Warnings & Exhortations in Hebrews: Failing to Hear the Spirit

Upon reaching the second warning, we discover that it is of considerable length and has some confronting language. At the risk of being repetitive, note again who it is addressed to: “holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling” (3:1).1  Rightly understood, the warning is intended to strengthen and encourage believers. As believers, we must “take heed” (3:12) if we are to “profit” from the blessed “rest” the Lord promises the faithful (4:1,2). May the Lord give us an earnest desire to hear and apply the warning to our personal lives.

As it is consistent with the thread running through the warnings, we will consider the overall section generally as a warning against failure to hear the voice of God. Contained within it are specific warnings against unbelief, hardening the heart, departure from God, the deceitfulness of sin, disobedience and falling short of entering into our inheritance (“his rest”) – all of which, we suggest, emanate from a failure to genuinely hear the Word of God (4:12-13; see Rom 10:17; Jas 1:22). We shall consider the section over three articles.

The High Priest of Our Profession (3:1-6; see 4:14-16)

A Call to Contemplate Him Personally

As the warning is parenthetical, it is important to see the context in which it is found. Chapter 3 commences with a call to “consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Jesus” (3:1 JND). Chapter 4 concludes with a call to “come boldly” to this “Great High Priest” who is “Jesus the Son of God” (4:14-16). As Apostle, He is God’s full and final Messenger to man (1:2). As High Priest, He adequately and acceptably represents man in the presence of God (2:17-18).

The ascription “Son of God” captures the theme of Chapter 1 – His deity. The name “Jesus” (not Lord, nor Christ) points us to Chapter 2 – His humanity. In Chapter 1, we see His divine glory, essential being, preeminence, sovereignty, dominion, authority and power. In Chapter 2, we see His condescension to earth as a man in order to taste death, through which He would destroy the devil and deliver us from bondage (2:9,14,15). Furthermore, His human experience enabled Him to become “a merciful and faithful high priest in things relating to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (v17 JND) and, on account of His suffering through temptation, to “succour” (or, provide help to) those who are being “tempted” (v18; see 4:15,16).

With this perspective, the writer seeks to impress upon his readers that Christ is infinitely superior to Moses. To this end, two arguments are presented. Firstly, in relation to His ministry, our Lord Jesus Christ is “faithful” (2:17) to God, His Father, who “appointed Him” (3:2). While Moses was faithful, they must appreciate that the Lord Jesus Christ cannot and will not fail. In relation to His Person, the Lord Jesus Christ is “worthy of more glory than Moses” (v3). How? Moses was “a servant” in God’s house (vv2,5), whereas the Lord Jesus Christ is “a Son” over God’s house (v6; 10:21). Moses served in God’s house, whereas Christ is the builder of God’s house (3:3; see Mat 16:18; 1Ti 3:15). Who but God’s Son could be so fit and faithful to handle the problems of His house?

A Condition for His Presence Practically

“Whose house,” says the writer, “are we” (emphatic) (3:6). A house is where someone dwells. The tabernacle and subsequently the temple were God’s house (Exo 25:8; 1Sa 1:7; 1Ch 22:19), and they are set forth in the NT as types of the Church and the believer. Thus, God’s house is a spiritual household comprised of His own. O the wonder that God deigns to dwell with His people! But a condition is imposed – and here is where the warning begins: “if the boldness and the rejoicing of the hope unto the end we hold fast” (YLT). While on the surface the condition might arouse some concern, we believe it has positive intentions and that its implications hinge upon how we interpret “his house” (3:6).

On one hand, the house can be taken to mean the Church in its entirety, the “household of God” comprising all believers of this dispensation (Mat 16:18; Eph 2:19-21). In this context, some explain that by holding fast “unto the end,” one proves by endurance they are truly saved and thus a member of God’s household. Whilst offering a somewhat intuitive explanation, we feel it doesn’t do justice to the text or the warning.

On the other hand, the type can be taken to mean a local assembly of believers who are “house of God” in character (1Ti 3:15). We feel this best fits the context and pilgrim character of the letter. It is the place where God, who is spirit, dwells among His children, who, in spirit and by His Spirit, worship and serve Him according to His Word (1Co 3:16; Eph 2:22; 1Pe 2:5). With this view, the condition, “if the […] we hold fast” (YLT), challenges our practical realisation of it. It is on the condition of holding fast the boldness (4:16; 10:19; 10:35) and the boasting of the hope (i.e., our future expectation in Christ; 6:11; Col 1:22,23) that we can be the dwelling place of God in reality. If the Hebrews were to go back on their confidence in the Lord Jesus Christ as God’s appointed High Priest over the house of God and their practical witness to their hope in Him, they could not be for God a sanctuary and would thereby forfeit His presence among them. Being a household for the dwelling of God would not be possible if they turned from witnessing to what they have in Christ to the rituals of Judaism. This is despite the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit in every believer (e.g., Joh 14:16,17; 2Co 1:22).

Moses was faithful. The Lord is faithful. Are we? Unfaithfulness to “His house” is an ever-present danger. Evidence of it is seen everywhere. That it is a real danger is proven by the Lord Jesus Christ knocking outside the door of the church at Laodicea (Rev 3:20). His appeal to hear His voice (v22) confirms that it is possible for churches to be so spiritually “poor” that they cease to be His house. Buildings, activities, entertainment, systems of religious service, man-made traditions and humanly appointed “officials” are not what God desires for His sanctuary. God is ever seeking and is pleased to dwell among believers who, by faith, worship Him in spirit and truth (Joh 4:23,24).

1 Bible quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.