The Book of Books—Part 13

Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews

UNIQUE among the books of the New Testament is Paul’s Epistle to the Hebrews. Although it is not so stated, it seems probable that this letter was written to a particular group, or congregation, of Hebrew converts to Christianity, for it indicates that those for whose benefit it was written were somewhat lacking in faith and zeal for the Christian cause, which could hardly have been true of all the Hebrew Christians in the Early Church. The purpose of the letter seems to have been to encourage the brethren to take a renewed hold on the promises of God, that they might continue faithfully in his service.

Throughout the letter there are several statements urging the brethren to hold fast, to be patient, to take heed. Hebrews 2:1 reads, “We ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.” This is a timely exhortation to all Christians, for it is so easy to become lax, to let the precious truths of the Word of God slip from our minds and hearts, and to allow the things of the world to take their place.

In this letter, Paul especially emphasizes that the things which they had heard had been communicated through God’s beloved Son, Christ Jesus. The opening verse reads, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds.”—Heb. 1:1,2

Since the epistle was written to strengthen the faith of Jewish believers, it was appropriate that Paul call attention to the fact that the same God who had spoken to their fathers through the prophets had now spoken to them through his Son. God is unchangeable, so of necessity the truths which he revealed through Jesus would be in harmony with, and a further unfolding of, the glorious divine plan concerning which the prophets had testified. This fact is emphasized over and over again throughout the letter.

Besides, in order to additionally strengthen the faith of these Hebrew Christians, in the opening chapter of his letter to them Paul shows how exalted a position Jesus occupies in the divine plan, and how greatly honored he was by their God, the God of Israel. Jehovah had appointed him “heir of all things.” (vs. 2) It was by him also that “he [the Creator] had made the worlds.” (vs. 2) Furthermore, after Jesus had purged our sins by the shedding of his blood, the God of Israel raised him from the dead and highly exalted him so that he is now “sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.”—vs. 3

The Israelites knew of the existence of angels—that is, spirit beings, of a higher order of creation than the human, and invisible to man. Many references to these are made by the prophets, indicating that they were very honorably used by God to convey messages to his people, and to render other services. But Paul explains that Jesus had been made “so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.”—vs. 4

Then, to emphasize still further the great honor the God of Israel had bestowed upon his beloved Son, Christ Jesus, Paul says, “Unto which of the angels said he [God] at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son.” God had given these blessed assurances to Jesus. Through the Prophet David he had said, “Thou art my Son: this day have I begotten thee.” Paul also indicates that the promise of God recorded in I Chronicles 22:10—“He shall be my Son, and I will be his Father”—applies to Jesus.

Paul explains that while, according to the Prophet David, God had made his “angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire”—indicating highly important service which he had commissioned the angels to render—to his Son he had said, “Thy throne, O God [mighty one], is forever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness and hated iniquity: therefore God, even thy God hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.”—vss. 7-9; Ps. 104:4; 45:6,7

In verse thirteen Paul asks the Hebrew brethren, “To which of the angels said he [the God of Israel] at any time, Sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool?” This honor-laden statement had been made to Jesus through the Prophet David and, as Paul indicates, helps to emphasize the great height of glory to which the beloved Son of God had been exalted, and therefore the great weight of authority with which he had spoken to God’s people in these last days.

How strengthening to faith this must have been to the Hebrew Christians! They had accepted Christ, but perhaps had not realized so fully before, the wonderful manner in which he had been foretold by the prophets of Israel, and the extent to which their God had exalted him, and was using him as the channel of truth to his people.

Paul opens his letter to the Hebrews with the reminder that the God of Israel, in speaking to their fathers through the prophets, had done so “at sundry times and in divers manners.” How true this is! God’s great plan of human redemption and restoration is not set forth in sequence by the prophets, but as one of the prophets states it, “here a little and there a little”—or as Paul says, at sundry times and in divers manners. Nevertheless, when all the various portions of truth set forth in prophecy, by promise and by illustration, are pieced together, the loving plan of God shines forth from his Word in resplendent harmony and beauty.

Until Jesus came, the testimony of the prophets was understood to assure the restoration of the human race to life on the earth. The Apostle Peter (Acts 3:19-21) used the word restitution to describe this hope, and declared that the “times of restitution” had been “spoken by the mouth of all God’s holy prophets since the world began.” As the fathers of Israel understood it, and their understanding was correct, this gigantic project of rehabilitating the human race would be accomplished by a Messiah whom Israel’s God would send, and Jesus, of course, was that Messiah.

If the Hebrew Christians were to have their faith in Christ as the sent of God strengthened, and their zeal for the divine cause renewed, they would need to be reassured that he had come to carry out this loving purpose of their God. To them Jesus could not be the Messiah of promise if he failed to fulfill that which God had spoken by all their prophets.

In referring to the original creation of mankind, David states that he was made a “little lower than the angels,” and was given a “dominion,” that “all things were put under him.” David’s prophecy is recorded in Psalm 8:4-8, and in the second chapter of Paul’s letter to the Hebrew Christians, verses six to eight, he quotes the prophecy and in his comments concerning it shows that it was beginning to be fulfilled by Jesus.

In quoting the prophecy Paul explains, “But now we see not yet all things put under him [man]. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.” (vss. 8,9) Thus Paul associates Jesus with David’s prophecy, showing that he was the One whom the Creator sent to the human race for the purpose of restoring the lost dominion. But, as Paul explains, the dominion has not yet been restored, although, as he says, an important step toward this end had already been taken—Jesus had been made flesh, made a little lower than the angels, as Adam was; crowned with glory and honor again like Adam, that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.

It was essential that Jesus taste death for every man so that the original sentence of death could be set aside and the way thus prepared for the recovery of man from death before his lost dominion could be restored. Thus, as Paul explained, while we do not see David’s prophecy completely fulfilled, we see in the redemptive work of Jesus the beginning of its fulfillment.

Other Sons

After explaining this point to the Hebrew brethren in order that they might be assured that the divine purpose expressed by their prophets was, through Jesus, progressing according to the divine plan, Paul introduces another point of truth which was also designed to help them understand the way of the Lord more clearly. It was the fact that many sons were to be brought to glory by the path of suffering, following in the footsteps of Jesus, the Captain of their salvation.—Heb. 2:10

We have already learned from Jesus and from Paul that the Christian way is a narrow and difficult one. Jesus said, “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Matt. 7:4) The life Jesus referred to is the “glory and honor and immortality” mentioned by Paul which, as he explained, is obtainable only through “patient continuance in welldoing.”—Rom. 2:7

The Hebrew brethren would doubtless be fairly well acquainted with the prophecies of the Old Testament concerning the messianic kingdom and the blessings it was designed to bring to the people. They believed that Christ was the Messiah, but they did not realize clearly that there would be a long waiting period before he returned to establish his kingdom. In Hebrews 10:36,37, Paul wrote, “Ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise. For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry.”

In the beginning of their Christian career, these Hebrew brethren “endured a great fight of afflictions,” Paul indicates, and took joyfully the spoiling of their goods. (Heb. 10:32-34) They knew that at the time the Christian cause was unpopular, but possibly thought that Christ would soon return, and then they would share in the glory of his kingdom, and their suffering would be ended. So throughout the letter Paul encourages them to be patient, and to help them remain faithful he explains the purpose of Christian suffering. Just as, through suffering, our Captain was proved worthy of his high exaltation, so the many sons who are to reign with him in his kingdom must likewise prove faithful through trial.

A Spiritual Priesthood

Hebrews 3:1 reads, “Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession [order], Christ Jesus.” We have already learned from Jesus, from the Book of Acts, and from the previous letters of Paul, that the followers of Jesus during this age are partakers of a high calling, invited to suffer and to die with Jesus that they might live and reign with him. These are encouraged by Paul to set their affections on things above, and not on things on the earth. (Col. 3:1-3) Paul is speaking of this same high calling when, to the Hebrew brethren, he writes, “Holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling.”

This thought in itself is not new, but Paul does introduce an additional and vitally important truth when he explains that as brethren of Christ we should consider ourselves members of a priestly order of which Jesus is the High Priest. To most Gentiles of Paul’s day this language would have had little meaning, but the Jews knew about priests; for a priesthood, composed of a high priest and underpriests, had administered the religious affairs of their nation through the centuries, from the time of their exodus from Egypt under the leadership of Moses. The first of Israel’s high priests was Aaron, the brother of Moses, and his sons were the underpriests. Paul explains that those priests served “unto the example and shadow of heavenly things.”—Heb. 8:5

We learn from Paul’s letter to Timothy that Christians should “rightly divide the Word of truth.” (II Tim. 2:15) This is very important in connection with the time features in God’s plan. Various periods were set apart in which certain phases of the divine plan were to be accomplished. It is also true that some of the promises of the Bible describe a heavenly salvation, while others pertain to restitution blessings on the earth. Now we find Paul introducing another aspect of truth; that is, the typical, or as he calls it in Hebrews 10:1, “A shadow of good things to come.” Through his letter to the Hebrews, Paul draws heavily on the lessons taught by God in Israel’s typical religious services, and by the Tabernacle structure erected in the wilderness, which was the center of their worship.

In Hebrews 3:1, Paul indicates not only that Jesus was represented by Israel’s high priest, but also that his followers, in this picture, are the underpriests. Paul adheres to this general viewpoint throughout the entire letter. The work of Israel’s priesthood was largely one of offering sacrifices; so, as antitypical priests, we are to offer sacrifices, not animal sacrifices, but ourselves, following the example of Jesus, who sacrificed his life that the world might live. Viewed thus, we see that the brethren of Jesus, the many sons who will share his glory, are not pictured by the nation of Israel as a whole, but by the priesthood of that nation. It is exceedingly important to keep this distinction in mind as we review the important lessons of the epistle.

The Melchisedec Priesthood

Paul goes even further back than the Aaronic priesthood to draw a lesson from God’s dealings with his ancient people—back to the days of Abraham, when there was a priest whose name was Melchisedec. Paul quotes a prophecy of the Old Testament to show that God intended Melchisedec to be a type, or a picture, of a greater priesthood to come, one in which Jesus would be the High Priest. He quotes from Psalm 110:4: “Thou [Christ] art a priest forever after the order of Melchisedec.”—Heb. 7:17

Much of the seventh chapter of Hebrews is devoted to proving to the Hebrew brethren that Jesus was the antitype of Melchisedec. To the Israelites the Aaronic priesthood was all-important. Probably most of them did not know that long centuries before Aaron, God had authorized Melchisedec to serve as a priest, and so arranged his service to teach a lesson that was not embodied in the Aaronic priesthood type. The Aaronic priesthood foreshadowed the sacrificial work of Christ and his followers. But Paul explains that Melchisedec was a king as well as a priest, so his service was a picture of the enthroned messianic priesthood during the next age, the kingdom age.

Paul speaks of Melchisedec as being “without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually.” This has been explained to mean that Melchisedec was without father or mother in the priesthood. Archeologists have discovered that district rulers of Melchisedec’s time were appointed to their positions by the pharaohs of Egypt, and in assuming office were obliged to take the following oath: “It was not my father, and it was not my mother, who established me in this place, but it was the mighty arm of the king.”

Probably Melchisedec was appointed to his kingly office under these conditions, the Lord recognizing him also as a priest to accept tithes and to offer sacrifice. This would explain Paul’s language indicating that he had no father or mother in the priesthood, and would also make his appointment and service to be a proper representation of Christ’s combined office of priest and king. Christ did not inherit his office from another—from father or mother—but it was given to him directly by God, and he will have no successors. The rulership of Jesus as a king is during the Millennial Age. Then the brethren who suffer and die with him will be his associate kings. The present age is the age of sacrifice, and in this one aspect of service Jesus and his church are well pictured by the Aaronic priesthood and the services they rendered during the Jewish Age.

In this letter to the Hebrews, as in other epistles, Paul encourages the brethren to faithfulness as they keep before them the example of Christ and his fidelity to the divine cause. It differs only in the method of approach and the language used. To the saints at Colosse, Paul wrote, “Set your affection on things above,” where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God. (Col. 3:1-3) To the Hebrew brethren he speaks of a hope, which “we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest forever after the order of Melchisedec.”—Heb. 6:19,20

A Hebrew believer would know that the expression ‘beyond the veil’ was based upon Israel’s Tabernacle in the wilderness. When Moses was given instructions by the Lord concerning the construction of the Tabernacle and its furnishings, he said, “See … that thou make all things according to the pattern showed to thee in the mount.” (Exod. 25:9,40; Heb. 8:5) Death was the penalty for not following instructions. The importance of making all things according to the pattern was that they were intended to be pictures, or “shadows,” of “good things to come.”—Heb. 10:1

The Tabernacle

Let us, then, note briefly some of the main features of the Tabernacle, that we may understand more clearly Paul’s reference to that which is within the veil, whither the forerunner is for us entered. The Tabernacle itself was rectangular in shape—forty-five feet long, fifteen feet wide, and fifteen feet high. It was covered by four huge curtains, one upon the other. The opening was covered by a curtain called the first veil, and the interior was divided by a curtain called the second or last veil. This curtain was drawn across the interior thirty feet from the front entrance, leaving the rear compartment a fifteen-foot cube, in exterior measurement. It was called the Most Holy. The front compartment was called the Holy.

The Tabernacle was located in an enclosure formed by white curtains. This enclosure was called the Court. It was one hundred-and-fifty feet long and seventy-five feet wide. The entrance, called the door, was in the east end of the Court looking toward the first veil of the Tabernacle. This door to the Court was covered by a linen curtain.

In the center of the Court, about a third of the distance from the door to the Tabernacle, was an altar, called the brazen altar. This was made of wood overlaid with copper. Between this altar and the Tabernacle was a sort of washbasin, called the laver. This was made of solid copper.

In the first Holy of the Tabernacle, there were three articles of furniture—a table, a candlestick, and a small altar. The table was to the right as one entered. It was called the table of showbread, because twelve cakes of showbread, in two piles, were always to be found on it. The candlestick, with seven branches, was to the left. The altar was in the center, and close to the second veil. It was made of wood, overlaid with gold.

The only article of furniture in the Most Holy was called the Ark of the Covenant. It was a rectangular box made of wood, overlaid with gold. Its cover was a solid gold slab from which were cleverly hammered two angel-like forms, called cherubim. These were made with outstretched wings, as though ready to fly. They faced each other, looking down toward the gold cover of the Ark. This cover was called the mercy seat. A bright, miraculous light, called the Shekinah, continuously appeared just above the mercy seat.

It was, then, to this compartment of the Tabernacle that Paul referred by the expression “within the veil,” where our forerunner has entered. He refers to it again in Hebrews 9:24, saying, “Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.”

The Court of the Tabernacle, being surrounded by white linen curtains, represented the typical purity of those who ministered within. Antitypically our bodies are made acceptable through Christ. In another letter Paul speaks of our being sanctified and cleansed with the “washing of water by the Word.” (Eph. 5:26) In Hebrews 10:22 he speaks of “our bodies washed with pure water.” This is represented by the priests washing at the laver in the Court.

Meanwhile, our new minds are pictured in the first Holy of the Tabernacle. There we feed upon the showbread, the Word of God. There we are enlightened by the golden candlestick, representing the light of God’s Word as it shines out through his people. There, also, we offer our praise and devotion to God on the golden altar on which the priests burned incense, inspired to faithfulness by the realization that Christ, our forerunner, is just beyond the veil, and that in due time, if faithful, we will join him there and so be forever with the Lord.

It is within the veil that our hope is anchored, Paul says. It is the hope he has outlined in the preceding verses. Beginning with Hebrews 6:13, he speaks of the promise God made to Abraham—the promise that through his seed all the families of the earth would be blessed. He notes the fact that God had bound this promise with his oath, and explains that because of this, we have “two immutable things” upon which to base our hope—God’s promise, and the oath by which he bound that promise. It is the hope arising out of this oath-bound promise that is anchored within the veil.

The Old and New Covenants

Soon after the Hebrew children left Egypt under the leadership of Moses, God entered into a covenant with them. The Law which was the basis of that covenant was epitomized by the Ten Commandments, which were written on tables of stone. Blood was used to seal the covenant. Paul wrote, “When Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the Law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book, and all the people, saying, This is the blood of the testament [covenant] which God hath enjoined unto you. Morever he sprinkled with blood both the Tabernacle, and all the vessels of the ministry. And almost all things are by the Law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.”—Heb. 9:19-22

In our study of the Old Testament, we learned that God promised to make a New Covenant with the nation of Israel, and that this covenant will eventually be extended to include all mankind—all, that is, who under the favorable conditions of the kingdom age demonstrate their earnest desire to return to harmony with God, and to serve him with all their hearts. (Jer. 31:31-34) In his letter to the Hebrew brethren, Paul reminds them of this promised New Covenant, and shows that Jesus, primarily, will serve as its Mediator, even as Moses served as the mediator of the old Law Covenant.

As the original Law Covenant was sealed by blood of calves and of goats, so the New Covenant is to be sealed by blood—the blood of Jesus Christ. Considerable time was consumed in preparation for the actual inauguration of the old Law Covenant, so an entire age—this present Gospel Age—is employed in preparation for the inauguration of the promised New Covenant.

A covenant is an agreement, a token of understanding and of harmony. The world of mankind, because of sin, has been out of harmony with God, but through Christ, he has provided an opportunity for the people to return to harmony with him. It is this work of reconciling the world to God that is described in his promise to make a New Covenant with the people.

In II Corinthians 5:18, Paul says that God has given to the followers of Jesus the “ministry of reconciliation.” In II Corinthians 3:1-3, he indicates that during this present age God is writing his law in the hearts of these ministers of reconciliation, even as in the type he wrote his law on the tables of stone. Thus the called-out class of this age is being prepared to be associated with Jesus in the future work of making the New Covenant with the “house of Israel, and with the house of Judah.” (Jer. 31:31) They are proving their worthiness for this high position of the future by laying down their lives now in sacrifice, even as Jesus did.

The Atonement Day Service

One of the principal services conducted in the typical Tabernacle, the one from which Paul draws a number of lessons in his letter to the Hebrews, was the Atonement Day service. This service was repeated yearly on the tenth day of the seventh month. In this service, atonement was made, pictorially, from year to year for Israel’s sins.

In this service there was first the slaying of a young bullock for a sacrifice. Its blood was taken into the Most Holy of the Tabernacle and sprinkled upon the mercy seat. The fat was burned on the brazen altar in the Court. The carcass and waste parts of the animal were taken outside of the camp of Israel and burned.

Immediately after the bullock was thus sacrificed, and its carcass burned, a goat was similarly sacrificed, with every detail of the offering carried out in the same manner as with the bullock, including the burning of the carcass outside the camp.

In connection with the sacrifice of these animals, the high priest took coats of fire from the brazen altar, placed them upon the golden altar in the Holy, and sprinkled incense on these burning coals, causing sweet perfume to arise and penetrate beyond the second veil into the Most Holy. There were, of course, other details of this service, but these are the ones which Paul draws upon principally as illustrations in his letter to the Hebrews.

In chapter thirteen, verses ten to thirteen particularly, Paul indicates that the Christian life of sacrifice was pictured in Israel’s Atonement Day service. Introducing this thought he says, “We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the Tabernacle.” There were other sacrifices offered by Israel’s priests in connection with which they had the privilege of eating the flesh of the animals sacrificed, but this was not the case with the Atonement Day sacrifices. No part of the animals sacrificed on that day could be eaten.

Paul, being a close student of the Old Testament, understood the divine regulations governing the offering of sacrifice. Some of those typical sacrifices were thank offerings, some were trespass offerings, while others were sin offerings. The regulation governing sin offerings is stated in Leviticus 6:30, which reads, “No sin offering, whereof any of the blood is brought into the Tabernacle of the congregation to reconcile withal in the holy place, shall be eaten: it shall be burnt in the fire.”

Since this was true, Paul continues the application of the type, saying, “For [that is, because of this] the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary [Most Holy] by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp. Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach.”—Heb. 13:10-13

As we have noted, two animals were sacrificed on the Day of Atonement, the bodies of both being taken outside the camp, or without the gate, and burned. Paul’s lesson clearly shows that the first of the animals—the bullock—represented Jesus; and the second, the goat, represented Jesus’ followers, the called-out ones of the present age.

Three aspects of the sacrificial work of this age were pictured in the typical Atonement Day services. The fat burned on the brazen altar in the Court pictured the worth of the sacrifice, as viewed by God and his people. Jesus’ own sacrifice was perfect because he was “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners.” (Heb. 7:26) Our sacrifice is reckoned perfect through him. The burning of incense on the golden altar pictured the zeal and love with which Jesus yielded his life in sacrifice. The burning of the carcasses without the gate pictures the ignominy and the persecution of the world. The stench of the burning carcasses was doubtless very distasteful to the Israelites, and so the life of sacrifice on the part of the Lord’s people often appears to the unbelieving world.

The value of this information to the Hebrew brethren is apparent. They were discouraged because of their suffering as Christians. Here Paul was pointing out to them the reason they were suffering, and the important part their sacrifices had in the plan of God for the reconciling of the world to himself. He was telling them that they were suffering for the same reason that Jesus suffered, and that their faithfulness in laying down their lives in sacrifice was considered by God as having a very vital part in the future reconciliation of the world under the terms of the New Covenant.

Another Group

In Hebrews 9:13, Paul speaks not only of the blood of bulls and goats, but also of the “ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean,” as though he was alluding to another group of God’s faithful servants who were in some way represented in the services of the Tabernacle. Looking back to the type, we find that in the sacrifice of the red heifer, its blood was not taken into the Most Holy and sprinkled upon the mercy seat, but merely sprinkled in the direction of, or toward the brazen altar in the Court, seeming to suggest that it represented those who were in harmony with the great atoning work of Christ, typified by the altar, but not having the opportunity of following in his steps. There is such a class in God’s plan.

We have learned that the calling out from the world of those who will live and reign with Christ in the spiritual phase of his kingdom began at Pentecost. But, as is very apparent in the study of the Old Testament books, there were many faithful servants of God in previous ages, beginning with righteous Abel. All God’s holy prophets would be included among these, as well as many others. John the Baptist, although he did not write a book, was in reality the last of the prophets, and Jesus said of him, “Among those that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”—Matt. 11:11

The faithful ones of old will not be in the spiritual phase of Christ’s kingdom as rulers, but they will be servants in that kingdom. Jesus said that people would come from east, west, north, and south, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom—sit down with them, that is, in the sense of looking up to them as their instructors in the laws of that kingdom. (Luke 13:28,29) In Psalm 45:16 they are referred to as those who will be made “princes In all the earth.” These will not be rewarded as highly as the called-out ones of this age, yet they proved their fidelity to the Lord by suffering in his cause, many of them even unto death.

In order to further encourage the Hebrew brethren, Paul devotes the entire eleventh chapter of his letter in calling attention to the faithfulness of this ancient worthy class, showing how marvelously they manifested their faith. He speaks of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Joseph, Moses, David, Samuel, and others, saying that there were many whom he did not have time to mention. He says that they “wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us [the church], that they without us should not be made perfect.”—Heb. 11:23-40

Here the apostle is again introducing the time element in God’s plan. All the faithful of God prior to Christ’s first advent, he tells us, must wait until the church class of the present age is made ready for her part in the kingdom—that they without us should not be made perfect. Those ancient worthies gladly suffered, Paul explains, that they might obtain “a better resurrection.” (Heb. 11:35) These will have a better resurrection in that they will be awakened from the sleep of death as perfect human beings, and thus qualified to become the human representatives of Christ and his church, who will be in the spiritual phase of the kingdom.

To note their faithfulness to the Lord under the trying circumstances through which they passed should be a strong incentive to greater faithfulness on our part. Paul realized that it should prove a great encouragement to the Hebrew brethren. In the first verse of chapter twelve, he refers to the ancient worthy class as “so great a cloud of witnesses,” and since their lives are bearing such a faithful testimony of the Lord’s keeping power, Paul says, “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.”—Heb. 12:1

Then the apostle reminds the Hebrew brethren of the greatest example of all, even Jesus. He continues, “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.”—Heb. 12:2-4

Paul states that it was the joy which was set before Jesus that enabled him to endure the cross—the joy of carrying out his Father’s design to bless all the families of the earth; and the joy of returning to the presence of his Father, and of then being at the right hand of the throne of God. This joy was the result of his faith in the promises of his God.

Paul wanted the Hebrew brethren, and us, to realize that we also have a joy set before us, a joy of being seated together with Christ in his throne, and of sharing with him in the future work of blessing all mankind during the times of restitution of all things. In Hebrews 12:18-28, he sums up some of the important thoughts he has presented in the letter, and by so doing reminds the Hebrew brethren of the joy which was set before them by the promises of God.

Verse eighteen takes us back to the time when the typical Law Covenant was inaugurated. At that time there was a miraculous demonstration of divine power, an inspiring sight—one calculated to make everyone who saw it stand in awe at the mighty power of God. In verse twenty-one he says that “so terrible was the sight that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake.”

We are not approaching to that mountain, he said, but unto “Mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels. To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the Mediator of the New Covenant.”—Heb. 12:22-24

Here additional symbolisms are introduced—Mount Sion, and the heavenly Jerusalem. These are symbolic of the kingdom of Christ. Jerusalem was the capital city of Judea, and Mount Sion was the governmental headquarters of Jerusalem. The Jewish believers would readily understand that Paul’s reference to a heavenly Jerusalem meant the kingdom of Christ in which they hoped to have a share. The King James Version reads that “ye are come unto Mount Sion,” but in the Greek the thought is, having approached, as though they were moving toward it. The Hebrew brethren had not come unto Mount Sion, in the sense of having entered into and become a part of the messianic kingdom, for it had not been established at that time.

Paul said also that we are approaching unto an innumerable company of angels. David wrote that man was created a “little lower than the angels.” The Bible clearly indicates that there are spirit beings called angels. In the first chapter of this letter, Paul refers to them as “ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation.” (vs. 14) Jesus spoke of these same angels, and said that they “always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.”—Matt. 18:10

It is a precious thought to realize that God uses the angels as servants to watch over his people here on earth. And Paul is telling us that one of our present joys may be in looking forward to the time when, having been raised to spirit life in the resurrection, we will become acquainted with this innumerable company of angels.

We are also approaching to a union with the general assembly of the church of the firstborn. The firstborn of Israel were the first to be saved under the blood of the Passover lamb. After leaving Egypt, the tribe of Levi was substituted for the firstborn, and these became the religious servants of the people. It was from the tribe of Levi that the priests of Israel were chosen. So, again, Paul places the church, the called-out ones of this age, in the position of servants in the divine plan, the ones through whom God’s promised blessings will ultimately flow out to others. And what a joy it will be to meet all these called-out ones—Peter, Paul, and all who have suffered and died throughout the age, following in the footsteps of Jesus.

Yes, and even more wonderful, the Hebrew brethren and all the faithful of this age will then meet God, the Judge of all—the God of all grace, the God who so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. What a joy that was to set before the Hebrew brethren; and how it should encourage us to greater faithfulness!

“And to the spirits of just men made perfect.” This is a reference to the ancient worthy class, those who were justified to friendship with God through their abiding faith in his promises, a faith that took them through all sorts of trying experiences, because, as Paul says of Abraham, they looked “for a city [a kingdom] which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” (Heb. 11:10) These faithful ancients will be made perfect after the truly consecrated of the Gospel Age will have been united with Jesus as the Mediator of the New Covenant.

The New Covenant will then begin to function, and the world of mankind, beginning with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, will, under its terms, become reconciled to God. Eventually it will be true that no one will need to say to his neighbor, “Know the Lord: for they shall all know him, from the least of them unto the greatest of them.”—Jer. 31:31-34

“Which Cannot Be Shaken”

In the opening verses of his letter, Paul reminds the Hebrew brethren that God had spoken to them through his Son. For this reason he urges them in chapter two, verse one, to “give the more earnest heed” to what they had heard. This is important for all Christians. God spoke to Israel at Mount Sinai when, through Moses, the Law Covenant was inaugurated. Paul reminds the Hebrew brethren of that, and then, through prophetic vision, places himself at the present closing time of the Gospel Age and describes a more far-reaching shaking that would occur, one in which only those “things which cannot be shaken may remain.”—Heb. 12:25-27

In this lesson Paul quotes from the prophecy of Haggai 2:6,7. In verse seven the Lord says, “I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come.” Other prophecies reveal that this shaking is in reality the prophetic time of trouble with which this age ends. It is a trouble upon the world which will shake to its complete downfall every evil institution, and all the proud works of man, and, on the ruins, the kingdom of Christ will be established.

So Paul concludes this part of his lesson by saying, “Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.” (Heb. 12:28) Thus again the apostle reminds us that the great objective of the Christian life is that we might, in God’s due time, participate with Christ in his kingdom, that messianic kingdom of promise, the kingdom which will cause God’s will to be done in earth even as it is now done in heaven.

“See that ye refuse not him [Jesus] that speaketh,” wrote Paul. (Heb. 12:25) Through Jesus, and through his sacrificial work on behalf of both the church and the world, every feature of the divine plan is sure to be carried out exactly on time and as God designed.

And, as revealed in this letter, what marvelous things there are in that plan for the followers of Jesus! They, too, are sons of God, sons whom their Elder Brother is not ashamed to call his brethren. (Heb. 2:11,12) They are members of the same priesthood with Jesus. (Heb. 3:1) He is our High Priest, one who was “touched with the feeling of our infirmities,” and “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.”—Heb. 4:15

Besides, as Paul made plain to the Hebrew brethren, we are also to share with Jesus as priests in his throne, as typified by Melchisedec, and to be associated with him as ministers of reconciliation in making the New Covenant with Israel and with the whole world of mankind. By God’s great favor through Christ, we are bidden to aspire to exaltation with him, and to be in the presence of our God whom we have learned to love, and whom we desire to serve with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.

“Here we have no continuing city,” Paul wrote. (Heb. 13:14) A city is used in the Bible to symbolize a government, or kingdom. So, as Paul says, we seek a continuing city to come, even the kingdom of Christ. We are seeking it by laying down our lives with Christ that we may live and reign with him in the kingdom. And we are seeking that kingdom because we know that when it is fully established in the earth, there will flow out from it those marvelous blessings of health and life, and peace and joy foretold by all God’s holy prophets since the world began. Truly the prospect is glorious!

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