe.
AND SO WORSHIP GOD ACCEPTABLY: "Every time you spend a
cent, remember this: You are spending God's money, in solemn stewardship. You
have nothing of your own. You are a steward of your Lord's goods. Someday you
will have to give account. Are you a faithful, or a wicked steward? There is no
in-between. Serve God faithfully, and the reward is incalculable. Serve Him
unfaithfully, and the penalty is tragic. You should not be serving with an eye
to either reward or punishment, but in pure rejoicing love that delights to
serve for its own sake. But it is wisdom to keep the consequences in mind. The
unfaithful, self-serving, self-indulging steward will be cast in shame into
outer darkness. And it could not be any other way. That is only right and just
and fair. God's mercy is to those alone who love Him. Do we realize what a
total, all-encompassing, transforming thing this Love is -- and must be?"
FOR OUR "GOD IS A CONSUMING FIRE": Reverence and awe
remain appropriate words even for the worship and service of the Christian, for
God is "the judge of all" (cp v 23); and in the Last Days judgment, he is a
consuming fire (cp Heb 10:30,31). This description of God is a quotation from
Deu 4:24 (cp Deu 9:9), where Moses is exhorting the people to faithfulness to
the covenant. (The figure of the cherubim in Eze 1:4,13 also suggests this
aspect of consuming fire.) God remains the same despite the new circumstances of
the new covenant. In light of all this, the readers are to be thankful for what
is theirs in Christ and to put out of mind all thoughts of lapsing from their
faith back to their former way of life.