By: Daniel Goepfrich
Israel’s Eternal Rest
Hebrews 4 continues the second warning by expanding on the concept of promised rest from chapter three. Under Moses and Joshua, the Israelites thought that reaching the Promised Land was the extent of their rest. However, the promise was not limited to the rest from slavery that “Joshua had given them” because “the promise of entering his rest remains open,” both in the writer’s time and until today (Hebrews 4:1-9). Coming back to Psalm 95, the writer warned the believers in his audience to not “come short of it” themselves because “a Sabbath rest remains for the people of God.”
Thus, the writer furthered the contrast between Jesus and specific Jewish heroes, this time comparing him to Joshua. Although Joshua could provide only temporary, physical rest, Jesus provides eternal rest. However, this rest is available only to those who do not “fall by following the same pattern of disobedience” (Hebrews 4:10-11) as those at Kadesh-Barnea.This is an early indication that the rest/inheritance that will come up throughout the letter is not a reference to salvation, which cannot be gained or lost by obedience or disobedience. Additionally, using the pronoun “we,” the writer repeatedly included himself in the group who could potentially lose access to this rest.
Lest anyone think he could sneak into the rest, the writer assures all his readers (including those in the present day) that God sees and knows everything and that his word of judgment can determine even “desires and thoughts” (Hebrews 4:12-13).
Jesus the High Priest
Hebrews 5 should begin with Hebrews 4:14-16, as the writer moved from his second warning to his third emphasis on Jesus. Picking up from the end of Hebrews 2, the writer opened a long section on “Jesus the High Priest.” Although God’s people have not yet entered into rest, we do already have full access to God through Jesus. Hebrews 4:14-16 contain two more exhortations with the formula “let us” do something. Because Jesus is our High Priest, “let us hold fast to our confession” (as opposed to drifting from and neglecting it, first warning) and “[let us] confidently approach the throne of grace” (rather than rebelling against it, second warning).
The reason we can do this is becauseof Jesus’ ministry as our great High Priest. In Hebrews 5:1-4, the writer mentioned some significant points about the Aaronic priest – he was a human, representing the people before God with compassionbecause he was subject to their same weaknesses. Additionally, a priest was called by God to minister in this way, offering free-will gifts and sacrifices. The major weakness is that they were also sinners.
Using this as his comparison, the writer showed that Jesus met all of those requirements (except the weakness of sin) and that he did minister on behalf of the people through his sacrifice, which made him completely able to save all who come to him (Hebrews 5:5-10). He is now serving “as high priest in the order of Melchizedek.” The reference to Melchizedek is so significant that the writer will address it more in chapter seven; however, it is now clear that Jesus is also better than Aaron, in addition to the prophets, angels, Moses, and Joshua.
A Warning Against Spiritual Laziness
Hebrews 5:11-14 sets the stage for and leads into chapter six and the third warning passage. The context is maturity. More specifically, a Christian’s level of spiritual maturity, which is dependent on Bible study and Christian practice, will determine how much he can understand about spiritual matters. The writer thought he could not go much further in his discussion of Melchizedek because his readers lacked maturity. However, this lack of maturity was not because of lack of instruction. They had “become sluggish in hearing.” Old enough to be mature and teaching others, they had regressed to a state of spiritual infancy, probably due to the unintentional drifting he had warned them about in chapter two.
Each Thursday, DPH runs a Chapter-by-Chapter blog by Daniel Goepfrich, progressing readers chapter-by-chapter through the New Testament. This series is taken from New Testament Chapter-by-Chapter, published by Trust House Publishers, a division of DPH. Daniel serves as Pastor of Oak Tree Community Church in South Bend, Indiana, and blogs at www.TheologyIsForEveryone.com
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