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Volume 7, Issue 4: Exegetica

Therefore Brethren

Jim Nance

Having completed the doctrinal body of the epistle to the Hebrews, the author now turns toward practical applications and exhortations. These exhortations, as the opening two words imply, he firmly grounds in the doctrines of Christ so gloriously revealed in the chapters prior. Having understood by God's grace those things to be believed, we, like his original readers, must move on to the things to be done - not leaving them behind and forgotten, but building on them as a foundation.

We have seen a number of exhortations already (Heb. 2:1-4; 3:12-13; 4:11; 6:11-12) in which the author repeatedly commands the Hebrews to hold fast to the faith, not drifting or departing from the living God, but showing diligence to the end. Such warnings have given us some insight into the author's purpose for the letter and the original readers' situation. These Hebrews, having become members of the new and better covenant of which Christ is the Mediator, were in danger of drifting back to the more tangible types and shadows of the Old Covenant, with its earthly priesthood, animal sacrifices, and physical temple. Those who would return to these he compares with the Israelites who rebelled against Moses, wanting to return to slavery in Egypt, whose bodies were scattered in the wilderness. He contends that to turn from Christ's once-for-all sacrifice to the sacrifice of bulls and goats is tantamount to crucifying again the Son of God and putting Him to open shame. The Old Covenant is obsolete. In a few short years or months after this letter was written, the temple of Jerusalem was completely destroyed, multitudes within the city were slaughtered, and the earthly sacrifices and priestly service were ended. They have never been restored.
"Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God..." (Heb. 10:19-21). Whereas under the Old Covenant "the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest," we now have boldness to come before God's throne in worship, both personal and corporate. Such boldness would be foolish arrogance if done on our own authority, but now in Christ, God has both authorized and commanded us to approach Him. The author here reviews for us (in reverse order) three doctrines of Christ from the previous five chapters which are the foundation of our boldness:
(1) Christ's blood, contrary to the blood of animal sacrifices, purged the sins of His people whom "by one offering He has perfected forever" (cf. Heb. 9:12 - 10:10).
(2) Christ's body, pictured earlier by the tabernacle, and here by the curtain in the tabernacle, was a temple "not made with hands" by which God dwelled with us, and by which, once rent, we now have access into the Presence, which the worshippers of old did not have "while the first tabernacle was still standing" (cf. Heb. 9:1 - 9:11).
(3) Christ Himself is a perfect High Priest in the order of Melchizedek - as God, representing man to God, and as Man, representing God to us - sinless, yet understanding temptation, strong, yet having compassion on the weak, a Priest Who "ever lives to make intercession for them" (cf. Heb. 4:14 - 8:6).
Therefore, on the basis of all this, "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" (Heb. 10:22). We are commanded not only to come to God, but to come near in holy love and devotion. On our own we can do nothing to prepare our hearts, stained with sin as they are; they must be sprinkled and cleansed by God. Such cleansing was pictured under the Old Covenant by the sprinkling of the blood of bulls and goats on the objects of worship (Lev. 16:14-15) and the washing of the unclean in water (Num. 19:17, cf. Heb. 9:13). What was merely pictured, Christ has done for us now, granting to us a full assurance of faith by which we come close to our God.
"Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful" (Heb. 10:23). The author reminds the Hebrews, who were being tempted to waver through doubt or fear of persecution, that God has shown His faithfulness to them by carrying out in Christ the plan which He made before the foundation of the world, which He displayed throughout the Old Covenant, and which He has fulfilled in the cross. How much more should we in our short lives be faithful, clinging to the hope by which we first came to Him, and trusting in His faithfulness. "He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it" (1 Thess. 5:24).
"And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works" (Heb. 10:24). Drawing near to God and holding on to hope are internal, invisible actions of faith which are only manifest by the way in which we obey God in serving our brothers. We are here told, not only to love as the opportunity arises, but to think and plan both how to serve others and how to encourage them to do the same.
We are to do this, "not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much more as you see the Day approaching" (Heb. 10:25). As the day of Christ's judgment on Jerusalem came near, the Hebrews were tempted through fear or culpable neglect to forsake their meetings together. The author teaches them that exactly the opposite should be the case, for when we are in danger, how much more do we need the encouragement of meeting together as the saints of God.

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