There’s a difficult verse in Hebrews that has been mistaught such that it burdens believers and put them in doubt of their worth to God. It’s Hebrews 12:4 –here it is below.
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. 4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. (Hebrews 12:1-4)
It seems that the greatest perpetration is getting us to think that Christianity has supplanted Judaism –that fulfillment of all that is written in the Bible is really about us –and that only incidentally does it still apply to the Jews. However, Jesus explained that He came to the lost sheep of Israel and that we gentiles are only the dogs licking up the scraps (Matthew 15:21-28).
Paul explained in Romans that our relationship to God is by being aliens that have been included in Israel (adopted with them). He went on to say that the true Israel is those who have the Spirit –the Promise (that’s in Romans 8 and 9). It’s not by being Christians. That’s an essential understanding.
Due to our lack of heritage, the misguidance of our spiritual leaders and our desire to play like we’re God, we have misconstrued the OT, most of the Gospels, Peter’s letters, Revelation and even the thrust of Paul’s letters (where he was trying to stir the Jews to jealousy and be saved).
The so-called “problem verses” in the book of Hebrews are only problems because we aren’t intimately familiar with their story as it’s laid out in the Old Testament. Cherry picking a few of its verses out of their context is what preachers do though. They don’t hesitate to try to control their congregation’s behaviors. As an example they’ll preach against divorce as though it’s the worst thing in the world to do –even quoting a passage about God hating divorce– not accepting the fact that the Bible says that God divorced Israel (that’s in Jeremiah 3:6-13).
There is good in such miserable teaching though. It drives those who are seeking God to find Him. (You and I are both proof of that.)
When explaining any of the mistaught Hebrews passages I always begin with a summary of the book –and follow it up with asking “Just what is the one-and-only sin presented in the entire book?” (The answer is at the end of this article and there’s a more comprehensive article at “Understanding the Book of Hebrews - Based on the Exodus.”
It began with God’s unconditional promises given to Abraham. 1) He would have many descendants, 2) they would inherit the land that He would be given and 3) they would be a blessing to the nations. It was presented to him in a vision showing that there was no dependence on him for any part of it (Genesis 15).
The patriarchs provide an allegory that reveals the Trinity (Paul hints about it in both Romans and Galatians). Abraham represents the Father. He had to offer his only son –the ultimate act of faith. Romans nine says that Abraham’s offspring would be reconciled through Isaac –a reference to Jesus’ death. And Jacob (Israel) represents the Holy Spirit who is in all believers.
They were priests to the world as actors on a stage. Their ministry was fully described by the Old Covenant’s Law. It was only the dialog for their stage play. It did not determine an individual’s salvation –only their faith did that. Keeping the Law was strictly for communicating the gospel through pictures.
That Law had two parts. First, there was the Ten Commandments –they showed that everyone is guilty of elevating themselves above God –becoming estranged from Him. (Eve demonstrated it first and we have followed in her footsteps.) It only took a half of a chapter into note that. Then there’s the rest of the Law –the following three and a half chapters of Exodus –along with Deuteronomy, Leviticus, Numbers and even Genesis to show what God did to reconcile us to Himself through His Son.
As actors, they were divided into three groups to show mankind’s relationships to God. The common people were the lost who were ministered to by the priests –the saved. The priests had access to God through the high priest –we have unlimited access through Jesus. The high priest took the blood into God –He supplied His own.
Below is a brief outline of their story –which they rehearsed every Passover. It’s when they taught it to their children and the devout aliens among them.
The change of the priesthood came with the reading of the last will and testament of the dead man (Jesus). It was a New Covenant for a new ministry to the world. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19). That’s the message the new priests carry. It’s all done. There’s no further need for pictures –the reality came, He lived among people, He died to reconcile them, He rose to give new life to all who put their trust in Him.
The problem that most don’t even recognize is really believing that verse. It’s where the lie enters the picture. What’s the sin that clings so tightly (Hebrews 12:1)? It’s hanging onto the belief that we need to do good and avoid evil. It’s believing that Jesus was not sufficient for our need. That we need to do our part so that we are good, holy people.
The intended readers of the book of Hebrews are the lost Jews. It’s written to explain the change of covenants. There are two described –both are for them as priests to the world. Chapter eight describes the one in which only that race of people will minister during the last seven years (or three-and-a-half, depending on interpretation of those last days). There will be 12,000 of them from each of the twelve tribes (in Revelation). Chapter ten relates that everyone who has the Spirit will be a witness until that time. We who have the Spirit are included with them –not them with us.
They are to remember their history –as related to them by their ancestors (the great cloud of witnesses identified in chapter eleven). They were to cross into eternal life just as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob (and others) did. This isn’t written to make them better people. It was written to get them to the other side of the Jordan –the river that separated life and death –the river their forefathers refused to cross. The Jews were to fix their eyes on the Author and Perfecter who lives on the other side (Hebrews 12:2).
That was “previewed” in Numbers 21 where the people were dying in the desert from serpent-bites (proof of not trusting God). Moses was told to make a bronze serpent and lift it up on a pole so the people could look at it and live. Of course it represented Jesus on the cross –the One who would take all sins upon Himself. When His death was near, Jesus was quoting that incident –saying that He had to be “lifted up” so that all might live. That’s in John 8 and 12.
They were to become single-minded and not hang onto good works. Chapter six calls religion the “works that lead to death.” Moses is equated with the Law –he couldn’t enter the Land –only see it in the distance. Religion doesn’t kill a person, it just can’t give him life.
Only Jesus had to shed blood –and that wasn’t for Himself, it was to reconcile us to God –washing, sanctifying and justifying all ( ). There is nothing that separates us from God –nothing that He holds against mankind. We only have to cross over His way –trusting that Jesus did all that He said He did– and we have to do it when He says –before it’s too late. (That’s the subject of Hebrews chapter three.) Those who crossed over were to remember the crossing. There was no way to go back while walking on the dry land.
Two and a half tribes were to live back on the east side of the river. They had to cross back over and set up there houses in that part of the Land. Yet they were still part of Israel, they crossed over the Jordan on living water.
This history is what the Hebrews knew. Jesus and the writer of this marvelous book rely on that knowledge so they will combine it with faith and enter God’s Sabbath rest (Hebrews 4:2).
God has kept every reader of the book alive to see His offer. (They’re not reading it from the grave.) They still have the promise before them. They haven’t shed their blood.
Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, “Today if you hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts as when they provoked Me, As in the day of trial in the wilderness, Where your fathers tried Me by testing Me, And saw My works for forty years. “Therefore I was angry with this generation, And said, ‘They always go astray in their heart, And they did not know My ways’; As I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest.’” (Hebrews 3:7-11)
That passage sets the tone for identifying the one-and-only sin…
Today if you hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts, as when they provoked Me.” For who provoked Him when they had heard? Indeed, did not all those who came out of Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief. (Hebrews 3:15-19)
So there it is. Sin equates to disobedience and that equates to unbelief that Jesus is the Savior who must be followed into eternal life in the kingdom. There’s no mention of breaking any of the Ten Commandments or any other law. They did not enter the Land –they didn’t do it when and how He told them –following Joshua (Yeshua, Jesus). They weren’t saved.
In chapter twelve God told them that He remembers the task they did in ministering (presenting the gospel through pictures) to help those who have believed. Now they are to enter too!!!
So that’s what I say when I relate any of the problematic verses in Hebrews. I tell the whole story –sometimes with even more details.
Remembering that it’s Israel who is God’s cherished one is essential. And praise Him because He grafted us into that cultivated olive tree so that’s its oil can be used for light to the world.
It takes a long time to repeat the story enough times for people to grasp its depth. Yet it’s what we should be conveying to everyone we meet. After all, we are Christ’s ambassadors (priests of the New Covenant) to the world.