3:1-4:16-Faithful Until the End
Consider Jesus—that He was Faithful (3:1-6)
Chapter 3 begins with a reflection back on what we have just learned in chapter 2. "Therefore," tells us that what is to come is dependent on what we have just read. So it is, that since we now know that Jesus is able to come to the aid of believers when they are tempted, we should live in such a way that we give careful consideration to our faithfulness to Him.
The first 6 verses present the doctrinal foundation on which the exhortation found in the rest of the chapter is built. Remember that our author has already told us that Jesus is better than the prophets and the angels. He now wades out into even deeper water and tells us that Jesus is better than Moses, himself. This is a huge assertion for the Jew to comprehend and accept. Indeed, it was Moses whom God had protected as a baby, and provided a burial for at death. Miracle after miracle had taken place in his life between those two points. It was Moses whom God had spoken with, face to face. In fact, so direct was this contact between Moses and God…that when he came down off the mountain the very glory of God, Himself was for a brief time reflected from the face of Moses (Exodus 34:29). God spoke to Moses in visions…in a burning bush…out of Heaven…on Sinai…and wrote the 10 Commandments for him on a stone tablet with His very finger. It was Moses to whom God had personally given the Law…and Moses and the Law of God became synonymous…being spoken of as the “law of Moses” (Luke 2:22; Acts 13:39; and others). Moses not only gave the Jews the Law…but he also wrote the entire Pentateuch, which lays out all of the Levitical and other laws that governed everything the Jews did. It was Moses who gave the plans for the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant. Far and above all other men who had ever lived…Moses was God’s man. Moses held a position before God that was utterly and absolutely unique among men. With all of this rich history and heritage in mind about Moses…our author is now going to tell his audience that Jesus is better than even him.
Hebrews 3:1-The People He is Addressing
Since this first portion of the chapter is going to lay down the basis for the doctrinal exhortation which is found in the second half of the chapter…it is important for us to understand exactly who it is that the author is addressing. Notice that he addresses them as “holy brethren”. The term “holy brethren” tells us that he is speaking to fellow Christians, to those who are true believers in Christ. This particular portion of Hebrews is written to Christians, holy Jewish brothers in Christ. They were spiritual brothers, sanctified, set apart, and made holy in Christ. These are the marks of a Christian.
Hebrews 3:1-The Priority He is Addressing
The author emphasizes the importance, the priority of what he is about to say by carefully choosing the word “consider.” Consider (the Greek word is “katanoeo”) implies to give careful attention and continuous observation. It does not mean to simply look at something, or to notice something. You can look at something without in a real sense seeing it. This word means to fix your thoughts on something in such a way that the inner meaning of the thing, the lesson that the thing is designed to teach, may be learned. Jesus used this same word in Luke 12:24 when He said, “Consider the ravens.” He wasn’t just telling them to watch the birds. He meant, “Watch the ravens. There is a lesson for you to understand and learn from them. A lesson that God wants you to learn.”
Why is it that he so strongly admonishes his readers to consider Jesus? It is because they are being so strongly drawn back to the things of Judaism…the rituals, the traditions, the relationships. As we have previously found…they are under great pressure to return to the religion of their past. So, he admonishes them to “consider Jesus”. So what is it about Jesus that we are to concentrate on, to consider so carefully? We are to consider the faithfulness of Jesus to the ministry He was given. The faithfulness of Jesus to His ministry shows who He truly was. And, in so doing, it shows us that he is better even than Moses. So, Paul shows several ways that Jesus was faithful.
- He was Faithful as an Apostle (3:1)
This is the only place in the entire New Testament where Jesus is referred to as an “Apostle.” And in fact…Moses is never referred to as an Apostle. The word “apostle” means “sent one.” Even though he is never directly referred to by this title, Moses was an Apostle in the sense that he had been sent by God. But why does the author consider Jesus to be superior, a greater Apostle than Moses? For one thing…Moses did at times falter. For instance: It took forty years for God to make Moses usable. Moses killed the Egyptian and had to flee Egypt. He struck the rock in order to make it produce water instead of speaking to it as God had directed him. For the most part, Moses was faithful…but he wasn’t perfect.
Jesus, on the other hand, was absolutely perfect. He didn’t just fulfill his ministry well…He did so perfectly…without hesitation, without fault, without sin. He was the perfect Apostle. And as such, He is greater than Moses.
There is another reason why Jesus was superior to Moses as an Apostle.
Though he was never called such in Scripture, Moses could be considered an Old Testament apostle in the basic sense of the word. Apostolos means "sent one" and was a title often used for official ambassadors. In this sense Moses was God's apostle, His sent-one to bring His people the law and the covenant. But Jesus was both Apostle and High Priest. Though Moses could be considered a type of apostle, he was not a priest at all, much less high priest. Jesus is superior to Moses in office because He has two offices, whereas Moses had only one.
Even in the office of apostle, Jesus is superior-first of all because He brought a better covenant, and second, because He was Himself the sacrifice that made the better covenant effective. Jesus is the supreme Apostle, the supreme Sent-One from God.
What are the characteristics of an apostle or an ambassador? First, he has the rights and the power and the authority of the ruler who sends him. Jesus came in the power of God, with all of God's grace, all of God's love, all of God's mercy, all of God's justice, and all of God's power. Second, an ambassador speaks completely on behalf of the one who sent him. Jesus said, “I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me commandment, what to say, and what to speak” (John 12:49; cf. 8:28, 38). Jesus was the perfect Ambassador, the perfect Apostle sent from God.
The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Hebrews, John MacArthur, pp. 78-79
- He was Faithful as a High Priest (3:1)
Our author is careful to not immediately offend his Jewish Christian readers…so, he begins by not only showing the superiority of Christ over Moses…but by also showing the similarity between Christ and Moses. In other words, “Moses was faithful. He did what God told him to do. He did a good job. Even so, Jesus was faithful to God.” There is a resemblance between the two…both were faithful to fulfill their God-given responsibilities. His intention was not to slander of Moses…but to glorify Jesus.
This is an idea to which the writer to the Hebrews is going to recur again and again. Just now we can only set down the fundamental basis of what he means. The Latin for a priest is pontifex, which means a bridge-builder. The priest is the person who builds a bridge between man and God. To do that he must know two things—he must know man and God. He must be able to speak to God for men, and to speak to men for God. Jesus is the perfect High Priest because He is perfectly man and perfectly God; He can represent man to God and God to man. In Him God approaches man and man approaches God. Jesus is the one person through whom man comes to God and God comes to man.
The Daily Study Bible, The Letter to the Hebrews, Barclay, p. 25
Why is Jesus superior to Moses as a High Priest? Moses was never referred to as the High Priest…but his brother Aaron, who was under his authority, was. So, in a sense, the ministries of Moses and Aaron are combined here. Moses…the sent one who would bring God to man…and Aaron the Priest…who would bring man to God. Who better to bring man to God than Jesus? After all, had He not come from God? Did He not have direct access to God? As the One sent from God, He is the most qualified to be the One who returns to God. As the priest…the bridge-builder…He is solely qualified and capable to build the bridge from both directions.
- He was Faithful as a Builder (3:2-4)
The picture in the mind of the writer to the Hebrews is this. He thinks of the world as God's house and God's family. We use the word house in a double sense. We use it in the sense of a building and we use it in the sense of a family of people. We speak of a house which an architect built and we speak of the House of Hanover, when we mean a family. The Greeks used oikos in the same double sense. Therefore the world is God's house and men are God's family. But he has already shown us the picture of Jesus as the creator of God's universe. Now Moses was only part of God's universe. He was a created man and he worked in a created universe. He was part of the house, involved in the house. But Jesus is the creator of the house, and the creator of the house is bound to stand above the house itself. Moses did not create the law; he only mediated it. Moses did not create the house; he only served in it. Moses did not speak of himself; all that he ever said was only a pointer to the greater things that Jesus Christ would some day say. Moses, in short, was the servant; but Jesus was the Son. Moses knew a little about God; Jesus was God. Therein lies the greatness of Jesus and the secret of His unique superiority.
The Daily Study Bible, The Letter to the Hebrews, Barclay, p. 25
- He was Faithful as a Son (3:5-6)
Moses was a servant in someone else’s house. Jesus is a Son over His own house, His own people.
In summary of these first 6 verses, we might ask, “Why is this so important? Why should we keep our attention focused on Jesus…that He is greater than the prophets, greater than the angels, and greater than the best man who had ever lived?” It is because of the pressures and the persecutions they were facing to not be faithful, themselves. And in the near future…they would need to know that Jesus is absolutely faithful…that Jesus can be 100% trusted…because they will have to place their faith in Him for their very lives.
Consider the Hebrew People—that They were Unfaithful (3:7-19)
Having given us the example of faithfulness as seen in Jesus…the author now gives us the example of unfaithfulness as seen in the Hebrew people. With this example comes a warning…there are consequences for unfaithfulness. This warning deals with consequences that will result in this present life here on earth.
The context surrounding Hebrews 3:7-4:13 deals with Israel's failure to enter into the rest provided for them by God. The Old Testament Israelites believed in God to bring them out of Egypt, but they did not believe in God to bring them into Canaan. As a result they lost the blessing of the Promised Land. The warning has to do with disbelieving the sufficiency of God. The Israelites were content with half a salvation, so to speak, and that is all they received. The punishment was on the temporal side of things. Those who disbelieved had to be content with a second-class life in the wilderness, and there they died, never having enjoyed the rest of Canaan. Similarly, today there are many Christians who are saved but who lived earth-bound lives with no joy, no peace, no rest, and no victory.
Exploring Hebrews, John Phillips, p. 13
Hebrews 3:7-19-We are told to not be like the children of Israel when they left Egypt. Though they heard God speak, they did not believe...and consequently they did not enter the Promised Land. In these verses, there is the reference to the children of Israel being with God in the wilderness for 40 years...and yet, some of them did not enter the Promised Land...they fell along the way. The inference is that our salvation is not a one-day event...but a life-long journey ("day after day", v. 13). True belief will be made evident because it will be the same at the end of the journey as it was at the beginning of the journey.
- The Illustration of a Hardened Heart (3:7-11)
This is a reference to Psalm 95:7-11. Hebrews 3 interprets this passage, and Israel is given as an example, or illustration to us of a hardened heart. The word “angry” means “to be displeased with, disgusted with, to loathe.” It is a strong word speaking of a great displeasure. After all that God had done directly in their sight…the plagues on Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, the provision of manna, the pillar of fire by night, the cloud by day…the people still said…
Exodus 17:7 (NASV)
- …"Is the LORD among us, or not?"
Continuously they questioned God: His existence, His presence, His benevolence, His power. They did not believe. They were led away from Him.
In verse 10 it says…
'THEY ALWAYS GO ASTRAY IN THEIR HEART, AND THEY DID NOT KNOW MY WAYS';
The words “go astray” means “to be led away from the right way” and are in the passive voice…meaning that they allowed themselves to be influenced by other things. They did not control their own character and faith. They were passive.
The words “did not know” speaks of knowledge that is gained by experience…as opposed to learning from a book. Even though they had experienced God’s mighty work time and again…they learned nothing…they did not know about Him…they did not have faith in Him. This was repugnant to God and resulted in His anger towards them.
And it was not just once that they went astray. Indeed, Numbers 14:22 says that at least on 10 occasions they went astray.
Numbers 14:22 (NIV)
- not one of the men who saw my glory and the miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times-
- AS I SWORE IN MY WRATH, 'THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST.'"
Now in this section the emphasis is upon the rest which is ours if we trust Christ. Scripture presents a fivefold rest: (1) creation rest; (2) entrance into Canaan; (3) the rest of salvation; (4) the rest of consecration; and, (5) heaven. Here the writer is talking about the rest of fully trusting God, not only for salvation but for daily living.
…My friend, this is the “rest” the writer of this Hebrew epistle is talking about, the rest of fully trusting God—not only for salvation but for daily living, for the help and the wisdom and the strength we need to live the Christian life.
…As we have seen, Canaan does not represent heaven; it represents the place of spiritual blessing and victory.
Through the Bible, 1 Corinthians through Revelation, J. Vernon McGee, pp. 529, 530
The word “rest” here refers to Israel’s rest in Canaan. It is God’s rest that He desires for His people to have here in this life. Rest from fear. Rest from worry. Rest from stress, and pressure. It refers to the permanent and tranquil rest Israel could have had in Canaan. But, because of their unbelief and unfaithfulness…they did not go into Canaan as God had planned (Numbers 13-14) and therefore they lost this rest.
When we read these verses there are two great Biblical doctrines that we are substantiated…Divine Inspiration of the Scripture and the Trinity.
- Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, "TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE,
First, this Psalm was written by David, but the writer of Hebrews attributes it to the Holy Spirit. How is that possible? The Holy Spirit spoke the words to His penman David who wrote them down. This is a very clear illustration of the inspiration of the Scripture.
Second, the Psalmist uses the pronoun “his” (v. 7) to refer to God. However, in this verse it refers to Christ. This makes the Jehovah of the Old Testament, the Messiah of the New Testament. They are one and the same. A wonderful illustration of the Trinity.
When we place the Hebrews 3:8 passage next to the Psalm 55:7 passage that it is quoting our attention is drawn to the fact that it does not seem to be an accurate quote because the Psalm speaks of two places…Massah and Meribah…while the Hebrews passage uses the words “provoked” and “trial.”
- DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS AS WHEN THEY PROVOKED ME, AS IN THE DAY OF TRIAL IN THE WILDERNESS,
- Harden not your heart, as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness:
Psalm 55:8 (NASV)
- do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the wilderness,
The answer is really quite simple when we turn to the incident that is being spoken of here in Exodus 17:1-7.
Exodus 17:1-7 (NASV) (see also Numbers 20:1-13)
- Then all the congregation of the sons of Israel journeyed by stages from the wilderness of Sin, according to the command of the LORD, and camped at Rephidim, and there was no water for the people to drink. 2. Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, "Give us water that we may drink " And Moses said to them, "Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?" 3. But the people thirsted there for water; and they grumbled against Moses and said, "Why, now, have you brought us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?" 4. So Moses cried out to the LORD, saying, "What shall I do to this people? A little more and they will stone me." 5. Then the LORD said to Moses, "Pass before the people and take with you some of the elders of Israel; and take in your hand your staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6. "Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink." And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7. He named the place Massah and Meribah because of the quarrel of the sons of Israel, and because they tested the LORD, saying, "Is the LORD among us, or not?"
Notice that Moses named the places where these incidents occurred…“Massah” and “Meribah”. In Hebrew, the word “massah” means “testing, or proof”…and the word “meribah” means “argument, rebellion, or strife.” The Psalmist used the words as they were used in Exodus…to identify a place…where an incident occurred. However, the writer of Hebrews used a Greek translation of the meaning of each of the word. He assumed that his readers, being Hebrews, would be familiar with the story and the place where it took place. But his purpose in referring to this passage was not to focus on the place that the incident took place…but rather, on what took place at that incident. He was focusing on the fact that the people quarreled with God and they tested God. This was a sign of their unbelief, their unfaithfulness.
- The Admonitions Against a Hardened Heart (3:12-15)
Notice three ways that are to guard our heart and not allow it to be hardened against God…
Protect Your Own Heart
The words “take care” come from the Greek blepete, which means “to see, to watch.” It is a present imperative involving enduring action. The author tells us to “take care, to watch over, to keep careful guard over” our heart lest it lead us away from this relationship with God. He pulls no punches…he goes straight to the heart of the matter…the heart…because the heart of the matter is the matter of the heart. The heart is the center of our passions, our desires…the things that drive, motivate, and consume us. Whatever is at the center of the heart…will be at the center of our life. The construction of the Greek suggests that this is more than just a possibility in the life of these Hebrews…that it is something that he is suspicious will actually occur. He is using strong language here. Maybe he has already seen some of them begin the slow turn away from God…the gradual descent down the slope of unfaithfulness…the slipping of the knot in the rope of faith. “Take care…keep a close watch on your relationship with God…because I already see signs of its weakening!”
Encourage One Another’s Hearts
With these thoughts in mind, our author tells us…instead of being influenced by evil…turn the tables and be of encouragement to one another.
Maintain an Up-to-Date Heart
The problem with the Hebrews was that they heard God’s voice…but they didn’t obey God’s voice. The word “harden” means “to become hard, stiff, unpliable.” That is what happened to their hearts. Nothing could move them, anymore. They had seen it all…time and again. God had become too familiar to them. He was no longer majestic, sovereign, marvelous. Instead, He was a genie who performed magic tricks for their entertainment, pleasure, and desires. In their minds the shoe was now on the other foot. It wasn’t God Who demanded of them…but they demanded of God. Their hearts were hard.
The author says “today if you hear His voice.” Not last year, or last month, or even yesterday…but today. In other words, keep your hearts up-to-date. Have your spiritual ear to the ground…listening moment by moment for God to speak. Be ready, anxious to respond when God commands.
“Today” indicates urgency. Do not do like Israel did…they kept God at arms length…never fully committing their lives to Him. God became a useful tool to them, in their thinking. They could always commit themselves to Him, later…but not now. Right now they wanted to be in control of their own lives. Right now they wanted to make their own decisions. Enough time for God, later…but not “today”…that might ruin their desire and intentions. But the author realizes two things: (1) the longer we wait to respond to God…the harder our heart becomes to Him and the less likely that we ever will; (2) there will come a time when it is no longer “today”…meaning that there will come a time when God will stop calling. That time is when God, in His omniscience, knows that your heart is no longer open to the call of His grace, the only reason you would respond is your continued desire to use him for your own ends, your own desires.
- The Results of a Hardened Heart (3:16-19)
They had finally arrived at the Promised Land (Numbers 13-14)…the place of rest. But they refused to enter. They had sent out their spies into the land…2 came back with a glowing report…10 came back with doubts, worries, and a dismal report. They took a vote and decided to not enter the land. God responds that because of this lack of faith and obedience that indeed none of those present at that time who were the age of 20 and over would ever enter into the Promised Land…they would die in the wilderness…wandering for the next 40 years. The only exceptions would be Caleb and Joshua. To prove what He said would happen a plague struck the 10 spies who had given the bad report and they died.
Now…the people decided they would follow God, they would be obedient…even though He had said they would not enter the Promised Land.
Numbers 14:39-44 (Message)
39-40. When Moses told all of this to the People of Israel, they mourned long and hard. But early the next morning they started out for the high hill country, saying, "We're here; we're ready—let's go up and attack the land that God promised us. We sinned, but now we're ready."
41-43. But Moses said, "Why are you crossing God's command yet again? This won't work. Don't attack. God isn't with you in this—you'll be beaten badly by your enemies. The Amalekites and Canaanites are ready for you and they'll kill you. Because you have left off obediently following God, God is not going to be with you in this."
44-45. But they went anyway; recklessly and arrogantly they climbed to the high hill country. But the Chest of the Covenant and Moses didn't budge from the camp. The Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in the hill country came out of the hills and attacked and beat them, a rout all the way down to Hormah.
You must come to God when He calls…or not at all. The minute you say, “I will come to God when I am ready,” you have fallen from God’s means of salvation. Because only God can initiate salvation. For you to attempt to do so removes you from the principle of grace. You are trying to be saved on your terms, by your means, at your initiative and time. At that moment…the offer is not valid because it is not God’s offer, it is yours. You have crossed over from grace to works. You are now trying to usurp God’s role. You intend to be God, yourself. You are going to tell God what to do and when to do it.
Prayer: Father, help me to have faith to follow You each and every day. Give me the faith to follow You through the challenges that this day will present to me.