In the first two chapters, we saw that God’s Son was the subject of a series of prophecies. They’re compiled in this Letter to the Hebrews as if God’s saying “Listen to what the Scriptures say. You Hebrews have been reading them for centuries. But My Son was already there –and you didn’t recognize and accept Him!”
Chapter three begins with a reminder to the Hebrews of their ancestral purpose. Their heavenly calling was to be God’s ambassadors (set apart, holy, sanctified, as a kingdom of priests, Exodus 19:5-6). The covenant that He made with them listed the conditions for keeping that role. It’s recorded in Exodus, chapters 19 through 23. The very last requirement was to take possession of the Promised Land (Exodus 23:20-22).
Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession; He was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was in all His house.
For He has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house. For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.
Now Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later; but Christ [Messiah] was faithful as a Son over His house—whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end. (Hebrews 3:1-6)
The phrase “consider Jesus” is particularly insightful. Traditionally, the one person the Hebrews considered worthy of following was Moses. Here, they’re told to consider someone else –Jesus– to be God’s Apostle (His special messenger). They’re also to consider the ramifications of Jesus being their High Priest –their representative “in things pertaining to God” (Hebrews 2:17). According to the passage above, they were at least mentioning Him in their “confession.”
Can you imagine their apprehension as they read this contrast of roles? Moses was in God’s house –he was a servant of it. However, Jesus was over God’s house –He was the builder of it and has command-authority over it.
Moses and Jesus have completely different positions of authority. In human terms this might be compared to a mother who leaves her home for a short while for an errand. Upon leaving, she puts the oldest child in charge to maintain order. And when she returns, she takes her authority back. The same thing can be said about a military officer who puts a trusted ranking soldier in charge of his troops during his absence. When he returns, all authority is immediately restored to him. In both of these earthly examples, the assignment is for a limited time and with limited authority. Moses had temporary and limited authority as one in God’s house. However, Jesus is the ultimate authority for all eternity over God’s house.
For some, the phrase in verse six, “we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope firm until the end,” stirs up doubts about their relationship with God. (Similar wording is in verse 14.) They have been seduced into thinking that their salvation is somehow dependent upon their own faithfulness. Wrongly, they believe that as long as they keep trusting in Jesus, they remain saved. But if they falter –or quit “holding fast”– God will revoke His promise of eternal life as His Son’s cherished bride. That line of thought is contrary to the message Jesus delivered and died for. Let’s put this phrase from verse six into its ever-essential context.
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)
“They shall not enter My rest” is a quote from Psalm 95. He’s referring to those who refused to enter the Promised Land –balking at the last requirement of their covenant (noted above).
The Hebrews endured harsh slavery and oppression for 400 years in Egypt before going to the land promised to Abraham just as God said they would (Genesis 15:13-14). He intended for the Promised Land to be a place of ease –rest from dominating foreigners and from scratching out a meager existence. However, admission to the land was limited. God established the time and the way of their access.
The land was all prepared for them –making bricks was a thing of the past. The buildings were already built; the wells were already dug; the vineyards were already planted; the soil was already tilled. There would be enemies, but God had also promised to drive them out gradually as the Hebrews grew in number and filled the land. Meanwhile, those enemies would maintain the land until the time was right. The Old Testament Hebrews were guaranteed life in that land of rest. All they needed to do was enter it.
The people had witnessed God’s awesome power and compassion. They were participants on that first Day of Atonement when all of their crimes and ignorant behaviors were forgiven. They praised Him and boasted about Him. But when it came time to enter the land, they didn’t trust Him and go in.
He wasn’t angry with them for leaving the Promised Land –the equivalent of losing, or giving up their salvation. They refused to trust God in the first place. They refused to enter His rest on His condition –by faith. Over 600,000 of them died as a result of trying to do it when they wanted and how they wanted!
Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end, while it is said, “Today if you hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts, as when they provoked Me.” (Hebrews 3:12-15)
Notice the words “so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” The Hebrews did what seemed right to them. They participated in the feasts. They agonized when their self-centered ways were brought to light. They made their confessions, begged for forgiveness and vowed to do better. They were fully convinced that they did everything that God desired. But not so.
They were deceived into thinking that doing those religiously-right things pleased Him when, in fact, only trusting Him does. You see, Moses followed –and was solely dependent upon– God. The people were supposed to learn from his example and do the same. But instead they relied on Moses’ friendship with Him –and on their practice of traditions.
Physical death was the punishment for the Old Testament Hebrews who disobeyed Moses’ plea to enter the land. That’s severe, but the message that came through Jesus has an even greater consequence! The warning in this Hebrews chapter, “Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God,” is to pay careful attention to the final message. They were to follow His Son into the kingdom of God.
The offer of free entrance into His rest through His Son was extended. “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts, as when they provoked me.” They are to enter before it’s too late: “as long as it is still called Today.” The offer will expire just as it did for those who died in the desert-wilderness. All who refuse to follow His Son into eternal life will experience the eternal death.
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 3:16-19)
Verse six (“we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope firm until the end”) and verse 15 (“we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end”) both state that it isn’t sufficient for a person to begin the journey by seeing his condition through the Law. It only reveals the traits of a dead man. The person must also complete the journey –“firm until the end.” They must follow Jesus by faith across the finish line –to His death as the sacrificial Lamb –into the kingdom –into the resurrection –into eternal life. Faith in Him is required to become a family member of God’s house.
These passages are not about faltering or giving up or turning away. They are about entering God’s rest. Once a person has entered the promise, God will work out the details in each heart and life.