“THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS“
In the preceding articles of this series, we have discussed the divine nature of the Lord Jesus Christ, proof for which is found in chapter 1 of the Epistle to the Hebrews. In the present study, we shall devote our attention to the exhortation which is drawn from the facts thus far presented and which is found in 2:1-4.
“Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things that were heard, lest haply we drift away from them.” The Greek idiom used implies the logical necessity which is expressed by the word “ought”. In view of the overwhelming evidence proving the deity of the Lord Jesus and His coming into the world to deliver the message of salvation to men, those to whom the Apostle wrote are urged in the strongest manner possible to give heed to the message which they had heard. Note this strong language: “Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed.” The matter of accepting or rejecting Jesus as Lord and Saviour is the most serious consideration in life. One's welfare for both time and eternity is wrapped up in one's accepting or rejecting Jesus.
The Hebrews were urged to give heed to “the things that were heard.” The writer did not say, neither did he imply, that those addressed had ever accepted the message. We are sometimes told that the epistle was written to Hebrew Christians who were on the verge of turning back to Judaism. This hypothesis does not seem to be in keeping with this exhortation. If these people had already accepted Christ and the gospel message, this exhortation would have been inappropriate; for the people thus addressed could have said that they had already accepted the message. We will do well to take the position that these people had heard the message but had not received it (this point has been treated in a former article).
The recipients of the epistle were urged to accept the message which had been heard by them “lest haply we drift away from them.” If these people had accepted Christ — had, in the language of the passage, let down their anchor — there would have been no need for the Apostle's warning them of the danger of drifting away. The facts are that these people had been brought up to a clear understanding of the message of the gospel like a ship brought into port but had never anchored their souls by a personal acceptance of Jesus. There was, therefore, a grave danger that they would drift away.
Emphasizing the necessity of their accepting the message, Paul calls attention to the fact that the words spoken through angels had proved steadfast and that every transgression and disobedience to the law had been punished.
The reference to the word spoken through angels points to the law of Moses, which according to Stephen was “ordained by angels” (Acts 7:53). This law was perfect. In fact, everything which God does and gives is perfect. Nevertheless, it was “the ministration of death” (II Corinthians 3).
This law was perfect and adequate for the purpose for which it was given; namely, to show the exceeding sinfulness of sin (Romans 7:13). It could and did reveal the sinful character of those under the law, but it could not remove the guilt and stain of sin.
Nevertheless, this law was steadfast. The reason for this fact lay in the further fact that this was God's word and that the Lord watches over every utterance of His to fulfill it. “Moreover the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Jeremiah, what seest thou? And I said, I see a rod of an almond tree. Then said Jehovah unto me, Thou hast well seen: For I watch over my word to perform it” (Jeremiah 1:11,12). The word of God is backed up by His omnipotence, “For no word from God shall be void of power” (Luke 1:37).
The writer asks his readers, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation” since every transgression and disobedience of the law was punished? He reasons that, since God was strict and commanded absolute obedience to the law, though perfect, yet an inferior revelation to the gospel, how can anyone escape who ignores the gospel call. We must understand that Paul, though he used the plural pronoun “we,” did not include himself. He simply spoke as any evangelist does to his audience. In the original text the word rendered “if we neglect” is a participle and literally means “not being concerned or interested.” The same word in the exact form occurs in Matthew 22:5: “But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his merchandise.” In this passage our word is rendered “made light of it,” the invitation to the wedding feast. Literally, the original text declares that these invited guests were not concerned about accepting the invitation and attending the festivities. This usage is the exact parallel to that of Hebrews 2:3 “if we neglect.” This word shows most clearly that those who are addressed in this portion of the epistle had heard the gospel call but had been indifferent toward it. They, therefore, passed by without any consideration of the claims of Christ.
This great salvation concerning which these Hebrews were not interested was that which was first spoken by the Lord Jesus himself. Paul speaks of it as “so great salvation.” Salvation literally means deliverance. One must consult the context to determine from what the deliverance is. For instance, Moses, as he and Israel stood on the banks of the Red Sea, urged the people to stand still and to see the salvation of God. He explained what he meant by telling them that the Egyptians whom they saw that day they would never again see. The salvation, therefore, to which he referred was deliverance from the armed forces of Egypt. The salvation, on the other hand, which was spoken first by Jesus is deliverance from eternal death and the granting to such life eternal and bliss with God forever.
One of the earliest sermons preached by the Apostle Peter was delivered to the household of Cornelius, the record of which is found in Acts 10:34-43. This sermon sets forth before the audience the plain straightforward facts relative to the labors and preaching of the Lord Jesus during His personal ministry. In this early account, we see most clearly the distinctiveness of the Gospel of Christ, the gospel of the grace of God. Especially does this appear in the concluding statement of the record. “To him bear all the prophets witness, that through his name every one that believeth on him shall receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43).
Paul, the author of this epistle, states that this gospel which Jesus first proclaimed was confirmed “unto us by them that heard.” Paul, as all who are acquainted with the biblical account know, was not in the original apostolic company. Here he speaks, however, of the preaching of Jesus as being confirmed unto him and his readers, who had not enjoyed hearing personally the messages of Jesus by those who had had this privilege and who had passed on to them the message of this great salvation.
The Lord Jesus selected certain ones of His disciples and appointed them to be “the apostles,” the exponents of the gospel message. These the Lord Jesus trained during His personal ministry of three and one half years in order that they might proclaim to the world the message of truth. There were others who had accompanied Jesus from the baptism of John to the resurrection, as we learn in Acts 1. The personal ministry of Jesus, though a soul saving campaign, was primarily designed to train the disciples to carry on the work which He had begun. They were, however, to await the coming of the Holy Spirit who would bring to their remembrance the teaching which Jesus had given them and who would bring to them additional revelations.
The apostles were charged by the Lord Jesus to preach the gospel first in Jerusalem; next in Judea; then in Samaria; and finally to the uttermost part of the earth. These instructions they carried out to the very letter. Since Paul declared that the gospel was to the Jew first (and still is) and since he in every place preached first to the Jew and then to the Gentile, we may be certain that the rest of the apostles followed the same method. By the year 58 A.D. when Paul wrote the Roman letter, the gospel had been preached to the entire world: “But I say, Did they not hear? Yea, verily, Their sound went out into all the earth, And their words unto the ends of the world” (Romans 10:18). This quotation from Psalm 19 was used by the Apostle to convey the idea that the gospel message had by that time been given to the whole world. From this fact we may be certain that the entire Jewish nation had been evangelized, but the great majority of that people, being indifferent toward the claims of Christ, had rejected it.
By general consent among conservative scholars, the Hebrew epistle was written in all probability in 68 A.D., two years before the fall of the Jewish nation and its world wide dispersion. Let us remember that at this time-68 A.D.-the same gospel message, which was preached by Jesus and, after His ascension, by the apostles was still the gospel that was being proclaimed and that men had to accept in order to be saved.
These facts refute the position taken by certain excellent men that there was a change in the message and a new order introduced at the time of Paul's imprisonment in Rome. See Acts 28. By these brethren it is argued that the proclamation of the gospel during the first generation was largely by the Jews and was designed to call out the Jewish Bride of Christ. When, however, Paul reached Rome, he officially turned from the Jewish nation to the Gentiles and then was revealed to him in the prison epistles (Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians) what is termed “body truth.”
According to these expositors, a different message was given and another spiritual setup was inaugurated. Now, as these brethren see it, God is taking out from among the Gentiles a people for His name. In the close of the present dispensation, according to these interpreters, the Lord will resume His program of completing His Jewish Bride. The fact that five years after Paul had made his speech to the Jews at Rome, as recorded in Acts 28, he is in the Book of Hebrews insisting that the Jewish nation should accept the same message which Jesus during His personal ministry proclaimed is proof that the position under consideration is not in accordance with the teaching of the Word of God. The facts are that there has been no change in the spiritual setup since Pentecost. In harmony with this position is Paul's statement to Timothy, about the same time: “If any man teacheth a different doctrine, and consenteth not to sound words even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; he is puffed up ...” (I Timothy 6:3,4). There is but one Gospel. Dare any man to proclaim a different one.
God confirmed the message of those who were proclaiming the gospel by “signs and wonders, and by manifold powers, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to his own will” (Hebrews 2:4). Thus by divine manifestations, the gospel message had been confirmed in the first century to the entire Jewish nation.