Studies in the Book of Hebrews—Chapter 3

The Heavenly Calling


VERSE 1  “Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus.”

In the preceding chapter Paul emphasizes that the true disciples of Jesus are also his “brethren” (Heb. 2:11,12), and that the Master is not ashamed to consider them such. In this chapter he reveals that these brethren are ‘holy’ in the Lord’s sight, and that they are partakers of ‘the heavenly calling.’ (vs. 1) There is a wonderful depth of Christian love and understanding manifested in this statement. These Hebrew Christians were far from being in a spiritually-healthy condition, as we shall see later in the 5th chapter; but, nevertheless, Paul still looked upon them as being ‘holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling.’

The reference to Jesus as the ‘Apostle’ reminds us that he was the One whom the Heavenly Father sent into the world to be the Redeemer and Savior; the word means ‘one who is sent.’ Jesus chose twelve apostles—Paul later taking the place of Judas—and these were the ones whom he specially sent to be his inspired representatives—“the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” Others are referred to in the New Testament as ‘apostles’ because they were sent to preach the Gospel, but these should not be confused with the inspired Twelve, the ones who are symbolically referred to in Revelation as the twelve foundation stones of the New Jerusalem.—Rev. 21:14

We are to ‘consider’ Jesus, that is, to ponder over his glorious qualities, for he was the One specially set apart and ‘sent’ by Jehovah to be the “messenger of the covenant” (Mal. 3:1), the One who was to reveal the love and saving power of God both to the church and to the world. To the Hebrew brethren, and to the whole church, he is the High Priest of our profession. This is an important thought to keep in mind in order properly to understand the Book of Hebrews; the church, the ‘brethren’ of Christ, are members of a priestly order, not merely those who receive blessings through a priesthood.

The word ‘profession’ in this text is from a Greek word meaning ‘common speech,’ or profession. As underpriests, the consecrated followers of Christ during the present Gospel Age have a common share with Jesus in the work of the priesthood, being ministers “of reconciliation” with him, through the use of the “word of reconciliation.” (II Cor 5:18-19) As his ambassadors, these Christians speak only the things which he gives them to say.

VERSE 2  “Who was faithful to him that appointed him, as also Moses was faithful in all his house.”

Faithfulness is one of the very important qualifications of a messenger, or representative, for otherwise he could not be trusted. The Heavenly Father could rely upon Jesus to be faithful to the trust committed to him. The expression ‘appointed him,’ should read, “made him.” This could refer to his being made the High Priest, or possibly it refers to his original creation. In either case, Jehovah knew that he could trust his beloved Son.

Moses was a type of Christ, and Moses was faithful over his house. In telling us of Moses’ faithfulness, Paul quotes from Numbers 12:7, where the Lord said of his ancient servant, “Who is faithful in all mine house.” This was high commendation. There could be no higher.

VERSES 3,4  “For this man was counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as he who hath builded the house hath more honour than the house.
“For every house is builded by some man; but he that built all things is God.”

“Of whom [God] are all things, … and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things,” writes the apostle. (I Cor. 8:6) This principle has operated ever since the Logos was created. Thus, while Jehovah spoke of the house over which Moses was the chief servant as ‘mine’ (Heb. 3:4,5), we may reasonably conclude that the Logos had much to do in organizing the natural descendants of Abraham into that house of servants.

The same is true of the house of sons which has been ‘made’ during the Gospel Age. Jesus is the Head over this house, but he is more than that; for, under the direction of his Heavenly Father, he has been supervising its building. Thus it is very true that Jesus has been more highly honored in the Divine plan than Moses. The ‘glory’ associated with Moses’ ministry was reflected in his countenance when he came down from Sinai bearing the Ten Commandments. This was typical of the still greater glory of the antitypical Moses when, as a result of the inauguration of the New Covenant, the glory of God will be caused to fill the whole earth as the waters cover the sea.

VERSE 5  “And Moses verily was faithful in all his house, as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after.”

The Greek word here translated ‘servant’ does not denote a slave, but merely one who is subservient to another in the sense of having a lower office. Moses was a highly honored servant, and was faithful in all his house ‘for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after.’ The thought clearly is that the house of servants under Moses, and all which pertained to it, was designed by God to be a testimony, or a setting forth by types, of things which would take place later on a higher and grander scale—“a shadow of good things to come.” (Heb. 10:1) This includes the Tabernacle and its services, which the apostle explains later in the Book of Hebrews, and accounts for the exactness with which Moses was required to carry out the details of construction given to him: “See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount.”—Exod. 25:40; Heb. 8:5

VERSE 6  “But Christ as a Son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.”

Here the more honored position of Jesus as Head over the house of sons is again alluded to, in that the house is said also to belong to him—he is more than its Head—and we are his brethren in this house, or family. True, we are servants, but we serve as sons, and as sons many of the secrets of the Divine plan are revealed. See John 15:15

‘Whose house are we.’ Paul and his Hebrew readers, and eventually the whole church, are included in the pronoun ‘we.’ But we can be a part of the house of sons only on condition that we ‘hold fast’ our ‘confidence’ ‘firm unto the end.’ Evidently the Hebrew brethren, to whom this epistle was written, were having difficulties along this line, for the admonition to steadfastness and to holding fast recurs time and again. Letting these things slip through lack of confidence and rejoicing might well be the besetting sin mentioned later in Chapter 12, verse 1. This is a sin which easily besets all of the Lord’s people. We can well take to heart the warning that only if we actually ‘hold fast’ can we hope to continue as members of the house of sons.

By including the ‘we’ class in the house of sons, the apostle brings in the great mystery that the church shares with Jesus in the anointing and in the service assigned to this ‘house.’ What an inestimable privilege! It is a fellowship of service, life, and training. Through this fellowship there comes into the heart of each member of the church a deep peace and joy which the world is utterly unable to understand. Satan tries to make us loosen our grip on these things, going about as a “roaring lion” (I Pet. 5:8), endeavoring to terrorize the ‘brethren’ who are partakers of the ‘heavenly calling.’ But we are not ignorant of his devices, and are confident that he will not be able to pluck us out of our Heavenly Father’s care.—John 10:29

In the Greek text, the thought is that we exult in our hope; we rejoice in our hope; that is, we anticipate its realization with pleasure. Let us not permit this hope to become dim by giving too much attention to the world, or to anything which will alienate our affections from the Lord and from his service. There can be no halfheartedness on the part of those who hope to make their calling and election sure to a place in the glorified house of sons.

VERSES 7-9  “Wherefore (as the Holy [Spirit] saith, To day if ye will hear his voice,
“Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness:
“When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years.”

‘Wherefore’—the opportunity of attaining so high an honor and the danger of losing it, emphasizes the importance of holding fast our exultant confidence and hope. How shall we hold fast? By not permitting our minds to question the goodness and faithfulness of our Heavenly Father, and by keeping close to him in prayer and through the study of his Word. If we allow ourselves to be influenced by the enticements of the world, there will develop a dullness of our spiritual minds with a consequent lack of faith, leading finally to unbelief—an unbelief which will fail to consider properly all the bountiful proofs of God’s faithfulness and love.

It is in Psalm 95:7-11 that the Holy Spirit, through David, testifies concerning the importance of not hardening our hearts as did the Israelites in the wilderness. Thus does our loving Heavenly Father help us to keep our feet in the right path. The expression, ‘today,’ is prophetic of the present Gospel Age, when the privileges of the heavenly calling are open. It is not the only day of salvation, being properly called “a day” of salvation in Isaiah 49:8. For each individual there is only a short time during the present life span in which to prove faithful, but this is sufficient if we “give diligence” to make our “calling and election sure.”—II Pet. 1:10

Sometime ‘today’ will come to a close and many will say, “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.” (Jer. 8:20) The American Revised Version reads, “O, that ye might this day hearken to his voice.” God does not coerce any of us, but do we appreciate the heavenly calling enough to hearken to and obey his voice? If we keep our exultant confidence and hope ‘firm unto the end’ we will delight to walk faithfully in the Lord’s way even though now it is the way of sacrifice and death.

How do we ‘harden’ our hearts? By failure to appreciate God’s goodness as manifested in his providential leading and care, and by resisting his will as revealed to us through his Word. Every making of an excuse for our lack of obedience renders our spiritual perception more dull, and we become correspondingly less responsive to the leading of the Holy Spirit. In the case of the Jews, because of their continued hardness of heart, no matter how many times the Lord reproved them, or how richly he blessed them, by their continued waywardness and disobedience they provoked the Lord; so their wilderness experience was to him a day of “provocation.”—Heb. 3:8

For the Israelites it was a “day of temptation.” (Ps. 95:8) There were ten special trials which the Lord permitted to come upon them. These are referred to in Exodus 5:21; 14:11; 15:24; 16:2; 17:2,3; 32:1; Numbers 11:1,4 (twice); 12:1; and 14:2. Each of these circumstances constituted a test of faith for the Israelites—tests in which they failed. But as the Lord, on each occasion, delivered them from the situation which caused them to complain, they should have learned to put their trust more fully in him, but they did not.

VERSES 10,11  “Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do alway err in their heart; and they have not known my ways.
“So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.”

The disobedience of the Israelites in the wilderness was of the heart. They could have been excused at first because of their lack of faith, but as time after time the Lord demonstrated his love for them and his power to deliver them, they should have learned to put their trust in him. But they did not, for the reason that they did not want to. They had a disposition of rebellion against their God. ‘They do alway err in their heart.’

Because of this, and not because of inherited weakness, the Lord was ‘grieved,’ and in his ‘wrath’ he ‘sware,’ or definitely determined that all the males of the nation who were numbered and were of responsible age would not be permitted to enter into the Promised Land, with the exception of Caleb and Joshua. Nor could they enter into God’s rest to enjoy peace of mind and soul, based on full confidence in Jehovah’s care for them.

VERSE 12  “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.”

We should examine our own hearts carefully; but it is often difficult to see our own defects, so we need Divine help in scrutinizing ourselves. How appropriate is the prayer of the psalmist: “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”—Ps. 139:23,24

Those who have unbelieving hearts not only rob themselves of the peace and joy they might otherwise have, but they send out an evil, hurtful influence to those around them. How important that we take heed to our hearts. To do this we will need to give close attention to the instructions of the Lord, and not permit ourselves to be subject to outside influences, nor listen to other voices than that of the Lord.

VERSE 13  “But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.”

The Greek word here translated ‘exhort’ is similar to the one which is translated ‘Comforter’ when this name is given to the Holy Spirit. It means to strengthen together, and thus to comfort one another. This is one of the blessed privileges of each member of the New Creation. May we all be faithful in our endeavors to strengthen and encourage our brethren.

We are to continue exhorting the brethren to faithfulness while it is called ‘today’; that is, throughout the Gospel Age, the period in the Divine plan when the ‘heavenly calling’ is operative. It is especially urgent that we continue faithfully to exhort one another, for soon the door to the heavenly calling will be closed, and the Gospel Age ended.

There is always a danger that our hearts become hardened by ‘the deceitfulness of sin.’ The ways of error and sin are almost always made to appear very bright and worthwhile. Satan, therefore, will deceive and delude, as many as are not taking heed. Everything which is out of harmony with God and with righteousness is a delusion. If we permit our hearts to be drawn away by such influences, and hardened toward the Lord and toward his people, we will ultimately experience the loss of everything, including life itself.

VERSE 14  “For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end.”

This text clearly disproves the theory of “Once in grace, always in grace.” It states definitely that the only ones who actually partake of Christ are those who hold the beginning of their confidence “firm unto the end.” (Heb. 3:6) Jesus said, “He that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” (Matt. 24:13) In Revelation 2:10 we read, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” The ‘beginning’ of our confidence is a reference to that fresh vitality, the eager interest, and that all-absorbing determination which was ours when we were first convinced of the truth of the Gospel and of the heavenly calling, and decided that we would give our all to the Lord in full consecration to do his will.

Paul seemed apprehensive lest the Hebrew brethren might already have lost a measure of their first-love zeal and confidence. Later in Chapter 10 he writes to them saying, “Call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions.” (Heb. 10:32) In Chapter 6:11, complimenting them on their love and zeal, he added, “We desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end.”

VERSES 15-19  “While it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation.
“For some, when they had heard, did provoke: howbeit not all that came out of Egypt by Moses.
“But with whom was he grieved forty years? was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcasses fell in the wilderness?
“And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not?
“So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.”

In these verses the apostle seems to be emphasizing the vital importance of the admonition he has already given not to permit our hearts to become hardened by unbelief, and through unbelief, to cast away our confidence. He stresses this point by reminding us that this was the unhappy lot of all who came out of Egypt with Moses.

Verse 16 is treated by most modern scholars as being in question form like verses 17 and 18. (See Wilson’s Emphatic Diaglott.) As a question, the text could read, “Who, when they had heard, provoked? Was it not all who came out of Egypt by Moses?” Caleb and Joshua were the only exceptions among those of responsible age who were numbered at the time of the Exodus, and these two in six hundred thousand are ignored in this exhortation to watchfulness and faithfulness.

Unbelief is a serious thing in the sight of God, for it places a barrier between him and those upon whom he would graciously bestow his blessings. Abraham became the friend of God upon the basis of his faith, or belief. This thought of friendship in relation to faith helps us to appreciate more fully just why faith is so important to God. Even in our relationships with one another there could be no friendship except upon the basis of faith, or confidence. There can be no friendship among nations except as they have faith or confidence in one another. So it is in our relationship to God. If we wish to enjoy the blessings which he is so willing to bestow abundantly upon his friends, we must have confidence in him.

The unbelief of the Israelites was their great sin in the ‘day of provocation.’ In that day when they provoked the Lord they did not have confidence in him, and because of their unbelief, rebelled against his providence. Their sin was the greater because it continued after they had been given many demonstrations of God’s good will toward them, and of his ability to care for them, for then it became willful. They hardened their hearts, with the result that they lost everything so far as God’s blessings at that time were concerned. The ‘rest of faith,’ which God had provided was lost. They did not enter the Promised Land. Their carcasses fell in the wilderness.

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