Saturday, August 04, 2018

Reading Through Hebrews #1, (1.1-4.13)

cornerstone tim to hebI am continuing my devotional read through of the New Testament. I am reading  the anonymous letter to “the Hebrews accompanied by The Cornerstone Biblical Commentary. The Hebrews commentary is written by J. Ramsay Michaels. The letter to the Hebrews is a written sermon, probably meant to be performed rather than silently read, by a follower of Paul, to an audience of mostly Jewish Christians who were being tempted to compromise faith in Christ by going back to Judaism, probably in response to persecution. I am posting from my reading in the New Testament accompanied by various commentaries on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the book are in blue.

The author of Hebrews urges his audience not to compromise because faith in Jesus alone is the superior way to salvation and the blessings of covenant. Jesus provides a superior revelation of God and a superior ministry to bring believers into the presence of God.

His was a fully human life lived not in some static eternity but in time, a life without sin and yet characterized by growth in obedience and movement through suffering toward “perfection,” that is, toward the full realization of God’s plan for that life in human salvation...Without solving the mystery of the two natures of the Son of God, Hebrews highlights Jesus’ humanity and divinity at the same time. The two natures mutually require and support each other, and not for the last time in Christian theology we are invited to marvel at the relationship between them. Hebrews Intro, 323

While Jesus accomplished our salvation “once for all” by his death on the cross, our experience of salvation in Hebrews is a journey, not a “blessed state,” and we are not truly saved until the journey is over. The warnings are simply a corollary of the inescapable fact that, like Abraham, we are on a pilgrimage. Hebrews Intro, 325

The letter opens with a description of Jesus as the ultimate prophet: the Son of God and ultimate revelation of God's image, nature, power and authority; the ultimate king who leads his people to victory over sin, death and the power of evil; the ultimate priest who provides complete reconciliation with and access to the very presence of the Father. Believers should resist the temptation to worship angels because they are only servants of the Son and of believers. In contrast, Jesus is the anointed Son of God who created everything and is the eternal ruler of the universe. He not only expressed perfectly the image and authority of God in human form, but He also triumphed over suffering, temptation, and death to be the savior of all people. Therefore, the letter warns those who were being tempted to "drift away" from Christ to pay closer attention to Jesus’ message and submit to it because it comes with superior confirmation and superior authority.

If the Son’s nature is the nature of God, what is his work? Quite clearly, his is the work of God. The Son does what God has always done: He creates the world, he sustains the world’s existence, and above all he speaks. He is the source of all revelation. Hebrews 1.1-4, 330

Here, if anywhere, we may hope to find clues about the place of angels in the theology of Hebrews. They are in some ways like priests and in other ways like prophets. Like priests they are worshipers, not objects of worship (see 12:22). Angels are “servants” (1:7), or “ministering spirits sent to serve” (1:14, NIV). Their “service” is a distinctly religious, even priestly service, a kind of shadow and perhaps an accompaniment of the priestly ministry of Jesus. Hebrews 1.5-14, 336–337

It is not that the law offers only a grim prospect of judgment, while salvation through Jesus Christ brings forgiveness and mercy. It is rather that grace carries with it greater sanctions and risks than the law because more is at stake. To refuse God’s grace is far more serious than breaking God’s law. Grace is available for those who disobey the law, but once grace is refused nothing else remains (cf. 10:26). Hebrews 2.1-4, 343

In 2.5-18 the author describes and validates Jesus' superior kingship. Jesus restores human, not angelic, rule over the creation order (5-9). The ascended Christ, as son of Man, defeated death and now rules invisibly and will rule visibly over the earth in the coming kingdom. The rest of the chapter explains why making Jesus king was the right thing to do. As the God-man (he became one of us) he was able to "pioneer" salvation for his people, deliver them from suffering by his own suffering, defeat their slavery to death, and prepare them to rule with him. Thus, We need to pay close attention to Jesus because he is the superior king. He has conquered the enemy, He has gone through everything we experience and He can deliver us to the greatest reward in the Kingdom.

Victory over death and the devil is one way of looking at the Cross and its significance. Another is as an atoning sacrifice. The first way is appropriate in relation to the whole world and the whole human race (2:14–15), but the second is more at home against the background of biblical history and in the setting of early Judaism with its rich tradition of priesthood and sacrifice (2:16–18). Hebrews 2.5-18, 351

In 3.1-4.13 the author applies the truths of the previous chapter. We need to be faithful to such a superior king. God's people must follow Jesus’ example of faithfulness; not Israel’s example of unfaithfulness. They should be faithful to their higher calling just as Christ was faithful to his calling which was greater than that of Moses rather than following Israel’s example of refusing to trust and act on God’s promises in their wilderness wanderings. Today believers should encourage one another to genuine faith so that we do not miss the experience of God’s rest. This is urgent and now is the time to trust God and make every effort to enter his rest by faith because God knows and is able to judge accurately and completely and bring you to maturity

The author appeals to God’s ringing endorsement of Moses and his authority in order to make a point about Jesus: Just as God spoke more directly to Moses than to the prophets (much less to Aaron or Miriam), so God has now spoken more directly to (and through) the Son than to either Moses or the prophets (see 1:1). Hebrews 3.1-6, 354

So the “special rest” or “Sabbath observance” (see note on 4:9) is not an earthly rest or place of refuge but a heavenly rest in the sense of eternal salvation or life with God after death (see Rev 14:13, “Blessed are those who die in the Lord from now on. Yes, says the Spirit … for they will rest from their hard work”). Hebrews 3.7-4.11, 360

God’s word was, and is, both spoken and written. God said it once through David, the author claims. It was written down and preserved as Holy Scripture, but when read aloud to assembled believers it comes alive again as God’s speech to a new generation. The author of Hebrews wrote his book to be read aloud, to be heard. What he wrote, no less than what the psalmist wrote, is God’s own voice, the voice of the Holy Spirit. Hebrews 4.12-13, 361

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