Studies in Hebrews, 1 & 2 Peter
5. Hebrews 3:1-19 - Think About Jesus and Be Faithful
How can we be faithful? How can we help one another? Hebrews 3 addresses these questions. They are as important today as they were in the first century.
The first word in Hebrews 3 is therefore, which means that it is drawing a conclusion based on previous things. Chapter 2 explained that Jesus became a human being so he could save human beings. Because he was a human, he is qualified to be our high priest and intercessor. He suffered, so he knows the struggles we go through, and he can sympathize with our weakness. He can help us. He not only atoned for our sins, he is able to help us in our temptations.
Think about Jesus (verses 1-4)
Based on that foundation, the author writes, “Therefore, brothers and sisters, holy partners in a heavenly calling, consider…Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession.” Since Jesus is the basis of our salvation and the one who applies it in our lives, we need to concentrate on Jesus. We need to make sure that nothing distracts us from a focus on Jesus.
This is the only place in the Bible where Jesus is called an apostle. The word means “one who is sent,” and Jesus was sent from God to us. He had a message, and we are to pay attention to what he said, but we are also to pay attention to Jesus himself, because he as a person is part of the message of God. His death has meaning for us only because of who he is: the Son of God.
Hebrews is the only book in the Bible that calls Jesus our high priest. As an apostle, he speaks to humanity on behalf of God. As a high priest, he speaks to God on behalf of humanity. He is our mediator, who bridges the gap between us and God. That’s why we need to look to him.
What are we supposed to see in Jesus? Verse 2 tells us that he “was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses also ‘was faithful in all God’s house’” (with a short quote from Numbers 12:7). The readers respected Moses, so our author is building on that. Moses was a really faithful person, but let’s compare Moses with Jesus.
“Jesus is worthy of more glory than Moses, just as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself.” Jesus, at the right hand of God, has more honor than Moses. “For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.” God made everything through his Son (Hebrews 1:2); that in itself gives Jesus more honor than Moses.
Servant or Son? (verses 5-6)
The author now shifts to a different analogy, the difference between a servant and a son: “Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that would be spoken later.” Moses faithfully said what God wanted him to say, but he was faithful as a servant. The best that he could be, the best that any human being could be, was a faithful servant.
“Christ, however, was faithful over God’s house as a son.” Jesus Christ is in a class by himself. Moses was faithful, but if you look to him as an example of faithfulness, you are looking to an inferior example. Before Jesus, he was the best example available. But now that Jesus has been revealed, we should look to Jesus as our example. Our religious life centers on him, not on Moses.
Then we are told, “and we are his house if we hold firm the confidence and the pride that belong to hope” (verse 6b). If we keep our faith in Christ, then it shows that we are his house, his people. This is a general statement; it is not talking about whether a person can leave for a time and then come back to Christ. This book is written so that people will not leave; it encourages them to be diligent.
Do not resist (verses 7-12)
“As the Holy Spirit says: ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, as on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your ancestors put me to the test, though they had seen my works for forty years.’” This is quoted from Psalm 95, which was apparently read in the synagogues at the start of each Sabbath.
This, like everything else in Scripture, is a message from the Holy Spirit, and it applies today, just as much as it applied when first written for ancient Israel, and in the first century for the church. Do we hear his voice today? We should, because he is still speaking in Scripture. Are we listening? Are we willing to do what he says?
Hebrews was written to people who were attracted to Moses. And the author says, That’s not good enough anymore. Someone better has come along, and we need to respond to him. You can’t just keep on doing the same old things you have always done. You have to change.
That is still true. We can’t just keep doing things we have always done. We have to look to Christ, not to traditions. He may want us to do the same things for a long time, and they may become traditional to us, but we can never let those traditions become more central to us than Christ is. We cannot let them become so important to us that we can’t hear him when he says it’s time to change.
When Israel was in the wilderness, they had to listen to what God was saying. They didn’t go to Canaan by the quickest highway, because first they had to learn to trust God. When Christ calls us to follow him, we need to follow. We can’t just pick our own path — and we can’t always stay on the first path he puts us on. We have to continue to follow him. We have to let him change us.
This is what God says about those who resist his will: “Therefore I was angry with that generation, and I said, ‘They always go astray in their hearts, and they have not known my ways.’ As in my anger I swore, ‘They will not enter my rest.’” The ancient Israelites had to wander in the wilderness for 40 years because they didn’t listen. They heard the words, but they didn’t obey them.
Then he makes the application from ancient Israel to the church of the first century: “Take care, brothers and sisters, that none of you may have an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God” (verse 12). Make sure that you believe in your heart, sincerely. That is how you can be faithful. That’s the way to avoid turning away from God. Examine your heart — are you focusing on Jesus?
Encourage one another (verses 13-15)
How can we be faithfully focusing on Christ? “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Anything that takes our minds away from Jesus is deceitful. Anything that causes us to tune him out is causing us to sin. Anything that makes us want the old, when we need the new, is wrong. We need to encourage one another to focus on Jesus.
Faithfulness is a community project. God puts us together to help one another. We are to encourage one another in the faith, so that no one drifts away. Our priority is not a style of music, a day of worship or a particular tradition. Our priority is Christ, and we need to help each other remember that, so no one will become tired of hearing about the one who died for us.
“We have become partners of Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end.” Our faithfulness will show that we are now sharing in Christ. So we hold on tight, and help other people hold on tight. We do that by meeting together and worshiping together, always fixing our thoughts on Jesus.
“As it is said,” verse 15 tells us, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” Even today, some people harden their hearts and resist the changes that Christ wants to bring to their lives. The answer now, as it was then, is to fix our thoughts on Jesus, so that we hear what he is saying, and to encourage one another.
The need for faith (verses 16-19)
“Who were they who heard and yet were rebellious?” the author asks, and then he answers: “Was it not all those who left Egypt under the leadership of Moses?” Elsewhere, the author has only positive things to say about Moses, but here he has a subtle criticism. He did not have to mention Moses here at all.
“But with whom was he angry forty years? Was it not those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness?” This was the generation of Israelites who had come out of Egypt.
“And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, if not to those who were disobedient?” The people who disobeyed (that generation) were not allowed to enter the Promised Land. Why? “Because of unbelief.” They refused to trust God — refused to listen and follow. The same thing could happen in the first century, the book of Hebrews implies. The same thing can happen in any century. If people don’t focus on Christ, they drift away and begin to trust in other things instead of him.
Things to think about
- Do the worries of this life take my attention away from Jesus? (verse 1) What can I do today to focus on him?
- Do I have courage in Christ, and do I take pride in the hope he gives? (verse 6).
- Are there any traditions in my life that might make me less responsive to Jesus? (verse 7).
- Do I encourage others by meeting together? (verse 13).
- Am I holding tight to the faith, or is my confidence slipping a little? (verse 14).
Author: Michael Morrison, PhD, 2002, 2016