The Epistle to the Hebrews – Review and Prepare
Pastor Mark Hardy March 22, 2015
Hebrews 12:1 says, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”
In various places in the New Testament our Christian life is likened to a marathon race that is set out before us. And every believer has their own specifically chosen race from God that he or she is running. The Word of God tells us that God calls us to this race (Phil. 3:14), we must train for this race (1 Tim. 4:7-8), we are to exercise strict self-control and diligence in the race (1 Cor. 9:25-26), we must compete according to the rules (1 Cor. 9:27; 2 Tim. 2:5), and we are to run to win the prize (1 Cor. 9:24-25) with singular devotion, “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (Heb. 12:2).
Whereas all Christians agree that the Christian life is a marathon race, not all of them agree on what prize is to be won and how the race is to be understood. This is one of the things we will be looking at this morning.
Approximately 4 ½ months ago we began a study of The Epistle to the Hebrews. We only got through chapter one when I felt compelled at the first of the year to do a series on God’s Purposes for the Church. I believe that was of the Lord, for a lot of good things have come out of it and other positive changes have been set in motion.
But now we return to our study of Hebrews. However, since we have been away from this book for some time, this morning we are going to briefly review what we have already seen in chapter one and then do some preparation for what we will be looking at next time. First, let’s do a REVIEW.
I. We began our study of Hebrews by looking at six elements of the introduction that gave us some preliminary details and an overview of this letter.
A. These six elements are:
1. The Uniqueness of the Epistle. Hebrews is like no other New Testament epistle. For it is unique in its title, its form, its language and style, its frequent use of the Old Testament, its treatment of the present priestly ministry of Christ on behalf of the believer, its five solemn warnings on the peril of turning away from and forsaking Christ, and its numerous problems of lack of specific information concerning its author, recipients, reason for being written, destination and date.
2. The Identity of the Author. No one really knows but God.
3. The Recipients of the Letter. This letter was written primarily to Jewish Christians.
4. The Date Hebrews was Written. Sometime between A.D. 64-69.
5. The Theme of the Book. The overall theme has to do with the absolute superiority of Christ over everyone and everything.
6. Why Hebrews should be Studied. Because it is a very practical book. It was written to give confidence and assurance to believers who were suffering, and as a result, were struggling in their Christian faith. It is a book of strong exhortation and deep encouragement.
II. We then looked at how Christ is superior to the prophets in vv. 1-2a.
A. In v. 1 we saw that “God has spoken in the prophets.” This is a reference to Special Revelation, which is the inspired, inerrant, authoritative and sufficient Word of God.
B. But even superior to that, in v. 2a we saw that “God has spoken in His Son.”
1. In stark contrast to God’s revelation in the past through His many prophets, God has spoken the message of redemption in His only begotten Son. God’s full and perfect revelation of Himself and His will awaited the coming of His Son, the God-Man, Jesus Christ.
2. Therefore, in the first two verses the author of Hebrews shows two stages of divine revelation that correspond to the Old and New Testaments respectively. God’s revelation to man is a story of progressive revelation that begins with the prophets in the Old Testament and culminated in Jesus Christ in the New Testament.
III. Now having introduced Jesus Christ, the author of Hebrews then gives a series of seven marvelous truths about the Son of God that not only bring out His greatness, but also show why He is the climax of God’s revelation and superior to everyone and everything.
A. Jesus Christ is:
1. The Messianic Inheritor—“…whom (i.e. God the Father) appointed heir of all things” (v. 2b).
2. The Almighty Creator—“…through whom also He made the world” (v. 2c).
3. The Divine Radiator—“…He is the radiance of His (i.e. the Father’s) glory…” (v. 3a).
4. The Perfect Representor—“…the exact representation of His (i.e. the Father’s) nature…” (v. 3b).
5. The Powerful Carrier—“…upholds all things by the word of His power” (v. 3c).
6. The Priestly Purifier—who “…had made purification of sins…” (v. 3d).
7. The Exalted Ruler—who “…sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (v. 3e).
IV. Christ is not only superior to the prophets, but also Christ is superior to the angels.
A. This truth is seen in the long section of 1:4-2:18 on angels, which can be divided into four sections. Thus far, we have seen the first section in 1:4-14 that had to do with Christ’s superiority to angels affirmed by the Old Testament. The author of Hebrews gives five proofs of Christ’s superiority to angels in a series of seven quotations from the Old Testament, which are:
1. He has a superior Name (vv. 4-5).
2. He has a superior Dignity (v. 6).
3. He has a superior Status (vv. 7-9).
4. He has a superior Existence (vv. 10-12).
5. He has a superior Destiny (vv. 13-14).
IV. All of that is what we looked at in Hebrews 1. Now as we come to the second section on angels in 2:1-4, we encounter the first of the five warning passages in Hebrews (2:1-4; 3:7-4:13; 5:11-6:12; 10:19-39; 12:12-29). However, before we look at that passage in detail next time, there needs to be some PREPARATION in order to have a proper understanding of warning passages.
A. There is a crescendo effect to the five warnings in Hebrews as the author intensifies each warning.
1. With each warning the author makes the admonishment more urgent and severe to avert increasingly more defiant responses to God’s final revelation by His Son in these last days (1:1-4). The warnings escalate in their tone of urgency, for the first begins by warning against careless failure to hear Christ speak (Heb. 2:1-4), but the last warns against defiant refusal to hear Christ who speaks from heaven (Heb. 12:12-29).
2. Now each of these five passages warns the hearers lest they commit the sin of apostasy, which is turning away from, forsaking and denouncing Jesus Christ, and fall subject to the dreadful consequences of eternal condemnation.
3. Now since the early days of the church, believers have questioned the biblical relationship between God’s promises regarding the believer’s assurance and perseverance and God’s admonitions or warnings.
4. On the one hand, God promises to give salvation to everyone who believes the gospel by following Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31). He also promises to preserve His people in faithfulness to Christ unto final salvation (Jn. 11:25-26) by His grace alone (Jn. 3:19-21; Eph. 2:8-10; Phil. 2:12-13).
5. But on the other hand, God’s admonitions or warnings require believers to persevere in belief and loyalty to Christ to the end in order to be saved (Matt. 10:22; Rom. 5:3-5; 2 Tim. 3:12; Rev. 22:18-19).
6. This seemingly hopeless contradiction has given rise to many questions, such as: Do the warnings indicate that it is possible for genuine believers to apostatize and perish in the end? Do they suggest that it’s up to us to succeed or fail in our Christian race? If so, is there no assurance of our salvation? Will all believers persevere to the end in faithfulness to Christ? What is the prize we are running to win? Is it salvation itself or something else?
7. Now not all Christians agree on the answers though all appeal to Scripture. Because of this, believers stand divided on how to view these warning passages.
B. This has led to five major views regarding the biblical relationship between God’s promises of assurance and His warnings that urge believers to persevere to the end in order to be saved. The first is the “Loss-of-Salvation View:”
1. This view insists that warning passages address genuine believers who can and sometimes do abandon their faith by forsaking Christ and commit apostasy. As a result, these believers are said to then lose their salvation or eternal life.
2. This view teaches that warning passages are proof that Christians who have partaken of the present aspect of salvation are free to forsake Christ and perish eternally. However, this clearly contradicts God’s promises of eternal security in Jesus Christ for everyone who believes.
C. The second is the “Loss-of-Rewards View:”
1. Christians who hold this view also agree that biblical warnings address true believers and function to indicate a possible loss for these genuine believers. And yet, since they believe Christians cannot lose their salvation, which comes only by faith in Jesus Christ, the threat of loss concerns merely the believer’s rewards to be received in the age to come.
2. This view states that even though a professing believer fails to persevere in faithfulness to Christ and abandon’s the faith that person is guaranteed salvation, for God remains faithful. The person’s lack of “good works” or “fruit” have absolutely nothing to do with salvation.
3. Adherents of this view see biblical warnings to persevere to the end as the intrusion of “works-righteousness” into the gospel, and so, they feel like they are the guardians of the gospel’s purity (Gal. 1:8-9). However, in doing so they minimize the awfulness of apostasy and don’t believe the prize to be won in the Christian race as salvation itself.
D. The third is the “Test-of-Genuineness View:”
1. In stark contrast to the previous two views, this view teaches that the warning passages function as “tests to prove” that the professing believer who fails to persevere in faithfulness to Christ never possessed true saving faith in the first place (1 Jn. 2:19). Biblical warnings are merely to distinguish false believers from true believers.
2. This view rightly conceives of salvation as already possessed and as something that, once possessed, cannot be lost. And its advocates vigorously and justifiably oppose any notion of “works-righteousness,” insisting that authentic faith in Christ inevitably perseveres in producing “good works” or “fruit” as a necessary evidence that one is truly saved (Eph. 2:10).
3. However, they don’t believe that the warning passages ever address true believers, for that would entail their loss of salvation, which is not possible. They also fail to accept that the prize to be won in warning passages is future salvation (prospective), which in Hebrews is made very clear (Heb. 1:14; 2:3, 10; 5:9; 9:28).
4. Instead, the loss warned against is already a present reality for the persons being warned. In other words, they turn the warnings into a backward-looking (retrospective), introspective self-examination to assess whether or not one’s belief is authentic.
5. Although the theology of this view is correct, it is wrongly applied to the texts in Hebrews.
E. The fourth is the “Hypothetical-Loss-of-Salvation View:”
1. Christians who hold this view contend that the warnings in Hebrews address genuine believers to correct only their “wrong idea” that apostasy is not serious. It is wrong to think that one can continue to oscillate between Christianity and Judaism without eternal loss.
2. This view believes the author of Hebrews is merely speaking hypothetically saying, “If a genuine believer could apostatize, which in reality couldn’t happen, then it would be impossible for that person to become a Christian again.”
3. Now none of these four views explain biblical warnings satisfactory. And none their advocates arrive at their interpretations of biblical warnings on the basis of the warning passages themselves, rather they impose their theological bias on the warnings.
4. But there is another view that is more biblically accurate.
F. The fifth is called “God’s Means-of-Salvation View:”
1. Now to introduce this view it is important to understand that the New Testament books containing warning passages have multiple applications to the professing believers receiving them. Therefore, when the Holy Spirit goes “hunting” applicationally, He doesn’t use the truths of the Word of God like a single shot rifle but as a sawed-off shotgun.
2. In other words, because He knows professing believers can be a “mixed audience” of true believers and false believers or unbelievers, He hits everyone dead-on exactly where they are. If the shoe fits, wear it!
3. Theologian Ardel Caneday said it like this, “The writers of the New Testament wrote their books to people—ones who had attached themselves to the church by a profession of faith. They were not so naïve as to presume that all who would come into contact with their letters were regenerate individuals. However, they did not question or disparage the professed faith of their readers. The apostles addressed the church according to its profession and in this manner included tests, exhortations, and admonitions to depend solely upon grace, and warnings against apostasy by which the readers could measure their own profession and ascertain their status. . . . Exhortations in Scripture have at least a threefold purpose: 1) to reveal the spurious professor of faith, 2) to cause the believer to strive for holiness of life, and 3) to drive the believer to his only source of enablement—the preserving grace of God.” (Zemek Biblical Soteriology p. 237)
4. Now those Christians who hold to “God’s Means-of-Salvation View,” which I believe is the best view, teach that the prize to be won in the Christian race is salvation itself. But remember the biblical concept of salvation entails both “already” and “not-yet” aspects.
5. Salvation is a present gift from God that we already possess (Eph. 1:14; 2:8-9), but it is also a prize for which we hope because we do not yet have it in its fullness (Rom. 8:24-25; 13:11; Heb. 9:26-28). Therefore, our salvation is an “already, but not yet” reality.
6. As Christian we are already saved, but biblical warnings call for faith that endures or perseveres to receive the prize that is not yet received. This “already but not yet” perspective of God’s gracious gift of salvation is indispensable for a right understanding of how God’s promises correlate with His warnings, for both His promises and His warnings are fundamentally oriented to the future day of salvation and judgment.
7. Biblical admonitions or warnings are not backward-looking (retrospective) but forward-looking (prospective), and are designed to elicit faith that perseveres to the end in order to lay hold of the eternal prize of life. They function as a necessary means for believers to persevere unto future salvation (1 Pet. 1:5).
8. Theologian A.A. Hodge says this about the primary function of biblical warnings, “God secures the perseverance in holiness of all his true people by the use of means adapted to their nature as rational, moral, free agents. Viewed in themselves they are always, as God warns them, unstable, and therefore, as he exhorts them, they must diligently cleave to his grace. It is always true, also that if they apostatize they shall be lost; but by means of these very threatening’s his Spirit graciously secures them from apostasy.” (Outlines in Theology p. 543-545).
9. God accomplishes His promised end of future salvation by use of the means of biblical warnings. The end will not be realized apart from the means.
10. God’s warnings are a means to secure His promise to save everyone who believes. Whereas God promises salvation to all who believe in Jesus Christ, at the same time He also gives warnings to persevere in obedient faith to the end in order to be saved.
11. Therefore, God’s promises and warnings are not opposites or contradictory to one another. The two stand compatibly together.
12. God’s warnings function harmoniously with God’s promises. His warnings are the means He uses to secure His promise of salvation for His people.
13. God’s warnings are not intended to incite doubt concerning His promises. Rather, He uses warnings to serve His promises, for the warnings urge belief and confidence in God’s promises of assurance.
14. Warnings are a significant means by which God moves us to act so that His promises to us will be fulfilled. He appeals to our motives and fears to prompt us to act in keeping with His designed purpose.
15. Therefore, both God’s promises and His warnings work together as a means to cause us to persevere to the end in faithfulness to Christ, instead of becoming arrogant and presumptuous about our faith. Theologian Millard Erickson accurately stated, “The practical implication of our understanding of the doctrine of perseverance is that believers can rest secure in the assurance that their salvation is permanent; nothing can separate them from the love of God….On the other hand, however, our understanding of the doctrine of perseverance allows no room for indolence or laxity.” (Christian Theology p. 996)
16. God strengthens our faith both by assuring us that He will preserve us safely to the end and by warning us lest we perish by failing to persevere in steadfast loyalty to Christ.
17. As true believers we can be assured that we will persevere in faithfulness to Christ to the end. But this is not by our own human strength and resources, it is by the grace of God alone.
18. This doesn’t mean that true believers cannot fail, wonder from the Lord and lapse in their Christian faith. The crucial issue here is that true believers won’t do this completely and indefinitely.
19. This is because the Jesus Himself intercedes for us and gives us grace to repent and continue on in faith. Jesus also promised never to lose us when He said in John 10:27-29, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”
20. As a genuine believer you can never lose your salvation! God has promised to complete the work He has started in you.
21. For Paul declares in Philippians 1:6, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”
22. However, God uses warnings as a means to cause us to persevere in order to secure the promise of our salvation. This is because persevering in faithfulness to Christ is essential not optional.
23. Persevering in Christ is a mark of authenticity. Therefore, in the warning passages all professing believers are called upon to examine whether their behavior truly matches what the gospel requires of all who believe (1 Jn. 2:3-6).
24. Those who fail to remain loyal to Christ and apostatize reveal that they were never genuine believers (Lk. 8:1-15; 1 Jn. 2:18-19). Their “so-called faith” was not true saving faith.
25. We must understand that the warning passages are given so that we can be admonished and admonish other professing believers to continue in faith, not so that we can discern whether or not a person is truly a Christian. Only God knows a person’s heart; our responsibility is to lovingly help each other stay on or get back on the pathway to heaven.
Bottom line, I believe what all this means to us practically is that as we each run our Christian marathon race to the finish line, we can run with confident assurance that we will win the prize of future salvation as we are, according to Hebrews 12:1, “…running with endurance the race that set before us.” This is because it is God’s grace and strength alone that enables us to finish the race. And because it is, He alone gets all the glory! Now with this perspective on biblical warnings to prepare us, we will look at the first of the five warning passages in Hebrews next time.