To The Hebrews

The Epistle to the Hebrews

Cecil N. Wright

 1. INTRODUCTION.

 This is a rich hortatory section, with its exhortations based upon tremendously important facts already established (4:14 - 10:18) or upon conclusions derived therefrom. The facts relate to what we have (vs.19-21), introduced by the word "having." And each of the exhortations begins with the phrase "Let us" (vs.22,23,24).

 II. FACTS: "HAVING" (Vs.19-21).

1. "Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holy place by the blood of Jesus" (vs.19). "The holy place" here is "heaven itself," which Christ has himself entered for us, with, as it were, his own blood, and by means of it -- and by means of which he has obtained eternal redemption for us (9:24-25; cf. Vs 11-12).

When we "enter into the holy place by the blood of Jesus," we enter "by the way which he dedicated for us, a new and living way, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh" (vs.20) -- which is likewise to say, his humanity. It was only because he took upon himself the nature of man that he could experience death and have blood to shed for us (see 2:14-17). And when he ascended back to heaven, it was with his resurrected human body (changed as ours will be, see 1 Corinthians 15:50-52 and Philippians 3:20-21). He thus became the author (archegos, captain, or chief leader) or our salvation (Hebrews 2:10). Moreover, when he comes a second time, it will be "unto salvation" ("to the uttermost," 7:25) "to them that wait for him" (9:28). He will come to receive us unto himself; that where he is, there we may be also (John 14:3). Then we shall literally "enter into the holy place" where he is, because redeemed "by the blood of Jesus."

Now, however, we do so only spiritually, in our affections and worship. But this is of transcendent importance, if we are to enter literally in the after a while. And it may and ought to be done with "boldness," because we are redeemed "by the blood of Jesus" and have the greatest possible reason for anticipation of the literal entrance when Christ comes again. And that "boldness" is a dominant theme in our epistle (3:6; 4:16; 10:19,35). It is not brashness or foolhardiness, but courage, confidence, and comfortableness, grounded in what has been done for us by God through Christ and promised to us for the future.

2. "And having a great priest over the house of God" (vs.19) -- namely, Jesus Christ, whose priesthood was alluded to in 1:3, and has been specially featured ever since 4:14 -- providing all the assurance underlying and justifying the "boldness" enjoined, and the exhortations that follow.

 

III. EXHORTATIONS: "LET US" (Vs.22-25).

1. "Let us draw near" (vs.22) -- that is, continue to draw near -- "unto the throne of grace [in heaven], that we may receive mercy, and find grace to help us in time of need" (see 4:16).

a. "With a true heart" -- in all sincerity, earnestness, and loyalty.

b. "In fullness of faith" -- or "in full assurance of faith" -- belief of the word of God through Christ (see Romans 10:17).

c. "Having (had, perfect tense in the original) our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience" -- related to having "a true heart" -- a figurative sprinkling with the blood of Christ (cf. 9:14,18-22) -- equivalent to having our hearts cleansed from sin, and from the consciousness of sin (see 10:2) -- equivalent again to having our robes washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:14).

NOTE: This and the following item should no doubt be taken together as having occurred in conjunction with each other.

d. "And having (had) our body washed with pure water" -- an obvious reference to Christian baptism (see Acts 10:47-48) -- the whole man, soul and body, sanctified unto God (see Romans 12:1; 1 Corinthians 6:15,20-- the latter verse reading in the AV, "glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's). (Cf. Acts 22:16; Eph.5:26; Titus 3:5 [cf. John 3:5]; 1 Peter 3:21*)

*See Excursus on 1 Peter 3:21 below.

2. "Let us hold fast (vs.23) -- that is, "hold fast the confession of our hope that it waver not; for he is faithful that promised." The AV has "faith," possibly because of the word "confession," which it renders "profession." But the Greek text has the word elpis, hope, instead of pistis, faith, though the two are related, as will be noted below. And "hope" as well as "faith" may be "professed" or "confessed." The word in the Greek text, "homologia," may be translated either way in English. If it is perceived by the translator as being an admission, "confession" is the better translation; if perceived as a proclamation or unsolicited affirmation, then "profession" would be preferable.

"Hope" is an indeed significant word in Hebrews, occurring also in 3:6; 6:11,18; 7:19. It is a combination of expectation and desire, and "faith" is "the assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen" (11:1).

The reason given for holding fast our hope is that "he is faithful that promised." And in that connection the text of 6:13-20 needs to be reviewed.

3. "And let us consider" (vs.24-25) -- that is, "consider one another to provoke unto love and good works" (vs.24).

a. "Not forsaking our own assembling together, as the custom of some is" (vs.25a) -- or, "not staying away from our meetings, as some do" (NEB). A. E. Harvey comments on this as follows: "There is probably more to this than mere slovenness in attendance at church [which itself should be avoided]. Staying away suggests (in Greek, if not in English) a failure to stand firm with fellow-Christians in times of adversity -- and a sketch of such times follows a few lines further on" (The New English Bible Companion to the New Testament, 1970, pp.706-07.) Thayer likewise, in defining the Greek term, egkataleipo, says it can mean "to leave in straits, leave helpless, (colloq. leave in the lurch)."

The emphasis in this verse is not the lack of proper consideration for brethren when we cease joining with them in Christian assemblies, and the emphasis, beginning with the following verse (26), is on the peril to which we subject ourselves by not "assembling."

b. "But exhorting one another" (vs.25b). "One another," while implied, is not in the Greek text. The word "but" introduces a contrast: "Not forsaking our own assembling together ... but exhorting." One reason, therefore, for our assembling is Christian contact, exhortation, encouragement, and support of one another -- "edification, and exhortation, and consolation" (see 1 Corinthians 14:3).

c. "And so much the more, as ye see the day drawing nigh" (vs.25c). This indicates the approach of a day of exceedingly great trial, when the fellowship and exhortation of Christian assemblies would be all the more needed instead of less so, to prevent backsliding and preserve from apostasy -- a day they knew about -- and referred to by them as "the day."

Some have thought of this as "the Lord's day" of Revelation 1:10, understood by early Christians as the first day of the week, on which they held regular weekly assemblies. But the context, "not forsaking" the assemblies "but exhorting," seems to indicate assembling for the purpose of exhorting one another, rather than meaning increasingly urgent exhortations through the week to assemble on the next approaching Lord's day.

Other have considered "the day approaching" to be the Second Coming of Christ. But, while we are to be prepared for that at any and all times, we are repeatedly informed that we know not when it will be, including Christ himself when he was upon earth (Matthew 24:35-44; 25:1-13; Mark 13:31-37; Luke 21:33-36; 1 Thessalonians 4:13 -5:3; etc.). Yet, in our Lord's Parable of the Talents, there was the intimation of the possibility of his return not being for "a long time" (Matthew 25:14-30 and v.19 in particular). It was not "at hand" when 2 Thessalonians was written, and would not be prior to the occurrence of a great apostasy that the apostle Paul had previously foretold for some indefinite time in the future (2:1-12). And when the apostle Peter wrote his second epistle to Christians, mockers were even then questioning whether it would ever occur, since it had already been so long after being promised (2 Peter 3:1-13). Yet. When he wrote his first epistle, it was time "for judgment to begin with the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall be the end of them that obey not the gospel of God? And, if the righteous is scarcely saved, where shall the ungodly and sinner appear?" This was said in the context of "fiery trial" being experienced by Christians (1 Peter 4:12-19). And there is reason to believe that the "judgment" here mentioned had reference to sufferings and calamities foretold by Christ in the Gospels.

If so, then it is likely that "the day approaching" referred to in Hebrews 10:25 was the day of Jerusalem's destruction, which was to take place within the lifetime of the generation contemporary with Christ (Matthew 24:1-34; Mark 13:1-30; Luke 21:5-32), and occurred in A.D. 70, within a comparatively short time after the epistle to the Hebrews was likely written, when the signs of its approach would be increasing. It was brought about because of increasing tensions and clashes between Jewish leaders in Palestine and their Roman masters. And as such tensions increased, the lot of Jews everywhere in the Roman empire became more and more precarious -- and so with Christians, because they were at that time thought of generally as being a sect of the Jew and Gentile Christians as Jewish proselytes.

The Lord foretold that there would be unparalleled tribulation at the time of Jerusalem's siege and destruction, and gave instructions to his disciples for escape. And Eusebius, in his Ecclesiastical History, says: "The whole body, however, of the church at Jerusalem, having been commanded by divine revelation, given to men of approved piety before the war, removed from the city, and dwelt at a certain town beyond the Jordan, called Pella. Here those that believed in Christ, having removed from Jerusalem, as if holy men had entirely abandoned the royal city itself, and the whole land of Judea; the divine justice for their crimes against Christ and his apostles, finally overtook them, totally destroying the whole generation of these evildoers from the earth." (Book III, Chapter V.) This is enough to remind us of what Peter was saying about the righteous being "scarcely saved," and far-reaching in its effects Jesus said, "except that those days had been shortened, no flesh would have been save: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened" (Matthew 24:22).

 

IV. EXCURSUS (1 PETER 3:21).

1 Peter 3:21 has an important connection with Acts 22:16 involving "calling on the name of the Lord," and with Acts 2:38 involving "remission of sins" and a "good conscience." In the language of scripture, a "good conscience" (Acts 23:1) is a "conscience void of offense toward God and men" (24:16). The AV has 1 Peter 3:21 saying baptism is "the answer of a good conscience toward God," which would seem to mean that it is "because of the remission of sins," whereas Acts 2:38 says it is "for [or, unto] the remissions of sins." And the ASV in the text of 1 Peter 3:21 has baptism as "the interrogation of a good conscience toward God," which does not seem to make much sense at all. But in the margin, it says, "Or, inquiry or, appeal." "Inquiry" does not seem to make good sense in this context, but "appeal" does if it should be "for a good conscience," which it can mean and evidently does mean, as a number of modern speech translations render it -- either as "appeal" or its equivalent The RSV and NASB have it "an appeal to God for a clear conscience." Others render it similarly, as follow:

Goodspeed: "the craving for a conscience right with God."

Williams: "the craving for a clear conscience before God."

Rotherham: "the request unto God for a good conscience."

Moffatt: "the prayer for a clean conscience before God."

Montgomery: "the prayer for a good conscience toward God."

NOTE: This accords with Acts 2:38, "baptized in the name of Christ for the remission of sins" -- that is, so as to have a good conscience toward God, and as the expression of a "craving" for such.

The word used in 1 Peter 3:21 is eperotema. Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, says that it means: 1. An inquiry, a question. 2. A demand. 3. As the terms of inquiry and demand often include the idea of desire, the word thus gets its signification of earnest seeking, i.e., a craving, an intense desire. If this use of the word is conceded, it affords us with the easiest and most congruous explanation of that vexed passage 1 Pet.3:21: "which (baptism) now saves us [you] not because in receiving it we [ye] have put away the filth of the flesh, but because we [ye] have earnestly sought a conscience reconciled to God."

Arndt and Gingrich, in their Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, say: 1. Question. 2. Request, appeal (eperotao 2, to ask some one for something) -- an appeal to God for a clear conscience 1 Pet. 3:21.

NOTE: That understanding of the word eperotema in 1 Peter 3:21 accords beautifully with Acts 22:16, "arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord." That is, in being baptized to wash away sins, one is expressing his heart's desire for a good conscience toward God -- in fact, has to do so in order to be saved. Scriptural baptism is therefore an overt prayer for remission of sins. For calling on the name of the Lord involves prayer. It is calling on the Lord.

"For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek: for the same Lord is Lord of all, and is rich unto all that call upon him: for, whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved" Romans 10:12-13). "And they stoned Stephen, calling upon the Lord, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit" (Acts 7:59).

  To be saved, then, according to the terms of the New Covenant, one must call upon the name of the Lord, and do so in connection with his baptism, so that it becomes an overt prayer for remission of sins.

We conclude with the following from Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (1964): "Hence we may translate 1 Pet.3:21: ‘Not the putting away of outward filth, but prayer to God for a good conscience."

Also: "in view of v.21 we should expect alla [but] to be followed by a cleansing in the spiritual sense. Thus the request for a good conscience is to be construed as a prayer for the remission of sins ... remission of sins is closely related to baptism from the very outset (Mk.1:4 and par.; Acts 2:38)." (Vol. II, p. 688.)[Additional discussionon this subject can be found in Baptism Into Christ, Joe McKinney, www.thebiblewayonline.com -rd]