The writer has shown Jesus to be superior to the prophets as a spokesman for God. As the Son, Christ’s name or position is far greater than that of any angel. Yet He became one of us, to bring us to our intended glory. Through His own suffering and temptations He was qualified to serve perfectly as priest and comforter to His suffering and tempted brethren on earth.
Now the author turns to other matters (led, of course, by the Spirit of God). Moses was the chief character of the Old Covenant, and was respected by the Hebrews as the foremost leader of their religion and life. Jesus is prophet and priest of the New Covenant, and Christians are to be faithful to Him in all things. The Hebrew Christians were being tempted to leave Christ and return to Moses. To prevent this, chapter three shows Christ’s superiority over Moses. It shows the possibility of apostasy and destruction, based on the former example of God’s Old Testament people under Moses. The chapter then urges extreme caution in maintaining a faithful heart lest the Christian, too, fall by disbelief.
3:1. Wherefore, or because of what has gone before specifically because of the divine appointment of Christ as perfect prophet and because of His absolute perfection as sympathetic and faithful priest — the admonition follows. The holy brethren are Christians. The phrase literally means “brothers who are set apart (from the world and sin) and are dedicated (to the service of God through Christ).” Christians are saints or holy ones, not because of their own achievements in attaining purity of life (see I Corinthians 1:2; 6:11), though that is a necessity, but because God has called them holy, in Jesus Christ. Christ is made unto us “sanctification” or holiness (I Corinthians 1:30). We are holy in Him.
Yet we are commanded to become holy, just as God is holy (I Peter 1:15-16). We are to perfect holiness in the fear of God (II Corinthians 7:1). Without holiness no man can see God (Hebrews 12:14). In the economy of the New Testament, however, God first pronounces men to be what He desires (on the basis of the finished work of Christ and their union with Him) and then causes them to become what He has already called them.
The term “saints” is one of the most frequently used descriptions of God’s people in the New Testament. The word is always in the plural; one does not read of “Saint So-and-so.” All God’s people are saints, as described above. It is possible that the tendency of modern Christians to neglect this term in their common vocabulary has contributed to the lack of sanctification in the church today. We will do no harm, and perhaps a great deal of good, to revive the usage of Scriptural terms and phrases.
The saints are partakers or partners in the heavenly calling. Their heavenly invitation to be God’s people leads them, in response to the gospel, to become partners and sharers in a heavenly way of life. Now the writer urges them to consider Christ Jesus. The word translated consider means to look at something or someone with great care. It involves not only looking at, but thinking about. One must spend time to fulfill this word. The object of such contemplation is here Christ Jesus.
Many times in Scripture the writer makes a point of emphasis by the order of words. Frequently the term Christ Jesus points to Jesus, not in His earthly ministry, but as the Christ at God’s right hand — the resurrected and glorified Jesus of Nazareth. On the other hand, the expression Jesus Christ sometimes (but not always) stresses the work, or ministry, or person of Jesus as a man and as one of us. Here we are to consider our heavenly Lord: in all His offices, His splendor, His rank and His glory.
We are specifically to consider Christ as the Apostle and High Priest of our profession. The term apostle means one sent or a messenger. Jesus was sent by the Father to be Savior of the world (I John 4:14 and other passages). Moses also was sent by God to accomplish a typical “salvation” of God’s people from bondage (Exodus 3:10), though Moses is never called an apostle.
Jesus is also our High Priest, and the writer has spoken briefly of this office in the previous chapter. Later he will develop the thought in detail. Here he entreats us to reflect on Christ Jesus: as Apostle — sent by God’s authority to man; as High Priest — going before God on man’s behalf; in all things — superior to every previous agent of God.
Our profession or confession is first our oral acknowledgement of faith in Jesus as Christ and Lord (see Matthew 16:16; Romans 10:9-10; II Corinthians 9:13; I Timothy 6: 12-13; Hebrews 4:14; 10:23). Then it is our state of life based on that confession, a profession or declaration of the faith which has been confessed.
3:2. Christ was faithful or reliable or trustworthy with reference to God the Father, who appointed him apostle and priest. Moses also was faithful to God in all his house. The writer does not minimize the faithfulness or the function of Moses. He praises and commends Moses for faithful service. But he then shows, on the basis of the heavenly realities, that Christ is far superior to Moses by virtue of His greater person and function.
3:3. Christ is counted worthy of more glory than Moses, not because Moses was unfaithful, for he was not, but because of the inherent function of both men in God’s plan. The man who builds a house hath more honor than the house. We admire a beautiful building, but we regard more highly the architect who designed it and the superintendent who saw it rise.
3:4. So far as the work of salvation is concerned, the one who builds all things is God. He is the grand architect and superintendent of the entire scheme of redemption. He is its originator and its goal. The Word which became flesh was one with God the Father. Therefore Christ, who was that Word, is the builder of the house, while Moses — though faithful — was a part in the divine house.
3:5. Christ is superior to Moses in other points as well. Moses verily was faithful, but in God’s household, as a servant and as a member of the household. His faithfulness to God served as a testimony to the reliability and trustworthiness of the message which he spoke from God. The point here is based on Numbers 12:6-8, which is quoted in part. There God testified to the faithfulness of Moses and rewarded that faithfulness by speaking directly with Moses in revealing His will. Moses’ personal faithfulness as a worker in God’s house served as a witness to the word which he revealed from God.
3:6. But Christ is a son (not a servant) over (not in and part of) his own house (not that of someone else). Now we learn what is meant by the house so far as Christ is concerned. We, the church, God’s people under Christ are the house of God (I Timothy 3:15). Christ promised to “build” it (Matthew 16:18), and He began that work on Pentecost. The church is composed of “living stones” (I Peter 2:5; Ephesians 2:20) — those individuals who by faith and baptism have come into union with Christ, have become members of His spiritual body and, collectively, are His church. Moses was a faithful servant in the Old Testament “house” of God (and of Christ), but Christ is the faithful Son over His own house. He is far superior to Moses, though Moses was a great and faithful man of God.
But there is a divine if, so far as we are concerned. We are His house, if we hold fast the confidence, the boldness based on inner assurance, and the rejoicing or boasting of the hope firm unto the end. This is the message of the tire Bible and is particularly the theme of the book of Hebrews. The reward is of grace, but it depends on faith And a saving faith is one which trusts and obeys until the very end. It is not enough to begin, only to fall along the way. Saving faith, true grounds of rejoicing, a genuine hope — all these depend on steadfastness and continue trust throughout life. The Hebrew Christians urgently needed that lesson. We are no less in need of it today.
3:7-8. As an incentive to steadfastness, our author points to the example of God’s people under Moses (see also I Corinthians 10:1-13). If they fell from God’s favor through disbelief, the same fate could befall God’s people today. Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith in Psalm 95:7-11), Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Psalm 95 is a call to worship God. The psalmist bases his call on God’s deity (verse three), His might as creator and sustainer (verses four through six) and His election of and covenant relationship with Israel (verse seven). He then warns against a hard or disobedient heart, which he says will lead only to destruction. This happened to the fathers in the wilderness, the psalmist points out, and it can happen to God’s people in his day. Now the psalmist’s point is made (using his own words) by the writer to the Hebrews, who applies it to the believers of his day. God’s people have fallen before through unbelief and an evil heart. They can do the same again.
Today those who hear his voice are not to harden their hearts. This happened with the Jews in the provocation (Hebrew: Massah) in the day of temptation (Hebrew: Meribah) in the wilderness. The event mentioned here is recorded in Exodus 17:1-7. The unbelief of the Jews then was essentially a lack of trust. They doubted that God, who had called them from Egypt, would provide for them in the wilderness and see them safely to the promised land. This lack of faith led to murmuring. That murmuring was a provocation of God and was sin. Christians are exhorted not to distrust God, murmur and sin, but to have full confidence in Him. In that confident trust they are to do His will as fully and exactly as possible.
The Hebrew Christians were in danger of leaving Christ for Moses. The analogy here suggests that back of their threatened apostasy was a basic lack of trust in the work of Christ as perfect sacrifice, priest and Savior. They were not confident of their standing before God. Because their basis of salvation was the finished redemptive work of the Son, such lack of confidence reflected a fundamental lack of faith in Christ. This unbelief was sinful — and ft was the same kind of sin which led to the Jews’ destruction centuries before in the wilderness.
3:9-11. Our author is still quoting from Psalm 95. The fathers in the wilderness tempted God, proved Him in the evil sense of putting Him to the test and saw His works for forty years so that they should have no excuse. They grieved God by distrusting Him. Because of this unbelief God swore in His wrath that they would not enter into His rest. Chapter four will discuss the meaning of God’s rest. Here the reference is made without elaboration.
3:12. Rather than take heed, we would say (almost literally) “look out!” An evil heart of unbelief is a heart, or disposition, or spirit, which does not so trust God that it accepts what He says with confidence and then walks with trust in Him and in His word. Departing is from a word closely related to that which gives “apostasy.” The child of God can become so corrupted by a distrustful and unfaithful heart that he finally forsakes God completely.
Such distrust of Christ can lead to apostasy in two directions. Some who begin to doubt their acceptance on the basis of Christ’s perfect life and blood will despair of all hope and go back into sin and the world. Others will seek to help or add to their spiritual stature by their own strict observance of rules and regulations — which they themselves will choose as important or receive as such from someone else. When motivated by a lack of trust in the standing Christ makes possible, this too is sinful.
It was this error in part which led to the writing of Galatians (against Judaizing tendencies), Colossians (against an apparently gentile heresy which had adopted rituals and philosophies from many sources), I John (against a budding philosophical heresy later known as gnosticism) and even Hebrews. Christ is sufficient as Savior, and the man who truly has Him has enough. Steadfast faithfulness to Christ is an evidence of this inward faith, and is a necessity if one is to be saved in the end. That is the point of this chapter.
3:13. So that Christians will not fall through unbelief, they are admonished to exhort or encourage or comfort one another. This is to be done daily, while it is called today. Such refreshing of the spirit, such rededication to God and to Christ, will prevent one’s being hardened or calloused through the deceitfulness or error of sin.
This exhorting is the duty of every Christian. Barnes asks:
How often do church-members see a fellow-member go astray without any exhortation or admonition? …Belonging to the same family; having the same interests in religion; and all suffering when one suffers, why should they not be allowed tenderly and kindly to exhort one another to a holy life?
In a special sense, this exhorting is to be done by the elders or shepherds of the flock, whose chief duty before God is to watch for souls (Hebrews 13:17; see Ezekiel 33: 7-9). Milligan’s comments are still appropriate:
Do not procrastinate, or put off till tomorrow what should be done today…. If the members of every congregation of disciples would all watch over one another, not as censors, but as members of the body of Christ, how many errors might be corrected in their incipiency. But… how many delinquent Christians are allowed to become hardened in sin, before even the Elders of the Church call on them and admonish them! How very unlike these Elders are to the Good Shepherd that careth for the sheep.
While such exhorting is to be done daily, it is one purpose of the lard’s Day assembly as well. Those who are absent from the gatherings of the saints fail both to receive needful exhortation and to contribute their encouragement to others (Hebrews 10:24-25).
The neglect of Christian exhortation is surely among the greatest failings of God’s people today. The mad rush for the world’s goods, the excessive drive for material prosperity, the disproportionate love of pleasure, the self-centered living of a modern age — these all have practically extinguished the selfless and obedient concern of saints in too many places for one another, and the careful exhortation which should grow out of that concern has died before it was born. Any congregation that ignores this divine obligation has no right to parade itself as a faithful church of Christ Jesus, regardless of its other qualities or so-called distinctive marks.
3:14. We are made partakers or partners of Christ only if we hold fast the beginning of our confidence or grounds of hope steadfast unto the end or conclusion or goal. Our author addresses his readers in verse one as partakers of the heavenly calling. But while the call has been issued and the journey begun, the trip is not completed until its destination is reached. As the Israelites under Moses fell after they had begun, so Christians will be Christ’s partners in glory only if they are faithful until the conclusion of life and the attaining of the goal.
3:15. He repeats the admonition from the psalm, this time with emphasis on the word provocation.
3:16. Some, after they had heard, did provoke God. This is probably best translated as a question. Who did provoke? The answer is: all that came out of Egypt by Moses.
3:17. With whom was he grieved forty years? A few reprobates? No, it was with them that had sinned, whose carcasses fell in the wilderness, and that number included the entire company of adults who left Egypt, with the exceptions of Joshua and Caleb. The danger of leaving faith in Christ is grave because the possibility is both real and widespread.
3:18. To whom did God swear that they should not enter into his rest? It was to them that believed not. In this case they had stopped believing although they had begun their journey in faith.
3:19. So we see, he concludes, that they could not enter in because of disbelief. Their death in the wilderness was not due to Moses’ unfaithfulness — he was faithful in all God’s house. It was not because God was unable to save them — He showed His works forty years in the wilderness. The reason they fell was simple and single: they stopped believing and trusting God. The next verse of exhortation should be included in chapter three: Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. It happened once before. It can happen again.