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What the Bible says about Why Hebrews Was Written
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Genesis 1:26

Most people's thinking is limited to what immediately follows, the creation of Adam and Eve. This concentration on them is natural, but it is not the complete story of God's creative purposes. It is only the beginning of God's intention, a first step. His purpose is that we become as fully manifested in His image as He was when He made that pronouncement and remains to this day. The Father and Son are eternal spirit Beings of awesome intellect, character, power, and purpose.

We find another clue to God's intention in Genesis 3:22 after Adam and Eve had eaten of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God says, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever. . . .”

Do we catch the full effect of what God says here? He implies that from the beginning, He has intended that mankind live forever! He means “forever” even as He and the Son live forever. The tree, of course, was only a symbol, and its fruit would not literally impart everlasting life. However, from the very beginning, it was His ultimate purpose that, when His creative efforts are complete, those whom He created would live forever in His image. The creative methods God must employ to ensure that we will live as God lives are the most difficult and time-consuming part of His operation.

Genesis 17:7 provides further evidence as God reaffirms His covenant with Abraham, adding circumcision as the outward sign of the inner intention to be faithful to it: “And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you.” For them to enjoy everlasting possession of the inheritance, they must also have everlasting life! No matter where we search, except for Christ Himself, no human yet has lived an everlasting life.

We have progressed through only the first seventeen chapters of the first book, and significant clues about what God has been and continues doing stand revealed. Do we believe them?

We often fail to give much consideration to—and thus overlook to our detriment—that this universe is God's creation. It did not arise from nothing. From within Himself, God designed it and gave it shape and life. Equally important, He governs His creation. He has overseen and administered it from the moment it came into existence. He brought it into existence in a massive operation through His Companion, the One the Bible reveals as Jesus Christ, the Word. The problem is not that God has failed to communicate these truths, but that we fail to believe Him or take what He says seriously enough to do something about His revelation.

The Creator God is carrying out what every living thing does, except for the angels, whom He also created through Christ. In His case, He is systematically reproducing Himself. He is expanding into a Family in His image to share what He is and does with others of His eternal kind.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Six)

Genesis 3:6

God's claim on mankind is illustrated by His dealing with Adam and Eve and their response. Biblical Christianity, the true way of life of the Father and Son, has a claim on humanity's attention and loyalty because humans are Their creation and the clear aim of Their concerns from beginning to end in Scripture. In fact, Their message is aimed directly at mankind, indicating that the Father and Son do not hide from humanity.

However, most people ignore Scripture's truths in terms of practical application in daily life. Even the Redeemer's Sermon on the Mount, though admired by many as wonderful advice, is not obeyed but ignored. How do we know this is true? Within His sermon, Jesus states that God has not done away with His law (Matthew 5:17-19), but people ignore His words, doing what satisfies the demands of their desires. Instead, humans follow the pattern established by their original parents. At the beginning, Adam and Eve took of the Forbidden Tree despite God's warning, and most human beings have followed their examples.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Ten): Christianity's Claims

Psalm 2:2

The prophecy declares that the One who became God's “Anointed” (the Messiah) and the subject of Hebrews 1—the Personage born as Jesus of Nazareth—is also called in verse 6 “My King” who will be crowned and reign from “My holy hill of Zion.” He is royalty in God's Family and worthy of the highest honor that God the Father can bestow on anyone.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Twelve): The Son's Superiority Over Angels

Jeremiah 5:23-31

These verses are God's charge against Israel during the prophet Jeremiah's day. However, nothing has changed since God raised those righteous men and women as examples in their times. Nothing has changed up to this very day.

Will the descendants of Israel, scattered within the Western world, ever learn that it is not the president, monarch, congress, or parliament of any earthly nation that rules, but that God in heaven reigns over all? He is the One whom citizens must please with their good conduct for that nation to have the peace, prosperity, and health it desires.

During presidential election campaigns, how many people running for office or supporting a candidate say or write anything about pleasing God? Instead, what we witness is a continued erosion of that minority of the population that tries to live in the fear of God. Yes, God will stir awake the modern nations of Israel, but it is still a long way from happening because almost no one thinks and therefore acts with God in mind. There are good reasons He does not respond with peace and other blessings. A painful reckoning must come first.

One would think that, if anyone could possibly fulfill this need of a righteous nation, it would be the people of Israel, those descended from Abraham. God chose Abraham to teach his descendants through the ages in God's way of life (Genesis 18:19). Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and a few others set high moral and spiritual standards throughout their lives, but the nation itself never consistently followed even their patterns of living, let alone God's.

To complicate matters, God has scattered the people of Israel all over the Western world according to His purposes. One of the results of this is that the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob no longer even know who they really are—and their conduct and attitudes reveal that most do not care!

It is obvious that most of the citizens of this nation are not seeking God. In fact, we can see clear indications that many are doggedly fighting Him.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Was Hebrews Written? (Part Eleven): God Is Not Silent

Daniel 12:4

In the last three generations, because God has permitted the invention of electronic communications devices, humanity can send and receive information worldwide at a mind-bending, even frightening, pace that demands our attention. We must make choices about what news we should listen to. In one sense, issues like those in our time have always occurred, but as far as we know, they have never occurred at this accelerated pace for this long a time in man's history. Here in America, it almost seems as if Pandora's Box has not just been cracked open but thrown wide open. And so, we must face the unceasing necessity of making such choices. Some broadcasting stations even proclaim, “All the news, all the time.”

Time is an important issue for us all, providing the context during which we accomplish the activities of life. Whatever activities we choose to do, time will be consumed. It is a reality that time waits for no one. Because we realize it is vital to our calling and growth within it, we may already have concerns about time. Most of us, especially those who are a bit older or have been “through the mill,” as the saying goes, are also aware that we are running out of it. Are we merely fretting about it, or are we resolved to do something about it?

Hearing news reports can distract us and even destroy progress because it makes us aware of events of which we have been ignorant. We cannot control the making of news; events will occur as a result of the actions of millions of people living their lives. Nor, for the most part, can we control what news is available to us. However, we can exercise control over what news we choose to consider valuable enough to listen more thoughtfully to and perhaps to act upon.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Five)

Matthew 6:19-21

Perhaps among the most underappreciated gifts God gives when He calls us is the time to amass treasure in heaven. Jesus' focus on treasure is important to His progress through the sermon at this point because He chose to illustrate first what we choose to do with our available time. At the outset, we must make sure of our aim in life. Overall, He is most interested that we make the best use of our faith, but in this section of His sermon, His concern is our use of time. What we choose to do with our time reflects on what we consider most important to achieve. Our use of time determines how much we will accomplish.

“Treasure” represents what we deem to be valuable enough to spend one of our most valuable resources—time—to obtain. It is what we hold dear, maybe even believe costly enough to give our life to obtaining or defending once we have it. Perhaps our treasure is something we do not yet hold but what we are searching for or working to achieve.

Jesus used “treasure” to represent something we consider more important than something “common.” It is something we would eagerly work for if we knew it is available and achievable. Due to the nature of what the term represents, treasure can, with no effort, motivate a person to decide to use his time in its pursuit, unlike an ordinary or common thing. Because of a person's perception of its value, treasure can move him to action almost as soon as he notices its availability.

In the Western world, treasure often means wealth—money, riches. It, however, may not connote money per se, but what money can buy: an impressive home in an exclusive section of town, a specific make of automobile, a prime section of land, or fine clothing. What a person strongly desires is an indicator of his or her treasure. In our thinking, we must not limit “treasure” to wealth. For some, treasure might be becoming an elite athlete, entertainer, or artist. In other cultures, people treasure different possessions, but they are almost always things a person feels will bring him the respect, admiration, and esteem of others within his culture.

The treasure motivates the use of its seeker's time, and if he uses his time pursuing that treasure, due to the way God has arranged His creation, that time is forever lost. It is totally consumed, never to return. This fact is a stark reality to which we must give serious thought in view of what we hold valuable. Everything we do uses time, and events and circumstances will never return.

We do not have to think of this as a matter of life and death, but we must afford it thoughtful attention. We must deal with it as an unalterable reality because God's calling is that valuable. We cannot avoid it if we wish to be in God's Kingdom. We must not let life simply “fly by” as if time is of no consequence.

Jesus is not declaring that every earthly thing we desire is inherently evil. He is admonishing us that we must judiciously evaluate the use of our time and efforts against His way and purposes for our lives. Because of our calling, His will and directives are now our highest priorities. Material, earthly desires come far down the list. He is most concerned with how we use our faith because salvation is “by grace . . . through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).

Right here, we face one of Jesus' greater concerns about the possible effects of desiring a wrong treasure. At this point in the Sermon on the Mount, He does not speak much about this concern, but it is nonetheless a danger that He warns about elsewhere, so we must be aware and cautious. He says in Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” a powerful cause-and-effect statement. If it is not carefully monitored, a person's treasure has enough influence to alter his heart for good or evil.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Five)

Matthew 6:19-20

Jesus illustrates His admonition in Matthew 6:19-20 by counseling us to consider carefully two facts when comparing earthly and heavenly treasures. First, moth and rust cannot destroy heavenly treasures. Second, thieves cannot break in and steal treasures in heaven, which we valued so highly that we worked diligently to possess them. Both categories represent the high probability of earthly treasures steadily declining in value after having cost us much time and energy in obtaining them.

The first category—moth and rust—represents all the factors existing in the natural world that cause earthly treasures to deteriorate and lose their value. Foods become moldy, garments wear out, metals tarnish—even land can lose its fertility, become infested with weeds, or wash away. Fences and walls break down, roofs leak and cave in, and termites invade and destroy houses. Hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, fires, and floods can destroy expensive, well-built homes in a matter of minutes. What does a person have then but an empty lot that once held his family's home?

Thieves breaking in and stealing stand for the human element in diminishing or destroying value. If we do not tend to them carefully night and day, our treasures too often, either slowly or all at once, disappear into the hands of enemies. Apparently, in using this illustration, Jesus was thinking of the homes common to His area of the world, most of which were constructed of clay. Thieves could rather easily dig through the walls of a mud-brick home and steal the homeowner's valuables.

We should also consider inflation, which eats away the savings of many. There is also governmental mismanagement of national affairs resulting in higher taxes, as well as bank failures, stock market crashes, business insolvencies, and prolonged illnesses. Even the bodies and minds of the strongest of us gradually wear down, eventually causing the individual to die.

The simple reality is that we cannot take earthly treasures through the grave. In comparison with heavenly things, such physical treasures have a limited “lifetime” of value. We could say that earthly treasures picture temporariness while heavenly ones last for eternity (II Corinthians 4:18).

The Bible provides ample evidence that God is not against pursuing earthly treasure as long as His sons and daughters do not allow it to deflect them away from the primary goals that He has set for us. That line between them must be prayerfully and thoughtfully worked out between the child of God and God Himself. In Scripture, a wealthy person is not automatically reprobate under God's standard of judgment. Genesis 13:2 states, “Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold.” Note, Abram was not merely rich but “very rich.” And not only that, he was the friend of God (James 2:23). On the other hand, a rich person is not automatically accepted either.

Nor does the Bible condemn the setting aside of provision to take care of potential future needs, perhaps for a disaster. Joseph's advice to Pharaoh in Genesis 41:33-35 was to store up during the good years so there would be enough during the coming famine. The text later shows that God approves of Joseph's suggestion to set aside wealth to be prepared when bad times arrive.

The apostle Paul does not make a mistake in II Corinthians 12:14, where he counsels the Corinthians: “Now for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be burdensome to you; for I do not seek yours, but you. For the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children.” Parents are to “lay up” or set money aside for their children. In the same vein, though somewhat more broadly, the apostle writes in I Timothy 5:8, “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Five)

Matthew 6:19-21

There is an over-arching subject that Jesus never directly mentions in the context of Matthew 6:19-21, but He was undoubtedly concerned about it. No one ever had a clearer understanding of human realities than Jesus. This subject concerns two levels of diversion from what is proper within achieving a desire, the first being minor compared to the second.

First, then, is that, humanly, we can become so deeply involved in achieving an especially desired goal that we become inattentive to virtually everything else, including God. Some refer to it as “losing oneself in the moment.” We can be thankful that these kinds of diversions generally do not last long. We usually “catch” ourselves within them and redirect our efforts accordingly. How many serious accidents have been caused by this type of distraction is beyond knowing.

The second concern is far more damaging to our calling: We allow our human nature to re-enslave us to this world. This return to carnality happens when we fail to discipline ourselves daily. We fail to maintain our focus on the absolute fact that what really matters in our lives are glorifying God and attaining spiritual value in our character. We must put everything else in second, third, or fourth place in order of importance. No one can do this for us; we must do it ourselves.

Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 9:10, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going.” His counsel, valuable within its context, applies in spades to our calling. The context does not delve into the fact that not all things a person desires and works for are of equal value. Herein lies another reality that we must resolve because heavenly treasure and earthly treasure are not equally important, especially after God calls us.

The proper balance of the time and effort we give to seeking treasure must be an important companion to determining our priorities in what treasures we seek. Once God calls a person is called, a new effort with far greater, more important goals has entered his life. The called-out individual must never allow himself to forget that the Creator God personally and specifically called him; he is not among the elect by accident or stroke of luck.

We must add to this astounding truth what Jesus says in Matthew 6:33 to those God calls: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” This burning dedication to the same goals that God has called us to must accompany the called-out person's efforts to be a profitable servant. Without this characteristic, we can be quite busy accomplishing, but unless we are also deeply committed to what God is focused on for us to achieve, we will merely burn time without achieving much of value in terms of God's spiritual purpose.

God wants us to give our time and life purposefully over to attaining His Kingdom. Merely being busy and productive are not the only issues. Being focused on what God assigns works hand in glove with what one's treasure is. Matthew 6:24, just a few verses later, gives us a significant reason why: “No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”

The reason may escape the reasoning of many, but Jesus clearly warns that giving our lives over to the achievement of the things of this world is blatant idolatry for a Christian! Do we truly want to place ourselves in the position of hating God—or even loving Him less than something else? The things of this world are those things God has not assigned to the Christian life.

Unlike those in the world, few called-out ones fall into such calamity, but some do and find themselves re-enslaved to the world by it. Such a person will be so preoccupied with gathering his worldly treasure that his skewed focus will confuse his values. His achievement in that area of life will obscure the goal God has established for our spiritual existence. The human heart will follow the carnal influence rather than the godly one. We must make diligent efforts to avoid this trap because the world acts like a magnet, always trying to recapture what has been pulled from it.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Five)

Matthew 16:15-18

Christ had not yet built the church of God when this episode took place, though its formation had begun in that it had its Head, who had chosen and begun preparing a number of trainees, including the twelve apostles, to become part of it. Another year or two would pass before it would be prepared to begin carrying out its responsibility to preach the gospel to the world.

The epistle to the Hebrews did not exist when Jesus suffered a horrific beating and then was mercilessly crucified. Nor did it exist seven weeks later when Jews from all over the Mediterranean observed Pentecost in Jerusalem, and God gave a highly visible and audible demonstration of His awareness of this massive injustice while giving His Holy Spirit to those already loyal to our Savior.

The church did not officially exist until this last act, as God connected each of His chosen children with a truly holy, spiritual bond. Only then did the apostles and others began to fulfill their assignments from Jesus of preaching the gospel of the Kingdom of God to the people of Jerusalem. Then the church began to grow significantly in purpose, numbers, and unity.

On that Day of Pentecost, as recorded in Acts 2:40-41, “with many other words [Peter] testified and exhorted them, saying, 'Be saved from this perverse generation.' Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.” After God healed a man's crippling affliction at the Temple, one he had suffered since birth, Acts 4:4 reports, “many of those who heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.” In Acts 6:1, Luke writes that the number of disciples within the church was multiplying, and the internal organization to care for the brethren was taking shape. The church, with a dramatic growth spurt, was actively coming into being, demonstrating to the unconverted Jews that it was a spiritual force to be reckoned with.

All this vital activity within the tiny organization named “the church of God” took place within about six months and changed the course of world history. It all occurred within a small, second-rate province of the mighty Roman Empire. Considering this thin slice of history, we know that the Creator God engineered this spiritual activity as He moved to reveal His creative purposes to more than just a few Jews within the Jerusalem area.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Four)

Matthew 28:16-20

By stating this as He did, He was admonishing the apostles not to become fixated on the fulfillment of prophecies but to remain focused on preaching the gospel. For that end, He will give them power. He wanted them to concentrate on the job at hand. The Great Commission, though, is now not only global geographically, but in terms of time, it is also totally open-ended. Moreover, no God-given, intermediate goals are in sight. The church today must take its cue from the way Jesus Christ handled the situation with the first-century church.

What began at this critical time in history was that God's global re-educational institution—the church, the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16)—was taking its first steps in teaching everyone worldwide how they should live. The church Jesus founded was beginning to preach the gospel from this starting point in both place and time, an activity that will eventually reach every person who has ever lived. In other words, beginning then, the church became the focal point of God's reeducation program.

Jesus was transitioning His work from what was merely an Old Covenant, Israelite, religious organization—of interest to relatively few outside Israel—to an educational organization that in terms of time will span thousands of years and become of intense interest to everybody. In directing the apostles in this way, Christ wanted His church to inaugurate this work yet keep it contained within the parameters He and the Father set as the church progressively developed at the speed it could handle effectively.

It may be helpful to remember that the earliest brethren in the church had to face their public responsibilities to Jesus without the help of what is now roughly one-third of the Bible—the New Testament. Scholars posit that the gospel of Mark was written first, followed by Matthew, Luke, and John. The earliest possible date even for Mark appears to be around AD 40, but some place it as late as AD 65.

In addition, it appears that I Thessalonians was the first of the epistles circulated within the church, but the apostle Paul did not write it until approximately AD 50. How many new converts even possessed their own copy of an Old Testament in their homes? Very few. There were no printing presses, no radio and television broadcasting, and no computers. To purchase a copy of the Old Testament would have cost a working man an entire year of wages! Was there a reference work similar to a Strong's Concordance of the Bible for somewhat more serious researching? Of course not.

Looking back in this way confirms that the early preaching of the gospel was a work of faith, highly dependent on the apostles' spiritual relationship with Jesus Christ. What likely sustained the members' spirituality was the spoken word delivered to people who listened carefully and concentrated with great intensity. These “pioneers” were remarkable, spiritually-minded people.

The Jewish religious leadership perceived that the apostles lacked preparation for such a huge responsibility (Acts 4:13). This terminology does not mean that the apostles had received no education at all. The wording expresses that the Jews considered the apostles to be common men who lacked the educational advantages they would have received had they been prepared for such public evangelism in rabbinical schools. However, recall that Mark 3:13-14 establishes that Jesus chose and appointed those He specifically wanted as apostles so that they might be with Him (that is, to witness His teaching and activities), and He sent them out to preach. Undoubtedly, He was searching for budding characteristics that He could build upon. He prepared them well to carry out their responsibilities.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Four)

John 1:1-5

This first chapter of John introduces Jesus Christ to mankind, but especially to those who are being called. Jesus, God's only begotten Son, was dispatched directly from heaven to be His personal witness before humanity to reveal both the Father and the Son and Their purpose. The Father sent His Son, His Heir, to be a living example of Their love toward all people. His elect need to know Him and cultivate a close relationship with Him as He is the most important element in our lives.

John immediately introduces Jesus as the literal Creator of the universe and therefore mankind's (and all other life-forms') Creator and Life-giver. All by itself, this stunning revelation must have amazed the apostles, considering they had walked with Him for three-and-a-half years.

We, too, need to reflect deeply on its profound meaning to us. The apostles enjoyed a package of elements we lack. They could literally hear His voice as He taught, see Him with their own eyes, and reach out their hands and touch Him. He directly taught the apostles, and they saw His behaviors as He carried out His responsibilities. In the beginning, they did not know His divinity as an absolute certainty but learned as they continued to follow Him. By the time of His crucifixion, that knowledge had burned into their minds as a conviction.

The apostle John focused on Jesus' oneness with the Father more frequently than the other apostles. His gospel thus provides a fuller and more exact description of Jesus' identity. In John 10:30, Jesus says, “I and My Father are one.” John 8:56-58 adds:

Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad. Then the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”

During His ministry, Jesus plainly stated who He was several times, but for most, it was too much to accept. Especially in John 8, there is more to what Jesus said than what English-speakers may think. Judging by the Jews' reactions, some apparently grasped the meaning of His statement to a much fuller extent than most Americans do, despite its predominantly Christian culture. They picked up stones to throw at Him, thinking Him blasphemous (John 8:59)!

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Eight): Hebrews 1

John 1:1-5

Most readers quickly grasp who the Word is. Since the Word, the pre-incarnate Jesus, was at the beginning with the One identified as God, whom we know as the Father, the passage implies that there was never a time that Jesus and the Father existed apart from each other. Therefore, Jesus, called the Word and later the Son, is unoriginated.

It may be easiest for a human to understand this concept by realizing that Father and Son are each the same age. Neither is “older” than the other. They are both eternal Beings without beginning or origin or any kind of birth.

John adds another sign of their relationship in verse 3. They both existed before anything else was created, granted life, and given purpose for which to live. This also suggests that the Son is unoriginated: There was nothing before Him to be His source. Verse 3 is especially a glorification of the Word's powers, which should alert us that the New Covenant in which we are involved is exceedingly more important to God's purpose than the one He proposed through Moses.

We can summarize John's first paragraph in this way: “In the beginning” (verse 1) links with Genesis 1:1 and refers to the beginning of creation, not the beginning of God-life. The verse confirms that the Son is a distinct personality from the Father. Citing Their companionship, verse 2 unequivocally assigns full and equal Deity to the Son as the other God-Being possessed.

Verse 3 emphasizes the Word as Creator. It is helpful to grasp that “all things were made through Him” means everything: all heavenly bodies, animals, vegetables, minerals, laws, forces, and energies that operate within the creation to support life. Not the slightest thing was made without His involvement. It also confirms that these two Beings work together in perfect harmony, and neither is inferior as God to the other. In this creation and its functions, the Word had the lead. The passage gives no hint of competition between Them.

Verses 4-5 are an expansion on Christ's creative efforts. John is ensuring that we understand it was Christ's responsibility to be the source, fountain, origin, and cause of life. From Him all life flows. When we add Hebrews 1:3—“upholding all things by the word of His power”—to this, we can confidently say that He keeps all alive and in order to this day.

What a powerful Savior the Father has blessed us with!

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Eight): Hebrews 1

John 1:14-18

In John 1:14, 18, the Greek term translated as “only begotten” is monogenes. Only John uses this adjective to describe Jesus, and he uses it five times. Its most common usage in Greek is as a term of endearment, though that is not all it adds to Jesus' standing before humanity. The way John uses it also specifically indicates a human family relationship.

It also carries the sense of “only,” intensifying the sense of endearment with the idea of singleness or uniqueness. Thus, the sense of “only” becomes an important addition. There are no others like Him, and Scripture adds that there never has been. He is unique even in respect to all other usages of “son of God” in the Bible. He stands alone. Our Savior has no competition.

At this point, we need to grasp a simple, Greek grammatical rule that most English-speakers are not normally exposed to. In Greek, ho is the equivalent of the English definite article “the.” However, the apostle John does not place ho before “only begotten” in verse 14, nor before “Father” in verse 18 (though most English translations supply it anyway). Its absence is legitimate in Greek usage, as it intensifies the descriptive power of the term “only begotten”—and thus what John is attempting to explain. It amplifies its power.

By writing it in this manner, John specifically signifies that Jesus is the single, sole, exclusive, only representative and—this is important—character (image) of the Being, the Father, who sent Him. This lays additional, greater glory upon the characteristics revealed about Jesus in context.

The apostle's object was to demonstrate and emphasize as best he could through mere words the height of the level of glory he and his fellow apostles witnessed in their three-and-a-half-year relationship with Jesus. With words, He severs Jesus of Nazareth, son of Joseph and Mary, from all other set-apart sons of God in the Scriptures, as well as from any kind of earthly, human, generational relationship.

Essentially, he is stating that Jesus' relationship with the Father was unoriginated. All human relationships are originated and continue through the pairing of a father and a mother. Jesus' relationship with the Father was not so. There is nothing we humans could conceive of as a sexual act by the Father that produced Jesus.

This reality should have a major impact on how we understand Their unity. Recall that Jesus says in John 10:30, “I and My Father are one.” Therefore, everything the Father is in character Jesus is also, even though Jesus is a separate personality from the Father. Just as the Father has always existed, so has the Son. The apostle John used this grammatical rule five times, so we would get the point. Jesus was and is every bit as much God as the Father.

Thus, the term “begotten” as used regarding Jesus does not apply in the same way it does for humans. Nevertheless, John used it to establish the concept of a family relationship so we could understand our relationship to God, as Father and child, more clearly.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Eight): Hebrews 1

John 1:18

What does the apostle John mean by saying that Jesus “declared” Him?

The Amplified Bible suggests two alternate translations, and both are much longer statements because the translators thought the Greek word underlying “declared” needed fleshing out, as it says a great deal about a critical purpose that Jesus' ministry accomplished. The first alternate translation is, “He has revealed Him and brought Him out where He can be seen”; and the second is, “He has interpreted Him, and He has made Him known.” Both suggest that the Father is in some way an unknown element in this unfolding story, as if He is a mysterious, surprise package.

James Moffatt translates the same phrase as “God has been unfolded by the divine one.” “Unfolded” is about as mysterious as “declared.” How does a person “unfold” another? Commentator William Barclay translates it with a long sentence: “The unique One, the Divine One, He who is nearest the heart of the Father, who has disclosed to us the mystery of God.”

The issue in the apostle John's mind was not that nobody even knew the Father existed. His existence is revealed in the Old Testament, though not frequently expanded by its writers. Genesis 1:26 clearly states, “Let Us make man in Our image.” The plural pronouns strongly suggest co-Creators working together during creation. But the relationship between the two is not defined. Only God creates as These were creating. God's Word shows no other beings creating as These did. Angels do not create.

There are a few passages in the Old Testament regarding another God-Being whom Jesus refers to as “the Father.” We will begin with Psalm 2:2, 7-9:

The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against His Anointed . . .. “I will declare the decree: The LORD has said to Me, 'You are My Son, today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them to pieces like a potter's vessel.'”

First, the psalmist mentions the Messiah (“His Anointed”), and second, he brings out the idea of sonship, suggesting that some sort of family relationship already existed between the two creative God-beings in Genesis 1.

So, what did the apostle John intend in John 1:18? Jesus needed to reveal Their close, cooperative, and creative working-relationship. Also, John 1 shows that They are virtually mirror images of each other in character and purpose, as Jesus states in John 10:30: “I and My Father are one.” They are not one Person but united in purpose. They have been working harmoniously together for a long, long time on the same project. Finally, Jesus revealed in His ministry, in part, that the Father and Son were together accomplishing a glorious purpose.

In the real Lord's Prayer, Jesus says:

I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. (John 17:20-21)

His statement summarizes what the divine Father and Son are accomplishing together. They are expanding Their kind and degree of Family unity to others as finished products in the image of the Father and Son.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Nine)

Acts 2:38-42

About 3,000 people responded to Peter's sermon on the Day of Pentecost. They listened intently, and due to God's inspiration of Peter's message, drawn entirely from the Old Testament, linking Jesus personally to the events mentioned in the sermon, they responded. They were, in a way, reliving prophesied events that were vitally important as a foundation for their times and most especially, for their nation's future and ours.

However, the newest converts were still not as spiritually well-prepared as the apostles, not having had the advantage of the close companionship the apostles had had with Jesus during the three-and-a-half years of day-and-night experience with Him. Nonetheless, despite the intensity of the activity on the Day of Pentecost and the rising persecution of the church by the Jews that followed, each person called into the church received the Father's careful scrutiny. He was not calling them to failure. Their calling was not a wild scramble to see who might grab the fabled brass ring. From God's point of view, everything is done in love and given due deliberation, so He therefore does everything judiciously.

The apostles moved rapidly to organize the people into local congregations so the called would have as much contact with them as possible. They wanted to ensure that, through Sabbath sermons and Bible studies, they could teach God's way most efficiently. Jesus essentially followed this procedure, and the apostles imitated Him.

What subjects dominated this early teaching? Since the apostles alone were truly close to Jesus, they likely began—as Peter did in his Pentecost sermon—with His personal fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies, adding that He was their Creator as well as their Savior and King. Even as a human being, Christ was literally God in the flesh, and though He was now at the right hand of the Father in heaven, by faith they were to answer to Him and give Him their loyalty. It makes sense that this would be among the first thoroughly covered teachings to firmly establish His importance to their salvation and the outworking of God's purpose.

They would also pass on to them what they had witnessed of how He conducted Himself during the time they were with Him. Like us, they would have desired to know about His personal characteristics, including His way of dealing with the apostles as well as with the ordinary “man on the street” regardless of the reasons and attitudes of those who came into His presence.

They surely must have studied into the fact that He was the God of the Old Testament, the LORD, the One who personally entered into the covenant with Abraham, the human father of Israel. He was the One who dealt with Moses and the Israelites in Egypt and at Mount Sinai, making the Old Covenant with the descendants of Abraham. This teaching would naturally lead to studies about the gospel of the Kingdom of God and the ongoing creative labors of the Father and Son, who are making sons and daughters in Their image.

This study would lead to a major area of life-changing instruction. Following the coverts' baptisms, each of them, upon receiving the Holy Spirit, became a vital part of the spiritual Body of Christ. They would need to know their behavioral responsibilities as sons or daughters of God.

Most of the early converts were not being called to duty on the front lines, that is, to preach the gospel to large crowds as the apostles did. God was calling them to support the apostles by continuing their personal growth in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ and by making a witness through their conduct in their communities. Thus, the apostles would have addressed Christian behavior early. Their personal witnesses were important to the ongoing process God directed through Jesus Christ, though on a narrower scale than that of the apostles.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Four)

Acts 4:14-21

What a vivid example of the perversity of human nature! Instead of glorifying God as virtually everybody else in the crowd was doing, the Jewish leadership severely threatened the perpetrators of this wonderful and merciful act, giving no praise to God for His merciful part in it! Instead, they attempted to deny all the others in the crowd access to additional mercy God may have been willing to shower on them!

Human nature never changes, so we must be careful. Though subdued, it remains part of our makeup and must be held in check and overcome. These Jews, motivated by the same enmity we all have against God and His laws (Romans 8:7), were following the pattern set by their ancestors when they killed the prophets God in His mercy had sent to them.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Four)

Acts 15:1-5

From the Day of Pentecost in AD 31 to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in AD 70, cultural tensions built steadily within Judea as the church continued to grow in numbers. This period included the significant conversion of Saul of Tarsus by Jesus Christ while Saul journeyed to Damascus (Acts 9). Though many brethren feared him at first, perhaps not trusting that his conversion was sincere, he became one of God's most effective instruments in all of church history for producing unity of doctrine. He played a vital role in helping the church to decide how to address the major doctrinal disagreement reported in Acts 15.

This issue was of such importance to church doctrine and unity that it was decided by the apostolic leadership in Jerusalem. Peter and James, Jesus' flesh-and-blood brother, convened a major conference to bring the two sides together to discuss the matter and reach a decision. Paul and Barnabas were also present because they represented one side of the issue, and many other elders were present, presenting arguments for one side or the other.

Central to the issue was whether non-Israelite converts to Jesus' way of life should undergo circumcision. However, the issue involved more than mere circumcision, despite one side insisting that such a new convert did not qualify for salvation without it. The issue ultimately involved all the ceremonial aspects of the Old Covenant religion given by God through Moses, including such things as the place of the Temple, sacrifices, and the priesthood under the New Covenant. This point was critical to the conference because Jesus made abundantly clear that not even one jot or tittle would pass from the law until all is fulfilled (Matthew 5:18).

Several years before, this issue had been broached in an incident in which Jesus gave an ever-so-brief preview that some changes in the worship of God were in order (John 4:6-26). Jesus had journeyed into Samaria and engaged in a conversation about worship with a woman of Sychar at what the locals called “Jacob's Well.” Jesus actively engaged in the conversation by asking her to give Him a drink from the well, a significant deviation from normal Jewish practice. The woman obliged Him but questioned His speaking openly with a Gentile woman.

Their conversation eventually led to proper worship, and from Jesus' answers, the woman perceived that He was a prophet. Recall that circumcision, required since Abraham, was an act of worship required by God.

In His conversation with the woman (John 4:20-26), Jesus clearly signals that some activities involved in the worship of God would change despite having been required practice since at least the time of the building of the Temple by Solomon, a period of about a thousand years. Also within the context is Jesus' hint that the nature of worship would be changing from rote public ceremonies to more heartfelt devotion and personal interaction with God.

The general term “worship” is first and foremost a verb, an action. Worship is motivated by a desire to honor another. In the Bible, this action is almost always directed toward God, though it is directed at times toward others, even fellow humans and false gods. When worshipping the true God, the worshipper is often described as bowing down, in a posture of listening for instruction and ready to obey, or kneeling, all picturing submission to someone of greater authority and seeking to please him. In an overall sense, then, worship portrays submissive service to another of greater power or dignity.

In Jesus' statement to the Samaritan woman, He describes the Father as a Spirit, saying that those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. His statement qualifies true worship as being on a higher, purer level than virtually everyone at the time was accustomed to giving. The fact that “Spirit” is first capitalized, identifying a divine Being to be worshipped, and the next time uncapitalized and coupled with “truth” indicates Jesus is signaling a positive change in approach to worship.

Thus, a link exists between the change signaled by Jesus in John 4:23-24 and the higher, different standard the church council enacted in Acts 15 regarding circumcision and baptism.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Four)

Romans 1:16-20

It is difficult for an intelligent person to misunderstand what God says through the apostle. Because of the vile practices that mankind displays before Him, He is not obligated to save anybody! However, He will offer salvation to some as He chooses because He is motivated from within Himself to accomplish His purposes.

God's existence is a truth that some dogmatically refuse to believe. Another, larger population of men and women accept that He may exist, but their acceptance of His existence does not motivate them to live by what He says. Their further commitment to Him is stalled because they refuse to accept and believe His guidance found in the Bible.

A much smaller group believes enough to study His Word and start down the path toward accepting and doing what He says. They may even believe strongly enough to commit to baptism, but for whatever reason, they lose interest, stop growing, and depart from Him and His way.

Finally, an exceedingly smalto ler group believes with all their heart. They are consistently committed to Him, and His cause becomes their cause in life.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Was Hebrews Written? (Part Eleven): God Is Not Silent

Romans 12:1

The reality of the New Testament's teaching is that becoming a true disciple of Jesus Christ obligates a person to a great deal of sacrifice—even to the point of becoming what the apostle Paul calls being “a living sacrifice." The disciple of Christ is clearly the sacrifice. Why do the sanctified ones make these sacrifices since the price they pay for forgiveness is dedicated, obedient devotion to the leadership of Jesus Christ?

This price requires the sacrifice of every function of a Christian's body, mind, and spirit to the way of God. It can be very costly. It may cost the Christian his employment because of work requirements on the Sabbath. He may lose his family attachments because the family may not accept his beliefs. He may lose his general acceptance within a community for the same reason.

We commit to Christ for two primary reasons. The first is personal and somewhat self-centered: We want to be delivered from the burden of the death penalty, and we desire the awesome rewards God promises like everlasting life and, sharing eternity with our Creator and Savior. The second is generally slower to grow within us but proves far more critical in the end: We love God and desire the completion of His purpose in us. Through baptism, we want the means to express that love for God and for others as He continues with His creative purposes, preparing us for active participation in His Family in the Kingdom of God.

We should never let the encouraging Romans 5:1-5 slip from our minds:

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts, by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

These verses, naming gifts God gives us upon our agreeing to the New Covenant, remain as a brief but constant reminder of how the New Covenant enables us. They inspire and empower our faith in ways no prior covenant, even with God, has. But the New Covenant does not erase God's laws, just the penalty we have incurred by breaking them. Even the sacrificial laws involving animals, though they no longer have to be physically made, remain part of the Word of God because we can learn so much from them. They deepen and broaden our understanding of the sacrifices we must make under the New Covenant to show love to both God and men.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part One)

1 Corinthians 15:55-58

Is it still possible for us to sin and experience sin's sting? As long as the laws that define sin exist, the possibility of death remains because it is possible for us to break those laws. This is why verse 58 urges us so strongly to be steadfast and immovable in the work of the Lord. His work in us as individuals is to refine our character so that we never sin. We are in training to be in God's image, and God does not sin.

The term “sting” illustrates what is painful about sin. The most painful element involved in sin is death, and with death, all hope is lost. Sin kills. Do we believe that? Sin is the cause of death. The function of the laws of God is to provide knowledge of sin. God's laws give us knowledge of what to do and what not to do. Sin is still to be feared!

We must be careful, though, because our carnal nature is so deceitful that by giving us knowledge of what not to do, sin can actually play a role in arousing us to desire a taste of it, to experience its excitement. And so we can give in to sin. We must fight this desire with all our being. After God commanded her not to eat of the tree in the midst of the Garden of Eden, Eve failed to fight the intriguing desire, and she ended up sinning! God's laws have never been against us; He designed them for our good. They continue to give us guidance about what is right.

Our sins imposed the death penalty on us—and ultimately on our Savior—in the first place and still do if we continue sinning after He pays the debt. God's laws have not changed, and the penalty for breaking them remains the same despite Jesus' merciful payment on our behalf. Irrespective of the New Covenant, the laws continue to define sin. If we continue sinning, His death for our benefit is absolutely wasted. Specifically, at our baptism, His death pays only for sins committed in the past.

Christ's death is the means, the way, that opens the door for completing the perfection of our character into His image in preparation for the Kingdom of God. The Holy Spirit God gives us through the laying on of hands is the means of keeping His laws far more perfectly than before our calling. Sins committed after accepting His shed blood can put one on the road to the Lake of Fire because His death did not remove our obligation to obey the law. We must repent of sins committed following baptism so they do not produce more severe consequences.

God's laws still exist and are still in force, guiding us in living God's way.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part One)

Colossians 2:13-14

When we choose to be baptized, we come to Christ physically alive but spiritually dead because the death penalty still hangs over our heads. Our sins have been recorded, but this spiritual death, paying the penalty for sins, has not yet been paid by means of Christ's blood. Following our repentance, God accepts Christ's death as the means of redemption, paying the debt in our stead. This act of justification erases from existence the death penalty against us. Even so, that erasure does not remove from the book the laws we broke, only the penalty for breaking those laws.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part One)

Hebrews 1:1-4

This opening paragraph broaches the core of the entire epistle. The remarkable amount of material here is reminiscent of what is written in John 21:25: “And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”

Names and titles identify people, objects, and even political, religious, or cultural movements within societies. Historical names and titles tend to identify those personalities who lived at the forefront of significant human occurrences of the past. They appear in our histories because people desired to know and understand their activities for their own edification.

God's early dealings with Abram are an example. In Genesis 11:26, God begins the history of their relationship. Before God speaks directly with Abram, we find that his father's name was Terah. God also provides us with Abram's birthplace, Ur of the Chaldees, and his lineage beginning with Shem, son of Noah.

As time passes, God also informs the reader that Abram married Sarai, who was then barren. He leaves the length of time within this first contact unspecified, but God eventually speaks to Abram in Ur and commands him to depart. However, by the time Abram and Sarai leave Ur for Canaan, the elderly Terah seems to have decided to move with them, and he leads the group from Ur to Haran, a city far to the north. In Haran, Terah seemingly abruptly dies at age 205, leaving Abram, Sarai, Lot, and the unnumbered remainder of Abram's party to continue to Canaan without him.

While Abram and Sarai were in Ur, God never appeared to them. He did no more than speak to them. Not until Genesis 12:7 does the Bible first mention God appearing to him, and by then, they had arrived in Canaan.

Also, at some time after their arrival in Canaan, the term “the Hebrew” is added to Abram's identity (Genesis 14:13). Perhaps this was done to distinguish him from other Abrams whom God did not want confused with the biblical Abram. Maybe He did it to help future readers make a positive identification. We have always accepted that the term “Hebrew” identified a person as being a descendant of Eber. However, scholars claim that this is not the only usage of the term's root, saying that “Hebrew” was used anciently to distinguish a person who had “crossed over.” This usage implies an individual with no long-term community roots, a wanderer. A Hebrew, then, was a traveler into an area who had crossed a border, a mountain range, or a river, or even one who changed loyalties into, say, a new religious belief.

The beginning of the epistle to the Hebrews contains a compact form of a similar procedure of identification. God inspired the human author to focus immediately on the central Personality of the entire letter—Jesus Christ—identifying Him by titles and by His associations with a magnificent series of mindboggling accomplishments and bestowed honors. By the time the brief, four-verse opening paragraph is concluded, God has already set a strong foundation for convincing those skeptical about Jesus' qualifications that, yes, He is qualified to be High Priest under the New Covenant to assist the elect children whom God is calling into His Family.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Eight): Hebrews 1

Hebrews 1:1-3

The author of Hebrews begins by extolling the given and achieved qualities of Jesus Christ. He did this partly because some Jews were dissatisfied with His being the High Priest; they considered Him to be unqualified. First on their list of reasons might have been that He was not a Levite (an argument the author engages in Hebrews 7).

The epistle's first verses, however, proceed to prove to the Jews that Jesus is qualified in every way to be High Priest despite His human descent. Israel, not Christ, is the one with the problems. The opening paragraphs demonstrate in a series of biblical quotations why Jesus should be accepted:

  1. He is the Son of God;

  2. He is the heir of all things;

  3. He is the actual Creator God;

  4. He is the brightness of God's glory;

  5. He upholds all things by the word of His power;

  6. He purged us of our sins; and

  7. He sits at the right hand of God on high.

That is a tremendous, unrivaled pedigree.

Why did God halt His sending of prophets? He had a better Prophet to send. Consider these seven shortcomings of all prophets in comparison with Jesus' strengths:

  1. All were human beings with earthly origins.

  2. All were sinful.

  3. All were beset by spiritual weaknesses.

  4. Their messages “came” to them from God; that is, their prophecies did not originate within themselves. What they said might not be the absolute Word of God. Thus, their messages lacked full divine authority.

  5. They did not grasp the fullness of the messages given to them.

  6. They did not understand the fullness of God's overall revelation and purposes.

  7. They only bore witness of the light or message God sent.

Jesus had none of these shortcomings because He was already God and one with the Father. The Jews greatly underestimated His qualifications, but in short order, the author rejects any prophet or angel from having better ones. He also does not stop displaying Christ's qualifications, continuing to add to and expound on them throughout most of the epistle. It becomes overwhelming proof of His fitness to be our High Priest.

Perhaps the Jews underestimated the impact of Jesus' birth, His ministry, His many miracles and healings, His controversies with the Pharisees and the Levitical priesthood, His tragic and “cursed” death, and His resurrection because they were done openly and had been much discussed. In addition, they distrusted His institution of the preaching of the gospel, which included opening salvation to the Gentiles.

We need to consider these things because the Father engineered this entire package from heaven. He knows when and how to advertise and promote His program, and He can do so vividly and with startling impact. Besides the prophets, the Old Testament figures the author selects to compare to Jesus are apparently listed in the order the Jews generally held as being of the highest regard. Abraham and Moses both ranked high on the list.

At the foundation of Jewish resistance to Christ, however, was their insistence that there was no need to change from the historical, traditional, Old Covenant truth that the high priest was appointed from the tribe of Levi, specifically from the family of Aaron. But there was more to their resistance than just this one point. The Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers in Matthew 21:33-45 shows that God has continuously attempted to communicate faithfully and honestly with the Israelites—and with Gentiles too. However, the Israelites—most of whom do not know they are Israelites and think they are Gentiles—have always resisted Him and the truth He gave them. Conversely, actual Gentiles seem to grasp the intent of God's message more quickly than Israelites do, probably because they do not have Israelite history and their traditional beliefs blinding their theological vision to the superiority of Jesus and the truths of the New Covenant.

Thus, God's setting aside of the Old Covenant and putting the New Covenant into effect paved the way for the Jews to resist. Theologically, it was too much change for many Jews to digest and accept as it effectively destroyed any reason for Judaism to continue because the New Covenant is far superior to Judaism in terms of salvation. Individual Jews might find a “reasonable” justification for its continued existence, but it was an emotional, uphill fight for them to overcome.

The New Covenant did away with the need for the Temple, the priesthood, and the sacrifices made at the Temple. None of those religious activities could even begin to compete with what the New Covenant offered: the forgiveness of sins, the gift of God's Holy Spirit, and a one-on-one relationship with the Creator God, Savior, and High Priest! Even the apostles, who spent three and a half years with Christ, had many questions despite being with their Creator almost constantly during that time.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Nine)

Hebrews 1:1-14

The author's direct and indirect references to the threefold offices of Jesus Christ—prophet, priest, and king—provide a link between Hebrews' first and second chapters. Christ holds all three at once, which is impressive. He is a Leader every knowledgeable individual should yearn to serve under because, under His leadership, great things will be accomplished. Those under Him will share the rewards of His achievements.

In Hebrews 1, the author describes the Son as the One through whom God spoke prophetically as “Son” (verse 2). In verse 3, He is the High Priest who provided purification for sins. In verses 6-14, we see Him prophetically, ruling from His throne in His Kingdom, alluding to His royal authority. These verses look far into the future, assuring us that His holding of the office of High Priest is a settled, eternal issue.

Why? The answer appears in Hebrews 1:9: God places Him in that office, anointing Him “with the oil of gladness more than [His] companions,” because He “loved righteousness and hated lawlessness,” as demonstrated by His sinless life. He most certainly qualified for it. The quotation from Psalm 45:6-7 is no idle saying. Jesus was head and shoulders above all others in terms of His qualifications to lead.

These brief statements set the stage for the rest of the epistle. Hebrews 1 is a primer of what He has already done and will continue to do and expand upon for the members of the God Family. Remember, Christ Himself dogmatically states, “Without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). God is glorified by His Family producing fruit, and without Jesus Christ, no fruit can be produced. Without His work, our salvation would be impossible. As High Priest, He is the literal link between us and sharing eternity with God in His Family. Without Him, we could expect only death in the Lake of Fire.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Ten): Christianity's Claims

Hebrews 1:3

Jesus has been exalted to sit at the Father's right side in heaven. By the power of the Father, He rose from the dead to work with the Father on Their plan to complete the creation of mankind in God's image. No plan of Theirs has ever failed by even the smallest degree. Yet few use their faith in Jesus' work. Most make no effort to seek His help in producing the fruit that glorifies God.

Conclusion: Humanity shows it cannot be bothered with such a triviality as prayer.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Ten): Christianity's Claims

Hebrews 1:4-9

Overall, the Jews generally had high regard for angels, and well they might. Part of the reason is contained in the word translated “direction” in Acts 7:53, at the end of Stephen's speech to the Sanhedrin: “. . . who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.” The underlying term in Greek is diatage, which is capable of wide usage, suggesting “put into order,” “delivered,” “given,” or “put into effect.” The King James Version translates it elsewhere as “delivered,” “given,” “put into effect,” and “through.” The Key Word Study Bible suggests, however, that since the Old Testament says nothing of angels doing anything significant except being present when the law was given, the most suitable translation would be “instrumentality” (as The Amplified Bible does).

Stephen undoubtedly refers to Deuteronomy 33:1-2:

Now this is the blessing with which Moses the man of God blessed the children of Israel before His death. And he said:

The LORD came from Sinai,
And dawned on them from Seir;
He shone forth from Mount Paran,
And He came with ten thousands of saints;
From His right hand
Came a fiery law for them.

Moses speaks of the giving of the law and the making of the Old Covenant. The term “saints” in this context is literally “holy ones.” In this circumstance, it could only be angels.

Psalm 68:17 also mentions the attendance of angels on this occasion: “The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of thousands; the LORD is among them as in Sinai, in the Holy Place.” The chariots of God, to put it in human terms, refer to angels being the chariots' drivers, manning the vehicles of God's military might.

The apostle Paul writes in Galatians 3:19:

What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator.

The Amplified Bible (1987 version) translates this final phrase as “arranged and ordained and appointed through the instrumentality of angels.” Remember that the holy angels were and still are sinless. In this way, we can grasp the biblical reasons why the Jews had so much respect for them.

Thus, the apostle Paul confirms that God did indeed use angels to some extent at Sinai when He gave the law, but he gives no specific details. The author of Hebrews shows that even though the Old Testament does not detail the part angels played in the giving of the law and the Old Covenant, the Old Testament does show that angels were strongly represented. Overall, angels played a prominent role in a wide variety of situations.

From these mentions and many more, the Jews esteemed angels more highly than men. This is a natural reaction to biblical revelation and a good one, yet they attracted the admiration of the Jews for other reasons too, like what Psalm 103:20 says of them: “Bless the LORD, you His angels, who excel in strength, who do His word, heeding the voice of His word.” “Strength” represents enhanced traits such as intelligence, wisdom, and the obedience that is specifically mentioned. They are not merely spiritual robots.

Psalm 104:4, quoted in Hebrews 1:7, adds, “. . . Who makes His angels spirits, His ministers a flame of fire.” They are God's ministers, who serve Him as He sees fit. They are of such quality that they occupy positions at the top of the divine, governmental hierarchy. We can easily conclude that God carries on much of the administration of the creation through them.

But as elevated as angels are in God's placement of them within His governance of creation, and as glorious as they are in their innate powers, they are nevertheless subject to the Lord Jesus, even as humans are. One who was made a little lower than angels, however, has ascended to heaven to the right hand of God the Father. There is now a glorified Man in heaven, who has attained a station exceedingly higher than any angels' position. In the end, angels are still mere created creatures, as we are, and thus He, Jesus Christ, their Creator and God, is immeasurably higher than they.

For the Jews to be told that Jesus of Nazareth was God incarnate—that is, God made flesh—and the Messiah, yet He suffered death despite possessing glory and dignity far exceeding that of anyone on earth, excelling even that of heavenly angels, was something beyond their ability to accept readily. One of the points the author of Hebrews makes, although he never states it directly, is that the Old Covenant, in reality, achieved no higher than angelic mediation, though that in itself is impressive. In the making of the New Covenant, Jesus Christ, their Creator, replaced the angels in all their covenantal activities. God Himself mediates the New Covenant, putting it on an exceedingly higher level than the Old Covenant.

Knocking down the angelic argument proved to be an excellent place for the author of Hebrews to begin. Why? Because He establishes Christ's superiority above all who might be considered in His place, including even those the Jews respected most highly, angels.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Nine)

Hebrews 1:4

Some readers of Hebrews have trouble grasping His usage of “having become” here. The key to unlocking this mystery about Jesus' becoming something He was not before and seemingly having to qualify to hold a position is understanding the time-linkage between this statement and Psalm 2, where God proclaims unambiguously that He had begotten a Son. Twice in Psalm 2 He is called “Son” and once “His Anointed,” the Messiah. God states this long before the human Jesus was born.

John 1:17-18 helps to clarify the identity of the Son:

For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.

The entire first chapter of John's gospel seeks to identify the Son of God, principally who the Son in Psalm 2 is. The prophetic proclamation made in Psalm 2 points to only one Person in all of history, and that Person was irrefutably not an angel. John tells us the Son is Jesus of Nazareth.

Luke 1:30-35 provides a clarifying identification:

Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, the Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.”

The angel makes this declaration about the unique, one-of-a-kind, Person whom the New Testament names “the only begotten Son of God.” He is plainly named “the Son of the Highest.” He, as John 1 reveals, is also God, even as the One we know as “the Father” is God.

Though the title “Son” was written as part of Psalm 2 many hundreds of years before the New Testament appeared, God the Father assigned and declared it when Jesus was born of the virgin Mary. It occurred at the beginning of His 33½-year human life, during which He conducted His ministry.

Jesus did not have to qualify for this office in the ordinary sense. He was already entitled to it by being God both when the prophecy was originally uttered and when He was conceived in Mary's womb and became human. The prophecy in Psalm 2 ends with His death, payment for our sins, and resurrection, paving the way for our eternal life. Thus, Jesus fulfilled God's purpose, not just of being simultaneously both God and man but also being sinless, an unblemished sacrifice to pay the price for our sins.

Thus, at the moment of His birth, God exalted Jesus to what He never literally was before: As the Son, He became the New Covenant's High Priest. He was already performing the job throughout His ministry. As God, He did not have to qualify for what He already was, though He had to finish His course through death and resurrection.

The problem arose for the apostles when God began calling Jews to conversion. They soon became aware of this prophetic reality and questioned it because it did not harmonize with their religious traditions.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Ten): Christianity's Claims

Hebrews 1:4-5

Part of the reason that the great dignity of His name is far beyond that of any angel is how the relationship between the two God Beings transformed over the course of Their plan. Without any ambiguity, the author declares that the Father and Son are directly related to each other. There are no “in-betweens” as there are between God and angels. The Father and Son are one—that is, of the same immortal kind and in perfect harmony. Absolutely no angel under any circumstance can make such a claim!

It helps to recognize that the term “angels” is not qualified in any way, indicating that the author of Hebrews meant to include all angelic beings in his terminology. In God's organizational order, Jesus ranks higher than any and every rank of angelic beings that may exist, from the lowest to the highest, regardless of name or descriptor in Scripture, even to the position of archangel.

Two New Testament passages confirm this statement:

» . . . which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come, and He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:20-23)

» There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him. (I Peter 3:21-22)

However, the very fact that Jesus, even as a human, carried the title “Son of God” is telling and therefore totally persuasive to those who believe. It immediately conveys the idea of a relationship that humans, as Jesus was while on earth, can have with God. It also suggests a relationship superior to what angels have with God. Nowhere in Scripture are they considered sons as Jesus was. As Hebrews 1:5 implies, there is no record in Scripture that any angel was under any circumstance ever called “My Son”!

The natural idea conveyed by this title, “Son of God,” in Scripture is that He sustained a continuous relationship with God. Why did He use this title? Because it is true! He had maintained that relationship, which is why the author begins the epistle in that manner. The gospels show that “Jesus” (Yeshua, “Savior”) was His Hebrew birthname, inspired by God and revealed to Joseph and Mary (see Matthew 1:21; Luke 1:31), but at the same time, He was the Son of God (see Luke 1:32).

Among other names and titles, He called Himself “Son of God” (John 5:25; 10:36; 11:4). To this fact, we add the truth that He never sinned; He never even once told one little fib. This truth is huge and telling when we honestly consider how frequently we have “bent” the truth.

It is also persuasive because the title authenticates Him as such throughout all time. It is either true or false, and if false, we have no Savior! John 8—the entire chapter—is an excellent guide to this revelation of Himself. In this way, Jesus is unique in all the history of mankind.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Twelve): The Son's Superiority Over Angels

Hebrews 1:5-6

Note that the central issue in the epistle is that Jesus Christ is the lone Subject of the author's theme from which he never deviates throughout his argument. This issue of angels may have surfaced in some people's mind because the Old Testament calls them “sons of God” in Job 1:6 and 2:1. In addition, the nation of Israel is called God's son in Exodus 4:22, and Solomon receives that title in II Samuel 7:14.

However, God gives none of these entities the exalted status of His begotten Son, as the entire epistle refers to Jesus Christ. One will search in vain through the Scriptures for God addressing any angel in this privileged manner. It appears not even once.

The quotation in Hebrews 1:5 derives from Psalm 2:6-8:

Yet I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion. I will declare the decree: The LORD has said to Me, “You are My Son, today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession.”

God may have said this here because He desired to establish the relationship between Them as a father-and-son one, like the human relationship, to be revealed later when Jesus was born in the flesh.

Hebrews 1:6 carries this challenge another step. To affirm Christ's greatness, the Father charges angels with this directive: “Let all the angels of God worship Him.” This order clearly reinforces that the Son is also God. If any of the angels had chosen to worship any other personage but the Creator God, it would have amounted to idolatry. To Jews, this command confirms that the Son is high above any angel that they may have chosen to be the high priest within the New Covenant. Jesus is clearly superior in every way to all angels.

Another somewhat unique Greek term appears in this context: prōtotokos. It is not unique to the Bible nor to humanity in general, but it is exceptional in that it is used in absolute terms in relation to Christ. Prōtotokos means “firstborn.” Scripture uses it in connection to Jesus being the firstborn of several siblings (e.g., Matthew 1:25); in reference to the church as God's firstborn (Hebrews 12:23); in reference to Jesus' place as the source of, and supreme over, all creation (Colossians 1:15); and in regard to His preeminent place in the process of redemption (Colossians 1:18; Revelation 1:5). It is a rare term in secular Greek, mostly used in its literal sense, but it can be a title that grants a citizen social significance within a community.

Here, though, it seems to signify that the Son (note the title) has the same status with God the Father that a firstborn human son has with his father—He is the Heir. In Jesus' case, His status, partially due to this firstborn factor, reaches even to His exaltation and enthronement as Sovereign over the universe.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Eight): Hebrews 1

Hebrews 1:6

It is right for us to worship the Lord Jesus Christ. When He was born into the world as a human, the angels gave homage by worshipping Him. The wise men from the east who came to witness of His birth worshipped Him, and God did not rebuke them for doing so. These witnesses all worshipped Him even as a newborn, before He did anything that demonstrated His divinity. Therefore, He was always God, even within His mother's womb (see Luke 1:39-45). He was not a mere angelic messenger. As the Living God, His every act was divine, and even as a human, He showed ample evidence of His authority.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Ten): Christianity's Claims

Hebrews 1:6-14

We should understand Hebrews 1:6-14 as comparisons made by the author to heap praise on Jesus Christ of Nazareth in contrast to any angel whom one might consider as being on the same level or even above Him.

In this first chapter, the apostle reveals the main line of his approach to the subject of who is qualified to be High Priest to the children of God under the New Covenant. He does so by using an irrefutable argument based in Scripture: that Jesus of Nazareth is far superior even to those whom some acknowledge to be primary contenders from the created world, particularly those from the angelic realm. However, Jesus is as much superior to any angel as any creator is superior even to the absolute best of his creations. The pre-incarnate Jesus, the Word, is the Creator (Ephesians 3:9; Colossians 1:16), and He created the angels and gave them life just as He did to all living things in this creation.

Our Creator and Savior has made His decision regarding the order among His created beings quite clear. Angels are valuable and highly qualified servants who are far more intelligent, powerful, and morally pure in the roles they currently fill in His purpose than human beings are. Even so, they are not created for the more exalted offices He is creating us to occupy. Therefore, we should clearly understand He created them to serve under us in the positions for which He is preparing us. This truth is both awesome and humbling at the same time.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Twelve): The Son's Superiority Over Angels

Hebrews 1:7-9

The statement in verse 7 puzzles us because it is a figurative expression capable of a couple of interpretations. It is a near-quotation of Psalm 104:4, “Who makes His angels spirits, His ministers a flame of fire,” which does nothing to help our understanding. It may help to recall that angels can rightly be understood as messengers. The verse can thus be translated into a more understandable statement, that God “makes winds His messengers, flames of fire His servants.” The New International Version and other modern Bibles render it similarly.

Most expositors resolve the issue in this manner. They believe that, since the chapter's purpose is to expound and glorify Jesus as immeasurably superior to angels, the “messengers” and “servants” should both be identified as angels, not different kinds of created things. Therefore, they are both angelic creations though pictured as little more than elemental spirits that do their Creator's bidding. The Son, however, remains exceedingly higher and greater than they, for He is the One who created them and sends them on their errands.

This solution to verse 7 fits hand-in-glove with verse 8, which presents Jesus as possessing a throne and a kingdom: “But to the Son, He says: ‛Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom.'” Compared to the Son's throne, kingdom, and status as Creator, the angels are doing relatively minor work, being sent by the Son to do various chores. Jesus continues to be exalted, and the angels, though honored for faithfulness, are shown in subservient positions.

Verse 9 carries the exultant praise yet further: “You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness more than Your companions.” Not only is righteousness the norm where He reigns, but He loves it, while at the same time hating sin. In terms of character, Christ is undivided. The Father then addresses His Son directly as God, stating that, because He has done this, He receives a superior anointing, marking Him as worthy of higher praise than others.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Eight): Hebrews 1

Hebrews 1:8

Hebrews 1:8, supported by John 1:1-2, attests that it is right to address Jesus as God. We cannot go wrong if we address Him as such because the Bible, the sacred Scriptures, obviously does. In terms of character and purpose, He is exactly and precisely the perfect image of the One called “the Father.” They are distinct Personalities while identical in purpose and character. They are not divided, nor do They compete in any way.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Ten): Christianity's Claims

Hebrews 1:8-9

In one sense, the Kingdom of God under King Jesus Christ already exists because those God has converted already have God's Holy Spirit, making them the Kingdom's citizens (Philippians 3:20). Thus, the converted begin to bear the Father and Son's attitude and character image. Besides, Hebrews 1:8-9 reveals Him as already anointed and on its throne as King. He simply has not yet established His Kingdom on earth. It is devoted to righteousness, and its extant presence through the Holy Spirit bids us to join further with it. People move all over the world, seeking a better life, while they could experience the Kingdom of God spiritually right where they are.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Ten): Christianity's Claims

Hebrews 1:10-12

In Psalm 102, these words apply simply to the eternality of God, but here they are applied directly to Christ without qualification. By God's Spirit in us, He has also made us understand that Jesus was the God of the Old Testament. As far as we know, not many Jews grasped this reality, but the passage presupposes this fact. The writer of Hebrews uses it as another opportunity to exalt Jesus Christ above angels. Unlike them, He lives eternally.

The author's remark about clothing helps as it addresses the subject of created things in contrast to the eternal God who created all physical things. The quotation's mention of clothing that will be rolled up and disposed of illustrates an eternal truth. All of the physical creation is slowly but constantly wearing down. It is absolutely, relentlessly perishing. From this, we extract a fundamental truth of life: Jesus Christ, the Creator God, began the universe, and He will end it. A new heaven and a new earth will be established (Revelation 21:1), but through it all, He remains the same (Hebrews 13:8).

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Eight): Hebrews 1

Hebrews 1:10-12

What the world will soon face in the end time gives Christianity a vital position to claim mankind's attention and service. Under God's dominion, the earth and the life it bears have never stopped changing. For instance, God exhibited some of His mighty powers in the Noachian Flood, changing the entire world. Hebrews 1:10-12 combined with prophecies in the gospels and Revelation foretell in terrifying language that the earth and even the heavens will, at God's direction, undergo tremendous changes as Christ's return nears. Who can truly imagine what people will have to witness and endure before He completes this phase of His purpose? Christianity's claim represents that safety is to be found at His side. Why not move to escape within God's merciful claim on us?

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Ten): Christianity's Claims

Hebrews 1:10-12

Malachi 3:6 reads, “For I am the LORD, I do not change.” Hebrews 13:8 states, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” If the Kingdom claims us as one of its own, God may require us to experience some dangerous, even life-ending, situations. Under humans, governments go through constant changes even during peacetime, and the process of change ramps up as enemies vie for control through warfare of some sort, including politics.

The Bible assures us, “There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24). Our attachment to Jesus Christ—our Redeemer and Brother—must be unaffected by all external changes. In Him is safety. He is giving us the time we need to bind us to Him, but the dissolution of all things, though out of sight now, could soon come into view as our God moves toward the conclusion of His purpose.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Ten): Christianity's Claims

Hebrews 1:13-14

Verse 13 derives from Psalm 110:1, a psalm considered Messianic even by Jewish scholars. We can think of this quotation as a reverberation of verse 4, in that we need to consider it in the same way as what is written there of the eternal God, Jesus Christ: “. . . having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.”

The interesting phrase here is “having become.” But how can the eternal, constant God—eternally superior—change or “become so much better”? Of course, the Son was always eternally superior to the angels. That, however, is not what is in play here. The writer refers to what the Son did in becoming human and putting away the sins of men. Because He had paid the penalty for sins, He could sit down on God's throne in the place of the highest honor, and from this standpoint, He is deemed greater than any angel. No angel has ever come close to achieving that magnificent triumph.

Regarding angels, Hebrews 1:14 asks rhetorically, “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?” This conclusion to the chapter makes a definitive statement about angels as compared to Jesus Christ. They have a place of dignity and honor in the Kingdom of God, but they are servants. The term “all” applies to every one of the angels without distinction. Despite their uncommon excellence in many areas, they are set aside to serve, especially the saved among mankind.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Eight): Hebrews 1

Hebrews 1:14

The implications of this verse should restore our confidence about man's importance in God's purposes. In God's purpose for man, we witness man's dignity—his worth or value—from God's point of view. In His mind, man is worth so much that He has ordered angels to serve us. Depending on how much this world has influenced or jaded us, even this astounding revelation may not impress.

In this world, kings are served by a retinue of other, lesser men. However, in God's purpose, angels—beings of far greater powers and intellect than mere men—attend His children. What does this revelation suggest about the elect's value in our Creator's mind? These highly gifted and mighty beings wait on even the humblest of converted humanity, people who may suffer a wasting disease or may not have completed even an elementary-school education, assisting them in entering God's Kingdom. Their Creator has impressed upon them our importance to Him, so they serve us as though we are precious beyond all reason.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Ten): Christianity's Claims

Hebrews 2:1-3

What God has freely given us is of such monumental importance to our eternal well-being that one would think nothing could ever dislodge it from our minds. However, Hebrews 2:1-3 warns that God's truths can indeed slip from our minds. Through neglect, we can allow our minds to drift from the firm anchor they once had.

Drifting away will happen, not because any of God's Word will change, but rather because the human mind has a propensity to allow even once-meaningful ideas and habits to diminish in importance, which leads to harmful changes in our behavior. We might object, “I would never let that happen!” But what happened to Solomon? I am not his judge; I do not know if he has lost his chance of salvation. But there is no doubt that God tremendously gifted him with understanding, wealth, and power, but toward the end of his life, he let things slip and drifted away from God and His ways.

Drifting from what we once thought thoroughly lodged within us can indeed happen when we allow our focus to wander through neglect. This wandering from the way is a very real danger because it may be happening, and we remain unaware of it. It can occur subconsciously as we unthinkingly spend less time with God and His Word and more time engaged in this world's distractions.

I remember swimming in the ocean as a boy and not realizing that the ocean's current was causing me to drift away from my parents on the beach. By carefully studying the shoreline, I realized that it was not the same as the one where I had entered the water. Only then did I become aware that I had drifted. A similar kind of unintentional drifting from God's truth can take place in our minds. Unless information from God's Word is consciously kept fresh within us, we will begin to stray!

If we fail to work at keeping things fresh, we have a proclivity to forget them. If this were not so, God's warning would not appear in His Word.

Even prolonged acquaintance with the truth can create drifting because we can allow our familiarity with it to produce an attitude of contempt. “Contempt” may be too strong a term in many cases, but this tendency is a built-in weakness that grows unless we take some purposeful action to counter it from time to time. When exciting revelations are new, they generate focused attention that keeps us alert in the hope that God will reveal even more to us, adding even more excitement. However, we must be careful because the new becomes old, and the exciting tends to dull over time. They become “old hat,” and we soon pay them scant attention.

Then there exists the reality that most of us are hardworking and productive people. Some of us have a problem controlling the amount of time and effort we expend on producing material things; such people are workaholics who burn through time and energy they should spend in more spiritual pursuits. They consume their time in physical work, and that time, once used up in an activity, is gone forever. Past time cannot truly be redeemed. We can only “redeem” future time for its best use.

So, too many of us allow time to drift away, spending it on relatively unprofitable things. We need to prioritize our time better, spending it on burning eternal things into our minds and hearts so that God's way is always our first response.

The presence the word “neglect” urges us to pay attention because we can lose priceless understanding by slacking off in our necessary work to retain Christ's testimony and bring glory to God. Neglect means “to ignore,” “to disregard,” “to be unmindful of,” “to be slack, inaccurate, inattentive to, or slovenly inexact.” It is warning us that we will pay a high price for carelessness.

What do we lose if we drift away by neglecting to follow our spiritual responsibilities? Hebrews 2:1-3 does not say what we lose by rejecting God's truths, only that we can drift away through neglect, by failing to take care of the responsibilities God has called us to perform. The author implies that by doing so, we trade an eternity of sharing life with the glorious and wonderful Jesus Christ for what? A momentary bit of excitement, a fleeting relationship with another flawed human being, a temporary chance of wealth, ephemeral prestige, or some other transient, earthly achievement? Do these sound like good trades?

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Thirteen): Hebrews 2 and the Next Five Years

Hebrews 8:1-6

The author directly states that this idea is the primary reason for all he has written so far. Christianity is earth's only religion that is led by a spiritual High Priest sitting at the right hand of the throne of God in heaven. Within the material the author has written are two major points:

First, the qualifications of this towering Figure, who holds such an important office, make Him indispensable to the salvation of all God's sanctified ones. Indispensable? Absolutely! Jesus tells us Himself in John 15:5, “Without Me you can do nothing” in terms of producing fruit that glorifies God. He has much to offer. The epistle to the Hebrews identifies these qualities.

The second major reason is not named here. Some may consider it unimportant in comparison to the first. However, God, who knows precisely where His creation is headed and who sovereignly controls its direction and speed of advancement, never intended the Old Covenant to last forever.

Remember, God Himself publicly introduced the New Covenant six centuries before the writing of the book of Hebrews (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Its introduction within the flow of the history of the church and the world began to force key cultural changes to take place within Judea especially, but also in majority Gentile areas of the Middle East. Many Jews were being converted. Within the church itself, both the leadership and membership were asking many questions about what they needed to do to adjust to this new way of life. Those converts required direction from on high to secure them in living by faith in Jesus Christ.

The transition from Judaism to Christianity following Christ's crucifixion and resurrection and the church's receipt of the Holy Spirit—all in the early AD 30s—needed purposeful instruction from heaven to confirm to the church the direction that Christ wanted the daily, spiritual operations of Christianity to proceed. Just as the book of Leviticus contains detailed instruction for daily functions under the Old Covenant, so similar education was necessary under the New Covenant because of what God was working in the church—and is still working today.

The epistle to the Hebrews contains such instruction, enabling those who have entered the New Covenant with God to make the necessary adjustments to maintain their lives by faith and grow spiritually. In this way, they can glorify God by maintaining their relationship with Christ while preparing for the Kingdom of God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part One)

Hebrews 8:6

Many hold the mistaken belief that the New Covenant transforms living by faith and glorifying God into a far easier task than under the Old Covenant. “Easier” is an erroneous descriptor. Even though a convert is forgiven of past sins and receives wonderful gifts from God, including the Holy Spirit, the New Covenant also requires him or her to become a living sacrifice. Sacrificing one's life in humble submission to God is not easy, as the New Testament attests. Jesus lists some requirements in Luke 14:25-27:

Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.”

Almost all who call themselves Christian today hold the opinion that, through the New Covenant, God has made salvation much easier to obtain. The central pillar in their belief seems to be that since Jesus kept the laws perfectly, and since He paid for the forgiveness of our sins through His sacrifice, when one accepts Him as Savior, the convert's obligation to meet the New Covenant's demands is somehow magically reduced or even eliminated. People carelessly say, “Jesus did it all for me.”

In plain language, a high percentage of professing Christians accept as true that God's law is essentially done away. They believe that Jesus kept it for us. While that idea contains truth, it has been twisted into a misleading concept: that we need not be as concerned about keeping it as those who lived under the Old Covenant. Nothing could be further from the truth! Why? Our willing, devoted, and careful participation in keeping His law is absolutely necessary to be created in God's image!

The reality is that the New Covenant establishes what we might call graduate-level requirements of keeping God's law. However, God compensates for our weaknesses by providing the spiritual tools to reach those levels. Jesus did keep the commandments for our benefit, in that God is mercifully willing to accept His righteous life and death to pay our debt to Him for our sins because we do not have sufficient righteousness to pay the cost to have the death penalty removed.

But something is missing in people's misunderstanding of this reality, so their trust in it is also skewed. What is missing is what radio broadcaster Paul Harvey called “the rest of the story”: the truth that godly character is not imposed but built, created, with the willing and dedicated assistance of the person being transformed. The world's flawed conclusion dismisses the fact that God's creation of each person into His image is only just beginning at the individual's forgiveness and baptism into the church and the Family of God.

Anyone thinking of baptism should consider—if we have little need to be concerned about sin—why Jesus is so solemn and stern in His admonition in Luke 14:25-27 about His disciples following such high standards. Not being discussed at this point is that, despite Christ's wonderful gift in sacrificing Himself to pay our indebtedness to God, the reality is that the wages of sin, death, remain because the existence of the laws continues.

What we find is that God not only forgives us, but in our calling He also gives us the spiritual tools to fight and win the spiritual battles we engage in to keep sin from re-enslaving us. The fight against sin continues. God provides the tools for us to go on to perfection (Hebrews 6:1-2) if we will believe in them and use them.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part One)

Hebrews 8:7-13

These verses outline some major objectives within the workings of the New Covenant. Merciful forgiveness for breaking God's laws is a major one. The author provides an intriguing overview of God's objectives using the means of the New Covenant as His tools. This overview provides a clear statement that God will be an even more hands-on Creator, working in His people's behalf more than ever before. It clearly states that law-keeping and sinlessness are major objectives in its institution, giving no indication of any kind that moral laws are being “done away.”

The excitement is building toward seeing what He will lead each of us to become in our lives. It should be abundantly clear that God's law will be a primary tool in creating us into the image of Jesus Christ so that throughout eternity we are prepared to follow Him wherever He goes, and He kept God's laws perfectly.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part One)

Hebrews 10:1-10

This passage makes a distinct statement about the comparison between Christ and everything or everyone who came before He arrived on earth to complete the work of God. Jesus' teaching, leadership, and personal example is reality compared to the misty shadows cast by everything else.

The key term throughout Hebrews, then, is “better.” The author uses the comparative “better” a number of critical times: Hebrews 1:4 (“so much better than the angels”); Hebrews 7:19 (“a better hope”); Hebrews 7:22; 8:6 “(a better covenant”); Hebrews 8:6 (“better promises”); Hebrews 9:23 (“better sacrifices”); Hebrews 10:34 (“a better and enduring possession”); Hebrews 11:16 (“a better . . . country”); Hebrews 11:35 (“a better resurrection”); and Hebrews 11:40 (“something better”).

Not only is “better” emphasized, but “greatness” is also mentioned several times: Hebrews 2:3 (“so great a salvation”); Hebrews 4:14 (“a great High Priest”); Hebrews 7:4 (“how great this man was”); Hebrews 9:11 (“the greater and more perfect Tabernacle”); Hebrews 10:32 (“a great struggle with sufferings”); Hebrews 10:35 (“great reward”); Hebrews 12:1 (“so great a cloud of witnesses”); and Hebrews 13:20 (“that great Shepherd of the sheep”).

The author draws the Hebrews' attention to the contrast between what they gave up in converting and what they gained: Christians have “a great High Priest” (Hebrews 4:14); “an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast” (Hebrews 6:19); and an exclusive altar (Hebrews 13:10). Christians are also exhorted to look forward to “the world to come” (Hebrews 2:5); to “the age to come” (Hebrews 6:5); to the New Covenant being made with the united houses of Israel and Judah (Hebrews 8:10); to “the good things to come” (Hebrews 9:11); to Christ's second appearing for salvation (Hebrews 9:28); to the receipt of the promise at His coming (Hebrews 10:36-37); and to a future heavenly city (Hebrews 11:14-16; 13:14).

Everywhere a reader turns within Hebrews, by means of sheer repetition of comparisons revealing the superiority of Christ, Christianity, and the New Covenant, he or she is quietly but forcefully drawn to one overriding reality. The center of Judaism was the Temple, the priesthood, and the sacrifices, all of which were fine teachers and good experiences as God intended them. Even so, they are not what God desires for His children at this time within His purpose. They are not good enough for His children now. The author writes in Hebrews 8:4-6, 13:

For if He were on earth, He would not be a priest, since there are priests who offer the gifts according to the law; who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, “See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises. . . . In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

Though the Jewish converts were indeed deprived of the distinctive symbols of the past, they were but shadows, symbols, mere copies of heavenly things. Through God's calling and the gifts He provides, they were then, as we are today, dealing with realities and preparing for the realities of eternal life in the Kingdom of God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Three)

Hebrews 11:1-4

What was the difference between Cain and Abel? The Bible notes that Abel proved by his action that something set him apart from his brother. Though Cain and Abel were full, flesh-and-blood brothers and raised to adulthood by the same set of parents, Abel was markedly different.

Abel's belief in God set him apart from Cain. Even today, those who operate on the same faithful set of beliefs distinguish themselves from those who do not, like Cain. This principle is a simple but monumental reality concerning how one should conduct his life! No other characteristic even begins to come close in value to what faith in God can produce in terms of well-being for an individual or a nation.

Hebrews 11:6 points out faith's importance, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” The epistle's author, who may have been the apostle Paul, adds in Hebrews 10:22, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” Faith is thus mandatory for a relationship with God.

Faith in God is not the complete answer, of course, but its lack certainly reveals a fundamental need as people try to find solutions to the problems that arise almost daily. God is the Source of all good solutions, and faith in Him is the beginning step in seeking them out. It is by our personal faith as God's called-out ones that we will not only endure the troubling times that lie ahead but also grow as we respond to Jesus Christ's leadership. Even amid the nation's calamitous troubles, we can triumph through the faithful use of His Holy Spirit!

We cannot be dogmatic that we will experience any direct persecution in the near future. We can be sure, however, that the ongoing troubles will continue to spawn a gradual but ever-increasing weariness and confusion. The “spirit of the times,” the currents of thought in our increasingly anti-God society, will impact our lives negatively. We will likely find it difficult to be certain about how we should conduct our lives during such times. We may have trouble discerning who is telling the truth about ideas and events affecting us. These things will disturb our sense of well-being, but skillful use of faith will keep us focused on Christ.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Thirteen): Hebrews 2 and the Next Five Years


 




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