Book of Hebrews
The “Great Salvation”
IN THIS CHAPTER the apostle reminds us of how surpassingly great is the offer of salvation which the Lord has made to the church, and of how important it is that we listen very earnestly, and obey every condition attached to this offer; that we should hold fast to these truths, for our very life depends upon thus giving heed. Paul also reveals that the redemption of the fallen race involved the exaltation of God’s only begotten Son, and that first he should partake of the human nature, becoming acquainted with the troubles and sickness of fallen man. By his own death he provided the ransom, and in the course of these experiences, was trained for the highest possible position in the universe—at the right hand of the throne of God. The chapter closes by revealing our Lord’s sympathetic understanding of our frailties, which should cause us to lift up our hearts in thanksgiving that we are accounted worthy to be associated with him in his work, both now and in the future.
VERSE 1 “Therefore 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 refers us to the preceding chapter in which evidence is presented that Christ is now highly exalted above all angels, therefore speaks with the highest authority and from the standpoint of complete experience—that when he speaks it is not a light matter which we can afford to ignore or forget. We are given a similar thought in Proverbs 4:13, which reads: “Take fast hold of instruction; let her not go: keep her; for she is thy life.”
Our interest ought to be increased and intensified as we appreciate more fully the dignity and high authority of Christ, the One who has spoken to us in these last days. For the children of God, ‘taking heed’ should be considered a ‘must.’
Time and events are passing. We cannot stand still. If we are to go forward we must give particular attention to the messages of our Lord lest, while our attention is on other things, his life—giving instructions be allowed to ‘slip away’ from us and we would thus be without their helpful and guiding influence. Despite the pulling of our natural inclinations and of other influences, we must hold our minds with firmness and determination toward the Word of God, the truth.
It is necessary that we continue to read and study the things which we know to be the truth, as well as keep them fresh and straight in our minds, for we are ‘leaky vessels.’ The whole thought of this verse is that our spiritual life depends upon our heeding the Master’s word, and we cannot afford to treat it lightly or ignore it. Taking heed is vital to our very existence!
VERSE 2 “For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward.”
These ‘angels’ seem to be those used by God in connection with the Law Covenant which, Paul explains, was “ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.” (Gal. 3:19) The Law Covenant was strictly enforced—the word ‘spoken by angels was steadfast,’ that is, basic or binding.
The Greek word translated ‘transgression’ means ‘to walk along side of rather than ‘in the path marked out,’ thus suggesting a possible show of righteousness while actually overstepping the Law’s requirements.
The word ‘disobedience’ is from the Greek word parakoe. It is used three times in the New Testament. It means ‘a mishearing.’ In Wilson’s Emphatic Diaglott the interlinear word-for-word translation renders it as ‘imperfect hearing.’ Those who disobeyed the Law Covenant received a ‘just’ punishment—justice was the basis of this covenant.
VERSE 3 “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him.”
This ‘great salvation’ is the most wonderful offer ever made to any being—angel or man. How can we ‘escape,’ that is, how can we keep from suffering loss if we ‘neglect’ to give heed to the terms and conditions upon which we may hope to attain such a glorious reward? It is a priceless jewel, and how tragic that anyone should let it slip away from him simply through neglect!
Let us endeavor to maintain our love for the truth, the revealed will of God, by going over its various features continuously. To fail in this is to neglect that which the Lord has provided as a means whereby we may attain the great salvation. In this verse it is clearly indicated that “the High Calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14), the “heavenly calling” (Heb. 3:1), had not previously been offered to God’s people. (See: Hebrews 10:19,20; John 3:13,25-31; II Corinthians 6:2; Matthew 11:11; Acts 2:29-36; John 14:2) God’s dealings with the natural seed of Abraham were designed to prepare them for this special call. But when Jesus came to them (‘his own’), very few received him (John 1:11), so the call went to the Gentiles.
This special invitation, or ‘High Calling,’ was so important that the Heavenly Father selected his beloved Son as the one to introduce it, the one who was to be the ‘captain’ of those who would strive to attain ‘so great salvation.’
First among those to hear the Gospel call were the apostles and disciples of Jesus. These were eyewitnesses of his miracles, and heard personally his gracious words of instruction pertaining to the “mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 13:11) John writes of this, saying: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life, … declare we unto you.” (I John 1:1-3) The Apostle Peter confirms this, saying: “We have not followed cunningly devised fables, … but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.”—ll Pet. 1:16
VERSE 4 “God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to his own will.”
In support of the human mouthpieces who, in the beginning of the age, bore witness of Jesus, and of the ‘great salvation’ which began to be spoken by him, was God himself, the Heavenly Father. His testimony was given by the display of his power as manifested in the many miracles performed by Jesus, and in the gift of the Holy Spirit which came upon the waiting disciples at Pentecost. As one miracle followed another, it became a progressive assembly of evidence increasing in weight and importance. What a wonderful introduction this was to our High Calling! What a vast assembly of Divine agencies was used to bring this glorious opportunity to our attention!
VERSE 5 “For unto the angels hath he not put in subjection the world to come, whereof we speak.”
This text has been used as an indirect proof that the world before the Flood was under the administration of angels. That world was indeed governed by angels, as other scriptures show. (Genesis 6:4; I Peter 3:19,20; II Peter 2:4,5; Jude 6) However, the apostle’s use of the word ‘for’ suggests that he is referring back to verse 2, where the administration of the Law Covenant is mentioned, in which the angels had an important part.
Whether we think of the attempt of the angels to govern the antediluvian world, or of their service in connection with the administration of the Law Covenant, the lesson the apostle is emphasizing here is equally apparent; for there was a failure in both cases. Now we are assured that no such failure will occur in connection with the governmental arrangements of the world to come. Christ will then be the King, and associated with him will be those who, as his joint-heirs, have attained the ‘great salvation’ so that they “live” and “reign” with him.—II Tim. 2:11,12
VERSE 6 “But one in a certain place testified, saying, What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the Son of man, that thou visitest him?”
David is the ‘one’ who testified, and the ‘certain place’ is Psalm 8:3-8. This question is the inevitable result of meditation upon the immensity of creation in comparison to the puny efforts and the nothingness of man. The vast forces and distances of the universe should humble us. The Creator, who made this vast system of worlds, has provided a balance of forces that enables man to live and be happy, providing him with abundance. Surely our gratitude should lead us to exercise supreme confidence and trust in such a Creator, and to consider it a great privilege to be deemed worthy to serve him.
The Greek word translated ‘visitest’ in this text means ‘to inspect and select;’ and, by extension, ‘to go to see in order to relieve.’ Paul’s use of the text in this connection would indicate that the chief ‘visit’ referred to prophetically by the psalmist is the coming of God’s beloved Son to the earth—first, to redeem the fallen race—and then, to restore those who accept this provision of Divine grace. Thus God visits the human race representatively in the person of his Son.
Many are remembered and visited by God in other ways also, such as in the sunshine and rain; and by means of all the bountiful blessings which are daily showered upon us. (Ps. 116:12) We might think of God’s visits as being like those of a physician visiting the sick, and the purpose of this is that many may ultimately be cured of all ills and afflictions. It is this that will be accomplished by Jesus.
VERSE 7 “Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honour, and didst set him over the works of thy hands.”
The thought here is, a little ‘less’ than the angels, not ‘a little while inferior,’ as some have suggested in their effort to prove that God’s design for man is that he shall ultimately be exalted to the spirit nature. If we are to understand God’s plan it is essential to keep this distinction of natures in mind. Man is a human being, an earthly creature, created by God to inhabit the earth. Angels are on a higher plane of life, and were created so. It is not God’s plan for men to become angels.
The glory refers to Adam, the progenitor of the human race as originally created by God. His glory was that of perfect manhood, in the image of God. The Apostle Paul refers to it as a ‘terrestrial’ glory. (I Cor. 15:40) Man was also created to be a king—the king of earth. He was given dominion over the lower animals. Thus he was given honor as well as glory. This was the “first dominion” referred to in Micah 4:8, and “the kingdom prepared… from the foundation of the world,” mentioned by Jesus.—Matt. 25:34
VERSE 8 “Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him.”
Alas, man lost his dominion, glory and honor. Now we behold him in misery and distress as a result of his own willfulness and disobedience. Despite man’s pride and boastfulness, he is not able to deliver himself from the result of his sin; and now the human race is threatened with complete destruction.
VERSE 9 “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.”
Here the apostle clearly indicates the Divine purpose to restore man’s original dominion of earth. We do not see this accomplished, but we see the outworking of this Divine purpose in the coming of Jesus to redeem the fallen race— ‘we see Jesus.’ We see that Jesus was made the exact counterpart of father Adam, that he, like Adam, was made ‘a little lower than the angels,’ and that this was in order that he might suffer death, thus providing a corresponding price by laying down his perfect human life for the perfect man Adam, who forfeited his life. It was for this purpose that Jesus poured out his soul unto death.—Isa. 53:6,12
VERSE 10 “For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.”
It ‘became him’; that is, it was what we should expect of an all-wise Creator, that in his plan to exalt ‘many sons’—that is, the entire church—to glory, that he should make the Captain, their Leader, the first one to attain this high position, ‘perfect through sufferings.’ Suffering and death is the path to glory for all these sons, and Jesus was no exception.
This does not imply that Jesus was imperfect by nature before he suffered and died. Rather, he was developed, trained, and perfected as our Captain by means of suffering. A young man, for example, may be a noble person, yet he could not be a physician until he was trained for that purpose. So Jesus was trained by suffering, and thus was perfected for the high offices he now occupies in the Divine arrangements. One of these is in being the Captain of our salvation.
In a very similar way all Jesus’ body members, his followers, those whom he leads to glory by inviting them to walk in his footsteps, are perfected for their position of glory with him by means of suffering and trials—trials which are seasoned with joy so that their experiences as a whole teach them to trust and love their Heavenly Father. How blessed to share these experiences with Jesus, of whom it was prophetically written, “Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book?”—Ps. 56:8
VERSES 11-13 “For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee. And again, I will put my trust in him. And again, Behold I and the children which God hath given me.”
These are the proof texts which the apostle quotes to establish the great truth of the oneness of the Christ company. Jesus’ disciples are his ‘brethren,’ and so stated in David’s prophetic reference (Ps. 22:22) to this congregation of the sanctified, that is, those who are set apart in the Divine plan as partakers of the heavenly calling.
‘And again,’ writes Paul. He then proceeds to quote another proof text, as though conscious of the scriptural rule that important matters should be established by the mouth of more than one witness. His second quotation is from Isaiah 8:18, and refers to the ‘children’ whom the Heavenly Father gave to be the associates of Jesus; thus they were his brethren. Possibly Jesus had this text in mind when, in his prayer, he said: “Thine they were, and thou gavest them me.” (John 17:6) What a loving exchange between the Father and the Son—a reward and rejoicing for both.
VERSE 14 “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself like-wise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the Devil.”
These ‘children,’ those whom Jesus was not ashamed to call his ‘brethren,’ were all originally Adam’s children, therefore by nature ‘flesh and blood.’ In order for them to be partakers of the ‘great salvation’ as the brethren of the glorified Jesus, it was necessary that they be redeemed from death.
Therefore, Paul here explains the philosophy of the ransom, which involved the necessity for Jesus becoming a man, and as such, dying the “just for the unjust.” (I Pet. 3:18) Involved, also, in this is Jesus’ authority ultimately to destroy the Devil.
How does Satan have the ‘power of death’? The Greek word here rendered ‘power’ has the thought of the authority of office, and is often translated ‘dominion’ or ‘authority.’ The dominion which Satan has seized and misused has become one of death—the reign of sin and death. Paul describes him as the “god of this world.” (II Cor. 4:4) Satan has his dominion taken away, and he himself is bound at the beginning of the millennium; and at its close he is destroyed.—Rev. 20:1-3,10
VERSE 15 “And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”
The whole human race are subject to the bondage of death, but not all are held in bondage by the ‘fear’ of death. Who, then, are these who are so afraid of death that they are held in bondage because of it? This seemingly refers to a class of consecrated ones who fear the suffering and sacrifice involved in their consecration and who, because of this fear, are held back from their privileges and opportunities of suffering with Christ so that they fail to qualify as members of the ‘little flock’ who partake of the ‘great salvation.’ Later, these are delivered and their robes made white in the blood of the Lamb. They are described by the Revelator as a “great multitude,” which comes up through great tribulation. They will not reign with Christ, but will be servants in the antitypical, spiritual temple.—Rev. 7:9,13-16
VERSE 16 “For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham.”
The Greek word here rendered ‘verily’ is used only this once in the New Testament. It is the equivalent of saying, “As we all know.” James Moffatt’s Bible Translation says: “of course.” It was so well known in the Early Church that Jesus, in becoming the seed of Abraham, had to first partake of flesh and blood, and not the nature of angels, that John made this a test of whether or not one’s faith was of God: “Every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God.”—I John 4:3
VERSE 17 “Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.”
What depth of wisdom is in God’s plan, that Jesus should share the woes and difficulties which beset men so that he might be a merciful High Priest! He is merciful because he realizes the difficulties, the weaknesses which beset his followers, and humanity in general. He was made like unto his brethren ‘in all things.’ This does not mean that Jesus was imperfect, or that sin was ingrained in his nature. His ‘brethren’ are ‘New Creatures,’ and Jesus was tempted in all points as these are tempted.
As a result of observation and association, however, Jesus became familiar with the trials which beset the human race in general, and particularly those who become New Creatures, yet still have to battle against the motions of sin in their flesh. This adds to his sympathy for us, gives him mercy and understanding in dealing with us as our Advocate at the throne of grace. By the same token, as the Head of the priestly class which will deal with the world of mankind during the millennium, he will also be sympathetic, and will be glad to do everything possible to help the repentant ones of the human race back to perfection and to full at—one—ment with the Heavenly Father, the Creator.
VERSE 18 “For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.”
Jesus suffered much agony of mind and body rather than yield to evil. Thus he was ‘tempted’ or tried, so knows how to bring to our aid the things which helped him in his times of need. These things are suggested to us through the Word, and therein we are instructed in the proper use of all the means of Divine grace made available through our merciful and loving High Priest. When we go to the Father in prayer we can be assured that the merit of his sacrifice has been applied on our behalf and we are also assured that our puny and imperfect efforts are acceptable. He is able to render aid by the power of sympathy, knowledge, and experience. For this he was fully trained.