The author of Hebrews had established Jesus’ superiority over the angels (1.5-14). Even Jesus’ becoming a man enhances His superiority, for by sharing “in flesh and blood” He was able to both render Satan powerless and be a merciful high priest (2.14-18). Recall that angels had a part in delivering the Law (2.2; cf. Acts 7.38; Galatians 3.19), so it was essential to show Jesus’ superiority to these heavenly beings. But what about the lawgiver, Moses; how does Jesus compare to Him?
3.1-6, Jesus is worthy of more glory than Moses
There is no difficulty in understanding this passage: Jesus is shown to be better than Moses, because as the Son over the house He is deserving of more glory than a servant in the house. It is interesting that the Hebrew author does not point out Moses’ flaws and moments of doubt (like his reluctance to return to Egypt, Exodus 3-4, or his failure to honor the Lord resulting in his inability to enter the promised land, Numbers 20.1-12). Rather, the author emphasizes Moses’ greatness and faithfulness to amplify the glory of Jesus.
Note the following from the text:
- Recall that Jesus “partook” of flesh and blood (2.14), and the result is that we can now be “partakers of the heavenly calling” (3.1).
- Jesus is referred to as “apostle”, the only such occurrence in the New Testament. This is not an official designation (like the 12 apostles), but points out that Jesus was “sent” to accomplish the Father’s will (see 2.10).
- The use of “house” in this passage does not refer to a structure, but to the household (note vs. 6).
- The term “servant” in vs. 5 is not the same as the one which would reference a slave. “The word for “servant” (therapōn) is found only here in the NT. It denotes an honored servant, one who is far above a slave but still a servant.” (Leon Morris, Expositors Bible Commentary). Thus, Moses was elevated above the rest of Israel, but he was still subordinate to the Son.
- The term “Christ” is first used by the Hebrew author in vs. 6. The frequent use of “Jesus” in the prior passages emphasized the Son’s humanity, but to show the contrast with Moses it was also necessary to emphasize the Son’s status as the chosen, anointed one.
3.7-15, Call to hold fast to our assurance
Having established the Son’s superiority to Moses, the author uses the example of Israel’s unfaithfulness to urge his readers to heed and follow the Lord. The quotation is taken from Psalm 95.7-11, a psalm which begins with the psalmist urging the reader to “shout joyfully”, to worship and kneel before the Lord (Psalm 95.1-7). It was then that the psalmist warns against making the same mistake as Israel in the wilderness. Though written hundreds of years later and to a different audience, the Hebrew author is making the exact same appeal.
- Note that the Lord speaks of Israel’s rejection from when they first left Egypt (Maribah and Massah, Exodus 17.2-7) and throughout the entire 40 years in the wilderness (vs. 10).
- Contrast the “sinful, unbelieving heart” (vs. 12) to the faithfulness of both Jesus and Moses (vs. 2).
- “Today” is emphasized in the passage, beginning the quotation (vs. 7) and formulating part of the appeal in vs. 13. Each day is “Today” and thus an opportunity to heed and follow the Lord… or to reject Him in unbelief.
- Israel tested the Lord because they were deceived into thinking that their previous life in Egypt was better. Similarly, sin has the potential to deceive us into thinking this world is better (vs. 13).
- “Partakers with Christ” is probably a better translation than “partakers of Christ” (vs. 14). This connects back with 2.11, we come from the same and He is not ashamed to call us brethren.
- Note that our status as “partakers with Christ” depends on us holding fast. Israel lost their status as God’s chosen because they failed to hold fast; we must not repeat their mistakes!
3.16-19, Results of Israel’s unbelief
In chapter 4 the author will make the case that a rest remains for the faithful, but we mustn’t make the mistake of Israel who failed to enter their rest. This section at the close of chapter 3 shows why they failed to receive what was promised: their unbelief (vs. 19). This unbelief provoked the Lord to anger (vss. 16-17) and resulted in Him swearing that “they would not enter His rest” (vs. 18).
While unspoken, it is implied that if God’s wrath came upon those who followed one as faithful as Moses, those who follow God’s Son should also expect divine wrath if we fail to “hold fast to our assurance” because of unbelief.
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