After stating in the negative some things about Melchizedek, the writer notes two positive things about Melchizedek: “but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever” (7:3). While Hebrews 5:10 and 6:20 have already indicated that Jesus is a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek, the writer subtly reverses the comparison to liken Melchizedek to Christ. It is not Jesus who resembles Melchizedek, but Melchizedek who resembles Jesus. Melchizedek is a facsimile of which Christ is the original. That there is a priesthood superior to the Levitical order is not a novel idea from the New Testament; the Old Testament provides an example of a higher priesthood. Ultimately, that superior priesthood is found in Christ, whose eternality as a priest is typified by Melchizedek whose tenure as a priest had no known start or finish.
Having no one greater than Himself, God guaranteed His own promises: “So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of His purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath” (6:17). God’s faithfulness is unchangeable. God is faithful as the Giver as well as the Guarantor of promises: “So that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie” (6:18). Faith is not a mere blind leap into the darkness, nor is hope a mere wishful optimism about the future; both faith and hope are based upon God’s faithfulness to His promises. Those promises can be a place to flee to for “refuge” that “the heirs of the promise” would have “strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us” (6:18). The language of faith and patience now transitions to the language of hope. Hope is much like faith but with only a more pronounced forward look to it. Hope, that is, a future-looking confidence in God’s faithfulness has a stabilizing effect for the present: “a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul” (6:19). God’s promises are always sure and His pledge to carry out His promises is always steadfast.
While it is impossible for a true Christian to ultimately defect from Jesus, it is inconceivable that a true Christian would flippantly ignore warnings about dullness toward God’s Word. The God who preserves His children, nonetheless, warns them to persevere. Preservation is not something that happens regardless of a person’s heart posture. Preservation occurs only through a faith in Christ that perseveres. So, strong warnings not designed to generate inward introspection and doubt, but a renewed act of dependence upon Christ and thus confidence in the God who keeps His promises. God preserves His children from defecting from Jesus, but He does so by the use of means. One of the means that God uses to preserve His children is to warn them of the destruction that waits if they defect. The intent of such a warning is to prompt a person to keep turning to Jesus until the final benefits of salvation are obtained.
The exposition concerning Jesus’ Melchizedekian Priesthood was put on hold because of the dullness or sluggishness of the learners. Instead of being diligently eager to learn more about Jesus, they approached the matter with lazy, negligent hearts. Thus, the problem was not inability, but unwillingness (which led to inability). At present, they were spiritually reluctant to hear God’s Word. How did they get to that point? In tracing the development of the warnings thus far, their present dullness started back with a careless drift from heeding God’s Word (2:1-4) and continued on to a unchecked disbelief toward God’s Word (3:12-14). Dullness to God’s Word, which is the next stage in the sequence of defection, grows out of drifting and disbelieving.
Verses 9-10 announce the happy results of Jesus reaching perfection in His life so as to be qualified to become “the source of eternal salvation” (5:9) by His self-sacrifice at the Cross. As said similarly, Jesus is the: “founder of their salvation perfect through suffering” (2:10). Jesus has secured His people’s salvation, that is, “to all who obey him” (5:10). Based upon the connection between unbelief and disobedience in chapter 4, the characterization here of Christ’s people as being obedient, first and foremost refers to their trusting dependence upon Jesus’ perfect life and sacrificial death as the basis of their now having access to God. Of course, it is true that the nature of saving trust in Christ not only perseveres; it is also accompanied by growing characteristics of love, good works, and genuine obedience. But such characteristics of saving faith do not earn salvation, they only give evidence that a great and perfect high priest “after the order of Melchizedek” (5:10) “has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (10:14).
Immediately following the warning in 4:11-13 about the penetrating power of God’s Word that exposes the deepest levels of the heart, Hebrews turns to strong Gospel encouragement. As man stands before God as he really is, what is exposed is his need and weakness before God. Specifically, who will atone for sinful guilty mankind? Perhaps the more desperate one feels their sinful situation to be before the all-seeing God, the more wonderful one can grasp Jesus’ High Priestly provision to be. The sinfulness of the human condition is more exposed before God than man dares to ever admit; but the mercy and grace of the High Priestly work of Jesus that covers His people, is more than they dare to ever acknowledge.
Therefore, promises are to be taken as seriously as warnings. With the imagery from 3:16-19 of the dead bodies of Israelites strewn around in the wilderness, 4:1 involves an emphatic word about fear. The previous warning of “be careful” or “see to it” (3:12) is intensified in 4:1. The outlook of fear called for is about taking serious the danger of forfeiting God’s rest due to unbelief. In the previous chapter, the basis for escaping wrong fear is Christ’s work, which delivers “all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (2:15). So the fear spoken of here is not a slavish, paralyzing fear, but a sober, stabilizing, activating one (See: Romans 11:20; Philippians 2:13). The call to fear unbelief is then linked to the call: “strive to enter that rest” (4:11). The call to fear unbelief is a means for stimulating an eager and active reliance upon God and His promise of rest. Ironically, where there is not a proper fear of unbelief before God, then an inordinate fear of about everything else seizes control of the heart (2 Timothy 1:7).
By the Spirit, through the Word, hearts become soft and stay soft. Drifting from God’s Word creates and indicates a hardening of the heart. If drifting is not dealt with, the next step in the process of defecting arises-disbelieving God’s Word. The way to counteract drifting is by paying closer attention to God’s Word (2:1-4). The way to offset disbelief is for believers to mutually encourage one another. The practice of mutual encouragement among fellow believers is both, the formative means to prevent hardness of heart, but also the restorative means to turn back hardness of heart. This mutually assumes: (a) one knows the struggles of fellow believers so that they might give encouragement; and (b) one shares their struggles with fellow believers so they might receive encouragement. When there is no giving and receiving, there is hardening of the heart.
To achieve His victory and thereby securing His people, Jesus had to become human for the purpose of dying, so that “through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (2:14-15). Reminiscent of promised battle between the Serpent and the Seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15), Jesus is depicted as the hero who came to the rescue of His oppressed people. Jesus enters into war with the oppressor and in defeating him, gains the victory before God, who authorizes a full liberation.
The warnings function as the ordained means that God uses to preserve His people in their loyalty to Christ until the end. The warnings are not designed to call on Christians to doubt their inheritance of God’s sworn promises. But the warnings are stated in order to call on Christians to heed God’s urgent counsel against a defection that would lead to destruction. God uses the warnings-along with promises-to secure His people in the way of salvation. Thus, the function of the warnings is to keep Christians from the very thing warned against: a defection from Jesus that would result in destruction. The intent of the warnings is to lead Christians to greater dependence on Jesus.
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