Resources » Asbury Bible Commentary » Part III: The New Testament » HEBREWS » Commentary » III. Second Point: “Today” (3:1–4:13)

III. Second Point: “Today” (3:1–4:13)

We have already been made holy by the consecrating work of Christ who claimed us for God. Moreover, we too are called to be holy, as befits our heavenly destiny (3:1). That means even now we are to be as God is (cf. Lev 19:2). To that end we have Christ's help; only he who has gone before us can guide our steps along the same perilous way (see 2:18). That is why he is given the title apostle, one sent as God's emissary entrusted with a divine mission on our behalf. Moses too was God's emissary to the household of faith; but Jesus is the greater of the two. Moses served God's interests and God's elect faithfully, being one of the elect himself. Yet God in Christ instituted that election long before it came about (3:2-4), and Christ in God now oversees its full implementation (3:6; cf. 1:2-3).

Moses faithfully bore witness to things God in Christ would later speak (3:5; cf. 1:2). Here the author reveals the underlying point of his argument: Moses brought God's Ten Commandments through the mediation of angels (2:2; see Dt 33:1-4), but Jesus himself has brought the everlasting Word (cf. 1:3). The OT bears witness to things beyond its own compass, things only finally revealed in Christ (Caird, 49). The principal OT passages by which the author frames his argument clearly point out the provisional nature of the former covenant concluded under Moses. For example, Ps 8 proclaims the destiny of humanity as crowned with glory and honor (2:7-8), a destiny yet unfulfilled and beyond the capacity of the former covenant to bring about. Only now in Jesus is this destiny realized.

This hope is now within grasp for all who do not lose courage and surrender their faith in Jesus for more immediate gain. The household of faith is comprised of those who do not let circumstances rob them of their hope (3:6).

The Holy Spirit brings a timely warning in the words of Ps 95 to the recipients of Christ's benefits who are now wavering under opposition (3:7-11). The entire sermon is an exhortation to hold fast to what is promised in Christ. Today, as never before, the hope of entering God's own rest is ours, provided we keep our trust fixed on Christ. Ps 95, like Ps 8, speaks of a human destiny yet unfulfilled. Here again the OT points beyond itself to the full and final revelation in Jesus Christ. The promise reserved for us is the hope of entering God's own rest (3:11; cf. Ge 2:2-3). The warning is to those who would forfeit that which Christ has won.

Hebrews contains five so-called severe passages (2:1-4; 3:7-4:13; 5:11-6:12; 10:19-31; 12:14-29). In each the danger warned against is apostasy. A severe fate awaits those who drift away from Christ (2:1) or ignore such a great salvation . . . first announced by the Lord (2:3), or turn away from the living God who has spoken now by his Son (3:12; cf. 1:2). Movement away from Christ means forfeiting our only sure hope. The recipients of this epistle possibly were contemplating a return to Judaism, which Rome sanctioned because of the safety from persecution it offered to Hebrew Christians facing Jewish intolerance and Roman disfavor. Today the danger of forfeiting one's heavenly reward is present for any who takes his or her Christian affiliation lightly. As Wesley put it (Notes, 570), “The day of life will end soon, and perhaps the day of grace yet sooner.” We only have Today. Our destined reward is in Christ, but we share in it only as we maintain our initial assurance of salvation through life's final day (3:14). Backward glances and backward steps heed the siren call of sin, not the upward call of God (vv. 13, 15).

The very people whom Moses led out of Egypt by God's saving grace were those who later tried and tested God in repeated stubbornness. They died in the desert because for forty years they resisted their Savior in unbelief (3:19). Becoming a Christian offers no guarantee of reaching the Promised Land, should one not remain a follower of the Lord all the way there. To fall from grace is one thing; to forfeit it is quite another.

The Holy Spirit still speaks Today (3:7). The promise of entering God's rest was given to the Exodus sojourners, but they all fell by the wayside. Therefore, the promise yet stands Today for any who will grasp the opportunity (4:1). God's Word of grace has come to us (by the Son) just as to them (by Moses). Indeed, even now believers are entering God's promised rest, says the author (v. 3), because they are responding to the divine offer with hearts open in faith.

What is the rest of God promised to us? First, consider that after six days of activity, God rested on the seventh day of Creation (see Ge 2:2). Ps 95 clearly states God's intention to extend that rest to others, but the invitation has been delayed by disobedience (4:6). When the psalmist uttered the word today, it was long after the time when Joshua brought the people into the Promised Land (4:8). Therefore, the author concludes, the psalm speaks not of rest from wilderness wanderings but of God's own Sabbath-rest. The psalmist uttered words pointing beyond his own day to a day when the rest God enjoys should be extended to his people (4:9). Since Christ has come, the day God has fixed is Today. The point, of course, is that we do our utmost to follow Christ and enter that divine rest while the promise remains.

The voice speaking in Christ's Gospel (4:12; cf. 1:2-3; 3:15; 4:2) is God's Word alive and effective Today. When it comes, who can claim not to hear it? As it comes, it convinces or it convicts, the judgment depending on the heart's response (cf. Jn 12:47-50). Just as the priest with deft cuts laid open the sacrifices brought before the Lord, every inward thought and motive is exposed by the Word's penetrating edge. If our acts seem godly but our intentions are not, God sees right through our folly. Though one day we shall all give account for ourselves, the eyes from which nothing can remain hidden see the genuineness or falsity of our lives Today (4:13). The Word of God comes to convince us in belief or to convict us in unbelief. As the Gospel meets us, so too does the sifting judgment of God.