Tuesday, May 30th, 2023
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
Contending for the Faith Contending for the Faith
Contending for the Faith reproduced by permission of Contending for the Faith Publications, 4216 Abigale Drive, Yukon, OK 73099. All other rights reserved.
Contending for the Faith reproduced by permission of Contending for the Faith Publications, 4216 Abigale Drive, Yukon, OK 73099. All other rights reserved.
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Hebrews 12". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ ctf/ hebrews-12.html. 1993-2022.
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Hebrews 12". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/
- Henry's Complete
- Clarke Commentary
- Bridgeway Bible Commentary
- Coffman's Commentaries
- Carroll's Biblical Interpretation
- Barnes' Notes
- Bullinger's Companion Notes
- Calvin's Commentary
- Bell's Commentary
- College Press
- Church Pulpit Commentary
- Smith's Commentary
- Dummelow on the Bible
- Constable's Expository Notes
- Darby's Synopsis
- Ellicott's Commentary
- Expositor's Dictionary
- Hole's Commentary
- Meyer's Commentary
- Gaebelein's Annotated
- Gann on the Bible
- Morgan's Exposition
- Gill's Exposition
- Everett's Study Notes
- Geneva Study Bible
- Haydock's Catholic Commentary
- Commentary Critical
- Commentary Critical Unabridged
- Gray's Concise Commentary
- Parker's The People's Bible
- Sutcliffe's Commentary
- Trapp's Commentary
- Kretzmann's Commentary
- Lange's Commentary
- Grant's Commentary
- Wells of Living Water
- MacLaren's Expositions
- Henry's Complete
- Henry's Concise
- Poole's Annotations
- Pett's Commentary
- Peake's Commentary
- Preacher's Homiletical
- Poor Man's Commentary
- Benson's Commentary
- Sermon Bible Commentary
- Horae Homileticae
- Scofield's Notes
- The Biblical Illustrator
- Coke's Commentary
- The Expositor's Bible Commentary
- The Pulpit Commentaries
- Treasury of Scripture Knowledge
- Wesley's Notes
- Whedon's Commentary
- Calvin's Commentary
- Henry's Complete
- AEK Concordant NT Commentary
- Abbott's NT
- Orchard's Catholic Commentary
- Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary
- Contending for the Faith
- Daily Study Bible
- Expositor's Greek Testament
- Family Bible NT
- Godbey's NT Commentary
- Alford's Greek Testament Commentary
- Meyer's Commentary
- Mahan's Commentary
- Bible Study NT
- Bengel's Gnomon
- People's NT
- Robertson's Word Pictures
- Schaff's NT Commentary
- Vincent's Studies
- Burkitt's Expository Notes
- Daily Study Bible
- Pink's Commentary
- Box on Selected Books
- Hampton's Commentary
- Haldane on Romans and Hebrews
- Smith's Writings
- International Critical
- Ironside's Notes
- Philpot's Commentary
- Owen on Hebrews
- Layman's Bible Commentary
- Restoration Commentary
- Utley Commentary
- Kelly Commentary
- Newell's Commentary
- Zerr's N.T. Commentary
The first three verses of this chapter are the culmination of the Apostle Paul’s discussion of the better promises he introduces in chapter ten, verse 19. His objective throughout chapter eleven is to encourage and inspire the wavering Hebrew Christians to remain loyal to Jesus Christ.
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses: The words "we also" refer to all Christians, but contextually Paul refers to his Hebrew readers. He is saying that "we" (himself and his readers) are "compassed about" with a great cloud of witnesses. The words "compassed about" (perikeimai) mean "to lie around" (Thayer 503), denoting the examples he has named are lying around as "a cloud of witnesses." The term "cloud" (nephos) suggests "a large, dense multitude or throng" (Thayer 424). The word "witnesses" comes from the Greek word martus from which we get the English word martyrs.
This multitude of witnesses may be spectators to some degree, but they are not only spectators in the cloud but are testifiers who bear witness of the victorious power of faith. This metaphor of the "cloud of witnesses" "refers to the great amphitheater with the arena for the runners and the tiers upon tiers of seats rising up like a cloud" (Robertson 432). Paul wants his Hebrew readers to know they are not alone, but there are countless numbers of God’s people who have faced the same troubles and difficulties these Christians are facing, but they remained faithful to Him. In chapter eleven, Paul names examples of those who received great reports from their peers:
For by it the elders obtained a good report…By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.
…By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God…Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise (11:2, 4, 5, 33, 39).
let us lay aside every weight: For the Hebrew Christians to receive the promises made by God, as did those witnesses in chapter eleven, they must first "lay aside every weight" that interferes with their persevering in their faithfulness to Jesus Christ. To "lay aside" (apotithemi) means "to be put off or away" (Thayer 69), and the word "weight" (ogkos) in this context refers to any type of "burdens or encumbrances" (Thayer 437). For example, Paul is demanding that they put away those things or people causing them to renounce Jesus. It is imperative for them to put away worldly-mindedness that hinders them from running the race set before them. Paul teaches this same message when he writes to the Christians in Colossae, instructing them to "put off" or to "lay aside" various sins that are encumbrances in their Christian lives:
But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him (Colossians 3:8-10).
To live a Christian life, they must put away these evil things that cause them spiritual problems and then add to their lives godly activities to show they have put on the new man. Paul compares the Christian life to competing in a race in his epistle to the Corinthians and emphasizes the necessity of bringing ourselves into subjection to God’s law:
Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).
and the sin which doth so easily beset us: Paul strengthens his teaching by reiterating the fact that they must put away all sins that easily "beset" (euperistatos) them or sins "surrounding" them (Thayer 261). These sins are any that may keep them out of heaven and especially those sins that people are more tempted to commit. In this context, "the sin" is not one particular sin, but all sins of their forefathers that led to apostasy or that caused them to leave Jesus and return to the Mosaic Law. Paul is saying to remove these ideas from their thoughts and actions.
and let us run with patience the race that is set before us: It is not enough just to run the Christian race: the race must be run with patience. "Patience" is present active, meaning to keep on running with patience the race that is "set before us" (prokeimai), that is, to which they were "appointed or destined" (Thayer 540). The term "patience" (hupomone) "in the New Testament is the characteristic of a man who is unswerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and suffering" (Thayer 644). Running the Christian race with patience and determination is to remove all doubt and place their confidence in Jesus Christ. The victor of the Christian race is not based on swiftness, or on the runner who first completes the race, but the true victor is the one who does not give up—he finishes the race, he accepts the difficulties, and he perseveres to the end.
Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith: Not only does encouragement come from the witnesses of the Old Testament but also from the life of Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ faith we see absolute dependence on God. The term "looking" (aphorao) denotes the action of turning "the eyes away from other things and fix them on something" (Thayer 90). Paul uses the term "looking" as an artist who looks at his model, not just a glance but at every detail. The total focus must be on Jesus; therefore, one must always look away from everything that distracts. Paul’s point is that we all have problems from the past that we must lay aside and then press our attention toward the Messiah. In his letter to the Christians in Philippi, Paul explains how he did that for the furtherance of the gospel:
And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God. But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places; And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear (Philippians 1:9-14).
It is not the witnesses of verse 1 upon whom Christians are to fix their eyes but upon Jesus who is the "author" and "finisher" of our faith; that is, He is the beginning, the "pioneer and perfecter of the faith" (Ellingworth and Nida 290). The word "author" (archegos), signifies Jesus is "one that takes the lead in anything…and thus affords an example, a predecessor in a matter" (Thayer 77). Paul, earlier in this epistle, uses the same Greek term, archegos, translated there as "captain." He says, "For it became (Jesus), for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings" (2:10). Jesus is a Christian’s leader, and therefore, the great example of a clearsighted faith. In the Greek, the word "our" is not found; thus, Paul is saying that Jesus is the author and finisher of faith. The word "finisher" is teleiotes or the "perfecter (as) one who has in his own person raised faith to its perfection and so set before us the highest example of faith" (Thayer 619).
who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross: The word "joy" (chara) is used "by metonymy (for) the cause or occasion of joy" (Thayer 665), referring to the heavenly reward that is to follow. Paul says Jesus looked at the heavenly "joy" set before Him so that He could endure the cross. The term "endured" (hupomeno) means "to bear bravely and calmly" (Thayer 644). Jesus set this example for man. Jesus’ struggles were temporary as are man’s, but the future joy will be permanent. This "joy" comes from the awareness of salvation. Paul has already made the point that Moses was like Jesus. Speaking of Moses, he says, "Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward" (11:26).
despising the shame: By the term "despising" (kataphroneo), Paul means Jesus would "think little or nothing of" (Thayer 338) the "shame" (aischune) one would normally feel on the cross. In other words, Jesus ignores the shame normally experienced by one being crucified. It is of no concern because He puts these evil things behind Him. He thinks only of the joy and blessings of the future that await Him. Paul teaches how Christians are to imitate Jesus as they experience difficulties and persecutions:
Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing. Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample. (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.) For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself (Philippians 3:13-21).
The example Jesus leaves for all Christians is that He was willing to pay the price of humiliation and wrong done to Him in view of the wonderful glory reserved for Him.
and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God: Paul speaks of Jesus in the present tense as now sitting at God’s right hand. Sitting there is the "joy" Jesus knew He would experience. Paul wants his readers to understand that enduring the persecutions on this earth is easier if they focus on Jesus who endured the suffering on the cross because He knew He would sit down at the right hand of the throne of God.
For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.
By "consider him," Paul means to remember Jesus. In this verse, he reemphasizes his teaching in verse 2, comparing Jesus’ suffering with the Hebrew readers’ less severe persecutions. He wants them to realize that if their persecution is bad, they should think of all the things Jesus had to endure. "The way to avoid the failure of your nerve and heart is to compare your situation with the situation of him who met the opposition of sinners with such constancy and courage" (Ellingworth and Nida 291).
Jesus suffered "contradiction" of sinners against Himself. The word "contradiction" (antilogies) means Jesus endured the "opposition" (Thayer 50) of sinners. Paul encourages his readers to consider what Jesus went through and not "grow weary" (kimono) during their trials and persecutions (Thayer 323). He recognizes that if they grow weary they will "faint" (akouo) or become "faith-hearted" (Thayer 197), indicating they will abandon Jesus. They must keep their focus on Jesus lest they spiritually "relax" (Vincent 540) and lose their confidence in serving Him. Paul cautions Christians about spiritual weariness:
And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith…And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus (Galatians 6:9-10; Galatians 6:16-17).
Benefits of the Lord’s Chastening His Children 12:4-11
Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.
Paul changes his metaphor of one running a race in verses 1 and 2 to a fighter or a boxer. The boxer will not be one who covers his hands with padded gloves to soften the blows; but, instead, the metaphor seems to point to a bare-fisted boxer since blood is emphasized. Others believe he refers to a more barbaric boxer than just to one who uses his fists only:
In these games, the boxers were accustomed to arm themselves for the fight with the caestus. This at first consisted of strong leathern thongs wound around the hands and extending only to the wrist, to give greater solidity to the fist. Afterward, these were made to extend to the elbow, and then to the shoulder, and finally they sowed pieces of lead or iron in them, that they might strike a heavier and more destructive blow. The consequence was that those who were engaged in the fight were often covered with blood and that resistance unto blood showed a determination, courage, and purpose not to yield (Milligan 446-447).
The boxing match in this analogy pictures a Christian’s fighting against the sin of apostasy. Paul’s message is that the Hebrew Christians have not reached the position of total dedication in their faith in which they fight until their hands are bleeding; that is, spiritually they are not fighting until the end. The New International Version translates verse 4 clearer: "In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood." He says they have not "resisted" (antikathistemi) unto blood; they have not reached a point in their Christian lives where they must "stand against" (Thayer 50) sin to the point of becoming a martyr for Jesus. The term "striving" (antagonizomai) means "to struggle or fight" (Thayer 49) sin. In verse 3, Paul encourages his readers to consider Jesus who stood against sinners; now he encourages them to follow the path of Jesus in their faith and to stand up and fight for their faith in Him. Many of the Hebrew Christians have not been persecuted to the point that they have had to suffer for Jesus, much less die for Him. They have not stood "face to face against" (Robertson 434) the "sin" of apostasy; however, they are critical of Him and ready to abandon Him. Therefore, Paul’s meaning is that they are ready to give up on Jesus and His teaching, even though their afflictions in life have been relatively light when compared to Jesus: "And being found in fashion as a man, he (Jesus) humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (Philippians 2:8). Likewise, most of Paul’s readers, even though they are on the verge of apostasy, have not even faced the persecutions confronted by the men and women of faith mentioned in chapter eleven:
Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented (11:35-37).
And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:
And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children: Beginning in this verse, Paul again issues an extremely harsh rebuke to some of the Hebrew Christians for their lack of perseverance in their faith. Earlier in chapter five, he has spoken harsh words to them because of their behavior:
Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing. For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe (5:11-13).
By their conduct, Paul says they have "forgotten" (eklanthanomai), meaning they have "let a thing escape" (Vincent 540). The thing they have forgotten is the "exhortation" (paraklesis) or the "admonition (and) encouragement" (Thayer 483) when they are told to "…despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him."
My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord: The reference to "My son" is from the Proverbs of King Solomon. In his exhortation to obedience, the king says, "My son, despise not the chastening of the LORD; neither be weary of his correction: For whom the LORD loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth" (Proverbs 3:11-12). Paul views the Hebrew Christians as God’s children, or in this case as His "son" when He rebukes them; therefore, he encourages them to "despise not thou the chastening of the Lord." The term "despise" (oligoreo) means "to regard lightly" (Thayer 443). Christians today are chastened by the Lord through His written word. When Paul writes to the evangelist Timothy about the importance of the scriptures, he says:
But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works (2 Timothy 3:14-17).
"Chastening" (paideia) is the same Greek term translated "instruction" in 2 Timothy 3:16. Paul’s message is that the Lord’s chastening, that is, His instruction, must not be despised; instead, it should be looked upon as training that an earthly father gives to his son.
nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: Paul emphasizes again that his readers are not to "faint" (ekluo), that is, not to "become faint-hearted" (Thayer 197) when they are "rebuked" (elegcho), meaning when they are "punished" by the Lord for their disobedience (Thayer 203). In this context, the apostle cautions the Hebrew Christians not to treat the Lord’s rebuke against them lightly but also not to become too discouraged by the rebuke. We, today, need to be reminded as God’s children that a Christian’s trials and struggles are God’s way of training His children.
For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.
Because God loves His children, He corrects them; consequently, they should not become fainthearted when He rebukes them. They should realize that, as a father for His son, God loves those whom He corrects. Solomon says, "He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes . . . Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying" (Proverbs 13:24; Proverbs 19:18). As Milligan says, "The chastening is not the punishment of revenge but the discipline of love" (449). The term "scourgeth" (mastigoo) is used "metaphorically of God as a father chastising and training men as children by afflictions" (Thayer 392). "Chasteneth" and "scourgeth" are similar in nature and refer to types of disciplinary actions. The most important fact for Christians to remember regarding the Lord’s rebuke is that when they heed the Lord’s discipline, He "receiveth" (paradechomai) them, meaning He once again "accepts" them (Thayer 480). Paul and Barnabas teach the same message in Acts, saying, "Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God" (14:22).
If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.
These two verses are better read together because Paul is teaching the importance of chastisement and explains a person’s condition if he faces chastisement. In verse 7, he teaches the benefit of facing chastisement, and then in verse 8 he teaches the negative side of not facing it. He wants his readers to have the proper attitude toward chastisement. Paul teaches that a Christian should anticipate facing temptations and trials because no one is perfect; all Christians live in a world of weaknesses, shortcomings, and sin. When Paul writes to the church at Rome, he says, "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). The overall emphasis is that chastisement is not an evil action but is a blessing. Peter sends the same message to Christians throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, teaching them that Christians are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation, and then he says:
Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:6-7).
James, the brother of the Lord, writes the same message to the twelve tribes when he says:
My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing (1:2-4).
When people are chastened, God "dealeth" with them as sons. The word "dealeth" (prosphero) means to "behave one’s self towards one" (Thayer 550). Therefore, Paul is saying that when Christians are chastened, God is behaving toward them as an earthly father does toward his son. On the other hand, in verse 8, Paul takes the opposite side of the situation to show that if God does not chasten them, they are "bastards" (nothos), or they are "illegitimate" sons (Thayer 427). Paul presents a question for his readers to consider, "for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?" Discipline is expected from a loving father, and without discipline the son does not remain faithful. Chrysostom paraphrases these two verses: "It is for chastisement ye are enduring: not for punishment, not for torment, not for any evil purpose" (quoted from Milligan 450).
In verse 8, Paul says of Christians who have endured chastening, "whereof all are partakers." The term "partakers" (metochos) indicates all true children of God are "sharing in" (Thayer 407) chastisement just as all the devout people mentioned in chapter eleven shared in faith; therefore, if they are not facing chastisement, they are not true children of God, but are illegitimate sons. In other words, if Christians do not persevere in standing against sin and are not willing to suffer persecution, they are not the sons of God that they should be. The objective of Paul’s message is that Christians should realize that they must not complain when they suffer, but instead they should be thankful and encouraged. God knows they are suffering, and He always has an objective for their trials, temptations, and disciplines. Solomon says, "My son, despise not the chastening of the LORD; neither be weary of his correction: For whom the LORD loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth (Proverbs 3:11-12).
Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?
Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: The term "Furthermore" introduces a new segment of the theme. The important message is they must not become disheartened at their sufferings. Paul has been speaking of God’s relationship to Christians who are undergoing suffering for Jesus’ sake, and now he changes to speak of "fathers of our flesh" or "one’s natural or birth father" (Thayer 494). The designation "of the flesh" is frequently used in Paul’s writings. For example, when he writes to the Christians at Rome, he says, "What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?" (Romans 4:1). In the same epistle, he writes, "For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh" (Romans 9:3). When he writes to the Christians in Galatia, he says, "Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now" (Galatians 4:28-29). Earlier in this epistle to the Hebrews, he says:
And again, I will put my trust in him. And again, Behold I and the children which God hath given me. Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil (2:13-14).
Paul is attempting to get his readers to understand the reason they, as Christians, are still tempted and why they are "corrected" (paideutes), that is, why they must face "a chastiser" (Thayer 473) when they violate God’s instructions. Not only do earthly children, as well as adults, remember being disciplined by their earthly fathers when they violated their instructions, they also remember showing "reverence" (entrepo) or respect and understanding to them following the disciplinary action.
shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live: Paul compares the "fathers of our flesh" with the "Father of spirits."
Throughout the Bible, the word flesh is often used symbolically to denote what is depraved, weak, or sinful; and so also the word spirit is often used in contrast with it, to denote what is pure, holy, and perfect. "That which is born of the flesh," says Christ, "is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." (John 3:6)…The word flesh, then, in this connection is designed to indicate mainly that our earthly fathers are like ourselves, carnal, frail, sinful mortals; and like ourselves they are therefore ever liable to err in their discipline. But the word spirits, as here applied to God, denotes that he has none of the weaknesses and infirmities of the flesh; but that being himself, not only spirit, but also the Father of spirits, he cannot like our earthly fathers err in his chastisements (Milligan 452).
As Paul’s readers can understand the reason behind rebukes from earthly fathers, they should likewise understand their need of being in "subjection" (hupotasso) or are expected to "obey" (Thayer 645) God, their spiritual Father. The benefit of obeying God is that in doing so they will live spiritually with Him. Obedience to their earthly fathers will often lengthen their physical life, as Paul says:
Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;) That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth (Ephesians 6:1-3).
For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.
For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure: There is much confusion regarding the proper interpretation of Paul’s teaching in this verse, especially with the words "for a few days." This phrase is the first part of a contrast that is directly linked to the previous statement, "be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live." In both statements, Paul’s analogy is to an earthly father’s disciplining his young son. The analogy should not be overly extended to include older or grown children because once they are grown they are no longer under the authority of their earthly father; therefore, the discipline and instruction of the father to his young son is limited to his childhood and not for a lifetime.
On the other hand, one who is subject to the Father of spirits has the expectation of an eternal reward in heaven. In contrast, those who are in subjection to the discipline of their fleshly fathers, while it could lead to eternal life, are contextually referring to the benefits of life on earth. The discipline of the fleshly father, then, is temporary and is confined to this present life; the discipline of the heavenly Father is permanent in the heavenly life. Paul emphasizes that fleshly fathers, at times, chastened or disciplined their young son after their own "pleasure" (dokeo), meaning "as it seemed good to them" (Thayer 154). All parents often make mistakes in their disciplinary actions. Sometimes they are moved by emotions rather than sound judgment, and "what seemed good to them was not always best" (Vincent 544).
but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness: Paul points out the benefit of the discipline of the Father of spirits. The word "profit" (sumphero) denotes "advantage" (Thayer 597). The phrase "for our profit" is used in contrast to "after their own pleasure." The possibility of God’s overreacting or making mistakes in disciplinary actions is impossible—God does not make mistakes. The advantage of a Christian’s being disciplined by God is "that we might be partakers of his holiness." Paul shows that the purpose of chastening is a life of holiness, leading to eternal life.
Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.
Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: Instead of "no chastening," the Greek indicates Paul is literally speaking of all chastening or all sorts of discipline. All chastening, regardless of whether it is divine chastening or earthly chastening, is not thought to be joyous, but instead it is always thought to be "grievous" (lupe), that is, it brings forth "sorrow (and) pain" to the recipient (Thayer 383).
nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby: As Paul emphasizes in verses 9 and 10, chastisement is good; and even though it always seems grievous at the time it is received, Paul says that "afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby." The word "fruit" (karpos) means the "benefit arising from righteousness" (Thayer 326), that is, the chastisement leads to "righteousness" (dikaiosune) or "purity of life (and) correctness in thinking, feeling, and acting" (Thayer 149). Paul concludes his instructions about chastisement by referring to those who "are exercised thereby." Contextually, he is not teaching about the importance of a fleshly father’s disciplining his young son; instead, he is teaching about the importance of the spiritual sons of God not apostatizing but remaining faithful to Jesus. These are those who have suffered because of their faith in Jesus Christ and who have patiently persevered during their suffering. The idea of benefiting from chastisement is seen in David’s life, as he says:
Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word. Thou art good, and doest good; teach me thy statutes. The proud have forged a lie against me: but I will keep thy precepts with my whole heart. Their heart is as fat as grease; but I delight in thy law. It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes (Psalms 119:67-71).
An Admonition for Christians to Help Other Christians 12:12-13
Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees;
Paul is here alluding to a metaphor that was originally used by the prophet Isaiah: "Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees" (Isaiah 35:3). Paul’s metaphor, "lift up the hands," refers to restoring weak brethren. The metaphor further signifies spiritual fatigue and weariness in the lives of some of his Hebrew readers. Paul is like the prophet Isaiah as he speaks of some of God’s people who are weak and in need of stronger children of God to support, encourage, and build them up. Many Hebrew Christians have faced persecution from the world and chastisement from God because of the way they have handled their persecutions. They have allowed themselves to become weak spiritually and are on the verge of apostasy. They need fellow brethren to help strengthen them:
The whole verse forms an admonition to the healthier portion of the church to make no deviation from the straight course set before them by the example of Christ, and thus they would offer no temptation to the weaker members to be turned quite out of the way, but would rather be an encouragement to them and so afford them an opportunity of being healed of their infirmity (Dods 369).
Paul’s major emphasis in this metaphor is not on the stronger Christians but on the weaker ones. He emphasizes their need to reconsider Jesus Christ—to remember Him as they did when they first became Christians—and to continue in their faithfulness to Him; therefore, they are to be courageous and to complete their race with uncomplaining perseverance.
And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.
Paul continues the metaphor from the last verse, teaching that every Christian should go in the same direction. At the same time, he presents a graphic picture of concern for the weak. Many Hebrew Christians are on the verge of leaving Christianity and turning back to Judaism. This metaphor is taken from the teaching of Solomon when he says, "Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established. Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil" (Proverbs 4:26-27). The word "path" (trochia) refers to "a track of a wheel (or) a rut" (Thayer 631). The rut causes the wheels of every traveler to go in the same direction; it keeps the wheel from going off course to left or to the right. The point is that the wheel or the feet can go in only one direction when staying in the rut. Everyone is to follow the same path in Christianity. Paul teaches that Christians who are on the verge of leaving Jesus and returning to Judaism have gone to the left or the right. They have gotten out of the rut and are headed the wrong direction; therefore, they must be built up spiritually and be put back on the proper path. Then they can be on the straight path of righteousness. Jesus teaches the same message when He says:
Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it (Matthew 7:13-14).
To overcome apostasy and to persevere faithfully, every Christian must remove all obstacles that might hinder him from running the straight line of the Christian race. When a Christian wavers, he should not feel dejected as though he has no way to return; instead, he is to remember that God is his Father and will bring him back to "be partakers of his holiness" (see verses 5-10). If a wavering Christian will return to Jesus and get back into the "rut" of following God’s instructions, he will be "healed" (iaomai); that is, he will be "free from errors and sins" (Thayer 296). Then he will be led to eternal salvation through his steadfastness.
Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:
The term "holiness" means drawing near to God with a clean conscience and accepting Jesus’ self-sacrifice. Paul’s message is that with true peace lost souls can be brought into fellowship with God. In this context, Paul is restricting his words to members of the Lord’s church and not to those in the world. His immediate concern is for those who are Christians but who have not remained steadfast and are on the verge of apostasy.
Follow peace with all men: The message of this verse is one that is needed by everyone to whom God gives life, and especially by every Christian. The Hebrew Christians have an argumentative spirit and a feeling of hostility and isolation toward weak members who have left the "rut." "Peace" is to be sought by every Christian. Those who have not left Jesus must not want those who are weak to leave; but, instead, they must want them to be restored to the faith. To "follow peace" is not a casual following after but denotes a strong desire. For one to be a Christian, he must strive for peace in every situation. Jesus says, "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God" (Matthew 5:9). Paul, in the Roman letter, explains that peace is important to a child of God because God’s kingdom is peace:
If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men…For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men. Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another (Romans 12:18; Romans 14:17-19).
and holiness: When there is true peace in a person’s life, there is also "holiness" (hagiasmos), signifying "consecration (and) purification" in Jesus Christ (Thayer 6). Holiness comes from resolute obedience to Jesus. Paul says, "For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness" (1 Thessalonians 4:7). He further tells the Romans:
I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness…But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life (Romans 6:19; Romans 6:22).
without which no man shall see the Lord: The goal of chasing after peace and holiness is "see(ing) the Lord." Without these two qualities, one cannot be pure in heart. Jesus says, "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8). It appears that Paul’s message for every Christian is that "peace" makes fellowship possible between brethren and "holiness" makes fellowship possible with Jesus Christ.
Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled;
Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God: "Looking diligently" (episkopeo) means to keep focused on Jesus. Peter uses the same Greek word to teach elders to take the oversight of their members when he says, "Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight (episkopeo) thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind" (1 Peter 5:2). Both uses indicate a strong action. In this epistle Paul warns all Christians, not just elders, not just to glance at, but "to look carefully" at their situation (Thayer 242). This warning implies that grace has been attained; but because of their circumstances, there is an enormous possibility of falling from grace. Paul’s words here disprove the doctrine that one cannot fall from grace. Grace is a gift of God given to people who are obedient to Him and to His instructions. Man does not earn this "grace" (charis), nor does he deserve it. Grace is literally defined as "the idea of kindness which bestows upon one what he has not deserved" (Thayer 666). Now, just because we do not deserve God’s grace does not mean that we do not have to work to obtain it. Man receives God’s grace by obeying Him without adding to or removing anything from His instructions. Once we prove our faith and obedience to God, even though we are still undeserving people, He gives us this amazing grace. On the other hand, Paul says to beware, to look diligently "lest any man fail of the grace of God" by violating His laws and commands. To "fail" (hustereo) is used metaphorically meaning to "fail to become a partaker" (Thayer 646). Faith and obedience are the necessary qualities of a Christian to receive God’s grace, and faith and obedience are the necessary qualities to retain God’s grace.
lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled: The word "root" (rhiza) refers to the origin or source of something, and the term "bitterness" (pikria) refers to bitter gall; thus, the phrase "root of bitterness" means the source of bitter gall. If a fruit is bitter, its bitterness can be traced back to the root. A bitter root will always produce a bitter fruit. Contextually, Paul fears that some of his Hebrew readers are on the verge of apostasy, thus, falling from grace; therefore, he warns them to look diligently lest any "root of bitterness" spring up among them. Metaphorically, Paul is using the phrase "root of bitterness" to warn his readers of the dangers around them "of a person disposed to apostatize and induce others to commit the same offence" (Thayer 563). Members of every congregation of the Lord’s church must be watchful for each other because when one or more members begin to teach and/or practice ideas contrary to the Lord’s teaching, they generally will not only leave the truth themselves, but they will usually be "springing" (phuo) up to cause trouble to the faithful. The term "springing up" means "to shoot forth" (Thayer 661), gradually revealing its destructive character. Moses writes of these same dangers and consequences:
Lest there should be among you man, or woman, or family, or tribe, whose heart turneth away this day from the LORD our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations; lest there should be among you a root that beareth gall and wormwood; And it come to pass, when he heareth the words of this curse, that he bless himself in his heart, saying, I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of mine heart, to add drunkenness to thirst: The LORD will not spare him, but then the anger of the LORD and his jealousy shall smoke against that man, and all the curses that are written in this book shall lie upon him, and the LORD shall blot out his name from under heaven (Deuteronomy 29:18-20).
In the church today, those who believe and practice false doctrine are the "root of bitterness" and are the source of church division; therefore, they must be watched lest many be "defiled" (miaino), meaning "to defile with sin" (Thayer 414) by their influence. Special note should be given to the fact that Paul warns that with one root of bitterness "many" or the majority may possibly be defiled. In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul warns Christians about the dangers of allowing sin to continue in the church when he says, "…Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us" (1 Corinthians 5:6-7).
Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.
Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person: The term "fornicator" (pornos), translated "whoremongers" in chapter thirteen, verse 4, refers to a specific sin that should be viewed in its literal sense: it denotes one "indulging in unlawful sexual intercourse whether for gain or for lust" (Thayer 532). The words "profane person" (bebelos) mean "ungodly" (Thayer 100):
(A profane person) denotes one who treats sacred things with contempt, who has no sense of religion, and lives without God in the world; who despises spiritual blessings, from being wholly carnal and sensual, and therefore, will readily barter his heavenly inheritance for one wretched sensual gratification (Bloomfield 544).
The teaching of verse 16 is a continuation of the previous verse and is intensifying the appeal for all Christians to live a life of holiness. A "fornicator" as well as a person who commits sins other than fornication is a "profane person" and is obviously dissimilar to one living a life of holiness.
as Esau; who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright: Paul names Esau as an example of one who was a profane person. There is no record in the Old Testament of Esau’s committing fornication; however, Paul, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, indicates he did commit this sexual act and no doubt other sins as well. Esau is documented as one who made poor decisions in life. Paul names one of the poorest decisions of all when Esau "for one morsel of meat sold his birthright." This act changed his life and the life of his family after him forever. Moses records:
And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint: therefore was his name called Edom. And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright. And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me? And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he sware unto him: and he sold his birthright unto Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentiles; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright (Genesis 25:30-34).
Esau, as we learn from this example, was willing to give up his birthright for earthly desires. As being the firstborn son of Isaac, Esau’s birthright was for him and his seed to receive the promises given by God to Abraham. Since he sold his birthright to his brother Jacob, the promises went to Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel, and his seed, the Israelites. Paul uses Esau as an example of one who makes sinful decisions. Paul’s intention was for the Hebrew Christians to consider Esau’s poor decision and then to compare that decision and its consequences to their own decision about leaving Jesus to return to Judaism.
For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.
For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: If the Hebrew Christians abandon Jesus and return to Judaism, they are selling their birthright just as Esau sold his birthright. Esau forfeited his birthright because of his actions; and when the time came that his father, Isaac, was to give the blessing to his son, he was "rejected" (apodokimazo), meaning he was "disapproved" or denied the birthright (Thayer 61). There was no place of repentance even though he shed many tears. Moses records this event:
And it came to pass, as soon as Isaac had made an end of blessing Jacob, and Jacob was yet scarce gone out from the presence of Isaac his father, that Esau his brother came in from his hunting. And he also had made savoury meat, and brought it unto his father, and said unto his father, Let my father arise, and eat of his son’s venison, that thy soul may bless me. And Isaac his father said unto him, Who art thou? And he said, I am thy son, thy firstborn Esau. And Isaac trembled very exceedingly, and said, Who? where is he that hath taken venison, and brought it me, and I have eaten of all before thou camest, and have blessed him? yea, and he shall be blessed. And when Esau heard the words of his father, he cried with a great and exceeding bitter cry, and said unto his father, Bless me, even me also, O my father. And he said, Thy brother came with subtilty, and hath taken away thy blessing. And he said, Is not he rightly named Jacob? for he hath supplanted me these two times: he took away my birthright; and, behold, now he hath taken away my blessing. And he said, Hast thou not reserved a blessing for me? And Isaac answered and said unto Esau, Behold, I have made him thy lord, and all his brethren have I given to him for servants; and with corn and wine have I sustained him: and what shall I do now unto thee, my son? And Esau said unto his father, Hast thou but one blessing, my father? bless me, even me also, O my father. And Esau lifted up his voice, and wept (Genesis 27:30-38).
Paul’s comparison of Esau’s mistakes with those of the Hebrew Christians is for his readers to realize this fact: just as Esau sold his birthright, was rejected by his earthly father, and did not receive the Abrahamic covenant, they, too, will be selling their birthright, will be rejected of God, their Heavenly Father, and will lose their birthright, salvation, if they leave Jesus.
for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears: If the Hebrew Christians abandon Jesus and return to Judaism, there will be no way for salvation. Their
birthright, salvation, is only in Jesus Christ. When they stand before God, it will be too late for repentance. Their pleading with tears will be rejected, just as Esau’s tears were rejected. As he does here, Paul speaks of repentance earlier in this epistle:
For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame (6:4-6).
(See the comments on Hebrews 6:4-6 to receive an understanding of when it is too late to repent.) When a child of God sins and then repents, God will forgive him; however, in this passage the picture is of one who voluntarily chooses to leave Jesus. Earlier, Paul has said "For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins (10:26). Therefore, after leaving Jesus, they will die without Him, and now they are pictured as meeting with their Father (just as Esau met with his father Isaac), implying their meeting God the Father at the judgment. At that time, there will be no place for repentance, even though they will beseech their birthright, salvation, with tears.
For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest, And the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which voice they that heard intreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more:
Verses 18 and 19 must be read together to get the full impact of Paul’s message. He alludes to Moses’ teaching to Israel regarding the importance of keeping the commandments of God:
Now therefore hearken, O Israel, unto the statutes and unto the judgments, which I teach you, for to do them, that ye may live, and go in and possess the land which the LORD God of your fathers giveth you. Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you. Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the LORD my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it. Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.
…And ye came near and stood under the mountain; and the mountain burned with fire unto the midst of heaven, with darkness, clouds, and thick darkness. And the LORD spake unto you out of the midst of the fire: ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude; only ye heard a voice. And he declared unto you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, even ten commandments; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone (Deuteronomy 4:1-2; Deuteronomy 4:5-6; Deuteronomy 4:11-13).
The term "For" ties this verse with the preceding verses. In verse 2, Paul instructs his readers to look to Jesus because He is the author and finisher of our faith who provides amazing grace to His followers; and in verse 15, he says to watch carefully that one does not fall from God’s grace by holding on to the physical pleasures of life as Esau did.
Paul’s purpose in this verse is to contrast the physical and material mount with the spiritual and heavenly mount. His intent is to encourage the Hebrew Christians not to dwell on their past under the Old Covenant but to accept their responsibilities given in the New Covenant. The Old Covenant with its worship was a physical covenant centered on material things, but the New Covenant is a spiritual covenant, providing grace and peace, that promises spiritual privileges to its recipients.
Paul says, therefore, that they "are not come unto the mount" "that might be touched" (pselaphao), referring to a tangible mountain involving things that one could actually "handle (or) feel" (Thayer 676). The word "come" (proserkhomahee) "is a term denoting religious service and worship" (Bloomfield 545). The word "mount" (oros) is not found in most of the original manuscripts; however, it does no harm to the context because it refers to the voice of God as He gave the Ten Commandments.
Mount Sinai, the mountain where Moses received the Ten Commandments, was a physical mountain that could be touched. On that occasion, Moses refers to his experience by using these descriptors:
2. "Blackness" (gnophos), referring to a dark "cloud"
3. "Darkness" (skotos), often referring to "the gloom of the world"
4. "Tempest" (thuella), meaning a "rage" of a storm
5. A "sound of a trumpet"
6. "The voice of words" coming from God (Robertson 439)
All of these items Paul mentions in this passage. This voice as "the sound of a trumpet" is so concerning to the Israelites that they plead or "entreat that the word should not be spoken to them any more." When he received the Ten Commandments, Moses wrote of his experience on the mountain top:
And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled. And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount. And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly. And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice. And the LORD came down upon mount Sinai, on the top of the mount: and the LORD called Moses up to the top of the mount; and Moses went up… And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off. And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die (Exodus 19:16-20; Exodus 20:18-19).
All of this description is physical: a physical mountain, physical fire, physical darkness, physical storm ("tempest"); Paul says, "For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched," that is, that which is physical. Paul says those who follow Jesus cannot go back to that mountain, to the Ten Commandments, to Moses’ law, to Judaism.
(For they could not endure that which was commanded, And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a dart: And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake:)
(For they could not endure that which was commanded, And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a dart: Verses 20 and 21 are to be read together because they form a parenthetical expression warning of the severity of the punishment on this occasion. Moses warned the Israelites, not only about the Ten Commandment laws but also about the strict regulations governing the scene on the mountain itself:
And thou shalt set bounds unto the people round about, saying, Take heed to yourselves, that ye go not up into the mount, or touch the border of it: whosoever toucheth the mount shall be surely put to death: There shall not an hand touch it, but he shall surely be stoned, or shot through; whether it be beast or man, it shall not live: when the trumpet soundeth long, they shall come up to the mount (Exodus 19:12-13).
The word "endure" (phero) means "to bear…the rigor of a thing" (Thayer 650), that is, to accept the severity and strictness of God’s commandment. During the days of Moses, the Hebrews feared they could not survive such laws and punishment. The term "commanded" (diastellomai) signifies that God’s "injunction" (Thayer 142) or His divine commandment in the Old Testament is a preliminary principle for Paul’s teaching in the New Testament and especially in the following verses. As God expected His people to be obedient under the Old Covenant, so does He insist upon obedience under the New Covenant, even though the Old Covenant was earthly and physical; and the New Covenant is spiritual:
The earthly seems to have disappeared, and the heavenly has opened. A spiritual world, the heavenly Sion and the heavenly Jerusalem, with God its King, angels and glorified spirits its inhabitants, Jesus, through whose mediation it is accessible, appears, at once infinitely higher in its prerogatives, and correspondingly more terrible in its penalties (Kendrick 176).
And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake): Paul again mentions the fear of their forefathers at even the thought of violating God’s law. While Moses was still on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments, the Israelites abandoned God and committed the sin of idolatry. The vision seen by Moses and the original decision of God to destroy the Israelites for their sins was so shocking and horrifying that he literally feared to the point that he was shaking. He had just received the Ten Commandments. The two tablets of stone were in his hands; and as he descended from the mountain, he saw the Israelites’ sinning by worshiping idols of gold. Moses describes his actions and his fear, saying:
And the LORD said unto me, Arise, get thee down quickly from hence; for thy people which thou hast brought forth out of Egypt have corrupted themselves; they are quickly turned aside out of the way which I commanded them; they have made them a molten image. Furthermore the LORD spake unto me, saying, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people: Let me alone, that I may destroy them, and blot out their name from under heaven: and I will make of thee a nation mightier and greater than they. So I turned and came down from the mount, and the mount burned with fire: and the two tables of the covenant were in my two hands. And I looked, and, behold, ye had sinned against the LORD your God, and had made you a molten calf: ye had turned aside quickly out of the way which the LORD had commanded you. And I took the two tables, and cast them out of my two hands, and brake them before your eyes. And I fell down before the LORD, as at the first, forty days and forty nights: I did neither eat bread, nor drink water, because of all your sins which ye sinned, in doing wickedly in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger. For I was afraid of the anger and hot displeasure, wherewith the LORD was wroth against you to destroy you. But the LORD hearkened unto me at that time also (Deuteronomy 9:12-19).
It appears Paul is relating this vivid illustration of the events of their family history to cause them to consider their own situation.
Paul’s readers know the punishment their forefathers received when they left God and committed idolatry. Paul wants them to consider the consequences of their abandoning Jesus and returning to Judaism at this time (see also verse 25). The major difference between these two situations is that the Hebrews’ punishment under the Old Testament was missing the promised land (Canaan). Punishment for these New Testament Hebrews will be missing the promised home (heaven).
But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels,
But ye are come unto mount Sion: In the previous verses, Paul discusses the many tangible aspects of Judaism, but now he contrasts those physical qualities with the intangible spiritual qualities of the Christian religion. The Old Covenant centered on the material; the New Covenant centers on spiritual realities, such as "mount Sion (Zion)." The literal "mount Sion (Zion)" (oros sion) was the highest of all the hills on which the most ancient part of Jerusalem was built; however, here Paul refers to the spiritual Mount Zion, referring to a spiritual mountain, that is, "heaven, as the true dwelling-place of God and heavenly beings" (Thayer 576). The Apostle John in his vision writes of seeing Jesus and the 144,000 in Mount Zion:
And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father’s name written in their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps: And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth (Revelation 14:1-3).
In Hebrews, Paul encourages his readers to remain steadfast in the Christian doctrine and stay true to Jesus Christ because in Him they "are come" (proserchomai) or have drawn near to heaven.
and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem: The "city of the living God" is "the heavenly Jerusalem." This city is "the abode of the blessed, in heaven" (Thayer 528); it is God’s home where He has fixed His eternal throne. When Paul writes his epistle to the churches in Galatia, he contrasts the earthly Mount Sinai, which is the literal Jerusalem, with Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem:
Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband. Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free (Galatians 4:21-31).
The Apostle John writes of this city, the heavenly Jerusalem, saying:
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son…And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God (Revelation 21:1-7; Revelation 21:10).
Paul pictures "Mount Sion" and the "city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem," as being together as the great meeting place for God and His people. It is here that the eternal fullness of God will be made known. The Apostle John writes to the angel of the church in Philadelphia about the city of God, the New Jerusalem:
Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name (Revelation 3:12).
Paul emphasizes again that obedience to God the Father and perseverance in faith in Jesus Christ are the only way one can receive an entrance to the city of the living God. If the Hebrew Christians abandon Jesus, they lose their birthright, their promised home of heaven.
and to an innumerable company of angels: The term "innumerable company" (murias) denotes "an innumerable multitude (or an) an unlimited number, [like our myriads]...used simply, of innumerable hosts of angels" (Thayer 419). Once again, Paul is encouraging his readers to remain steadfast in their faithfulness to Jesus Christ because they are nearing the time that they will be associated with this myriad of angels in heaven. The word "myriad" can mean the innumerable multitude of angels, ten thousand angels, or twelve legions of angels.
This clause appears to be best connected with the clauses in verse 23; however, there are different opinions as to the proper construction and punctuation. Milligan gives the following four possibilities that are worthy of consideration:
1. And to myriads, a festive assembly of angels; and to the church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven (Griesbach, Knapp, Bohme, Kuinoel, Moll);
2. And to myriads of angels, a festive assembly; and to the church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven (CEumenius, Theophylact);
3. And to myriads of angels; to the festive assembly and church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven (Elzevir, Beza, Lunemann, Hofmann, English Version);
4. And to myriads, a festive assembly of angels and the church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven (Bengel, Lachmann, Ebrard, Deltizsch, Alford) (466-467).
Milligan is probably correct in his conclusion that option number one is the most uncomplicated and natural construction because it appears apparent that Paul’s intent is to introduce each of the members in these verses individually. Actually, Milligan gives his own accurate translation of verses 22-24:
But ye have come near to Mount Zion; and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem; and to myriads, a festive assembly of angels; and to the church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven; and to God the Judge of all; and to the spirits of just ones made perfect; and to Jesus the Mediator of the New Covenant; and to the blood of sprinkling which speaks better than Abel (467).
To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect,
To the general assembly: The expression "general assembly" (paneguris) refers to "a public festal assembly" (Thayer 475), indicating an assembly of all the joyful and infinite number of angels assembling around the throne of God to praise Him forever. John writes of his vision of this "general assembly," saying:
And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.
…And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen (Revelation 5:11-12; Revelation 7:11-12).
and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven: The word "church" (ekklesia) means "any gathering or throng of men assembled by chance or tumultuously…an assembly of Christians gathered for worship" (Thayer 196). The term "firstborn" does not refer to Jesus, but to His faithful followers. In the Greek, it is plural and is better translated church of the firstborn ones that are written in heaven. Specifically in this passage, Paul has in mind the assembly of the members of the church of Christ, called "the firstborn." James, the brother of the Lord, writes, "Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures" (1:18). James further explains that in order to continue being the first fruit, one must lay aside sin and live righteously in obedience to God (1:19-25).
These who are called the "church of the firstborn" are not restricted to God’s faithful people of the Old Testament, neither are they limited to the first believers and martyrs of the New Testament. By the "church of the firstborn," Paul is referring to the whole body of believers whose names are written in heaven. These are all of God’s people, of all times and in all places, who have not sold their birthright, as Esau did, but instead have maintained their faithfulness to God and Jesus. John writes about his vision of the great city in heaven that will not accept those who violate God’s law and explains that the citizens, "the church of the firstborn," allowed in this city will have their names written in the Lamb’s book of life. He says:
And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it. And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there. And they shall bring the glory and honour of the nations into it. And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life (Revelation 21:23-27).
It appears that by the words "church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven" Paul is referring to those who have died and whose names are written in heaven. In this passage "the name (church of the firstborn) is transferred to the assembly of faithful Christians already dead and received into heaven" (Thayer 196). This clause may also refer to faithful Christians who have retained their birthright:
The phrase "church of the first-born" includes all who have possessed and retained their heavenly birthright, living or dead, of both dispensations: the whole Israel of God, although it is quite likely that the Christian church may have been most prominent in the writer’s thought (Vincent 554).
In writing to the Christians in Philippi, Paul emphasizes their need to stand fast in the Lord that their names may be written in the book of life:
Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved. I beseech Euodias, and beseech Syntyche, that they be of the same mind in the Lord. And I intreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellowlabourers, whose names are in the book of life (Philippians 4:1-3).
and to God the Judge of all: Paul’s reference is to God, the Father, in contrast to the Jewish judges and kings. He encourages his readers to persevere in faithfulness to Jesus because they are closer to God, the Judge of all, than they have ever been. By referring to "God the Judge of all," Paul warns his readers against negligence of morals that result in apostasy from Christianity. If they abandon Jesus, Paul says the one true God will judge them. He also calls to their attention that even though God is a God of love, He also is a God of vengeance and retribution. In the final verse of this chapter, Paul clearly states, "For our God is a consuming fire" (12:29). Earlier in this epistle, he has emphasized the strict judgment of God upon His people:
But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (10:27-31).
and to the spirits of just men made perfect: The "spirits of just men made perfect" refers to all of God’s faithful children, from Abel to the present time, who have fallen asleep in death. Their life work is over, and they have overcome the weakness of the flesh; therefore, they are perfect. Even though they have died, they have not received their resurrected body. They are as the spirits whom Peter mentions that Jesus preached to:
For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison (1 Peter 3:18-19).
The just men made "perfect" were perfect in righteousness. They did not abandon Jesus; they remained steadfast to Him and His instructions. Earlier, Paul speaks of those who were perfect when he says, "God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect" (11:40).
And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.
And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant: Jesus is the mediator of the "new" covenant, and Moses was the mediator of the Old Covenant. If Paul’s readers leave Jesus, they also abandon the New Covenant and its promises of forgiveness of sins and, therefore, salvation in heaven. The first covenant was inadequate in providing forgiveness of sins; therefore, a second covenant was essential to salvation. Paul’s readers already have access to the New Covenant, and now he is warning them of the dangers of leaving Jesus because if they leave Him they must return to that which does not provide salvation. Earlier in this epistle, Paul writes of the benefit of the New Covenant over the first covenant:
For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more. In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away (8:7-13).
Jesus also did not offer animals as a sacrifice for the sins of the people, but He offered Himself as a perfect sacrifice. Since His perfect sacrifice purged their sins, Jesus became the "mediator" of the New Testament. Paul says:
For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this cause he is the mediator of the New Testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance (9:13-15).
and to the blood of sprinkling: The "blood of sprinkling" alludes to Jesus’ atoning blood by which the New Covenant was established and by which those who believe in Him are cleansed from their sins and sanctified to God. Paul says:
This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin. Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; And having an high priest over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised) (10:16-23).
that speaketh better things than that of Abel: Abel, by faith, obtained witness that he was righteous because of the sacrifice he offered. Jesus’ sacrifice, however "speaketh better things than that of Abel." Jesus’ sacrifice provides salvation from sins, but Abel’s did not. Jesus’ sacrifice being greater than that of Abel does not suggest Abel’s sacrifice was not good; in fact, it was good because it was pleasing to God at the time he lived.
See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven:
See that ye refuse not him that speaketh: The word "See" (blepo) is Paul’s way of warning his readers to take heed to, that is, to "consider (or) contemplate" their actions (Thayer 103). The term "refuse" (paraiteomai) means "to reject" (Thayer 482); therefore, Paul is emphatically warning his readers not to reject "him that speaketh from heaven" or not to be deaf to the Lord’s final revelation to man. There are different opinions regarding who is the "him that speaketh." Some say Paul is referring to God and others say he refers to Jesus. From the context it appears that both are under consideration. It is God’s word that was spoken, but spoken through the prophets on some occasions, through angels on other occasions, and in this case through Jesus. God spoke on Mount Sinai and then in many other places through Moses. He also is said to have spoken from heaven through Jesus. Paul’s message here is directly related to his opening affirmation at the beginning of this epistle:
God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds (1:1-2).
For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven: The term "if" is not suggesting a sense of doubt; it does not mean they may be able to escape if they refuse God. Instead, Paul is stating that since the Israelites, who refused God when He spoke on Mount Sinai, did not escape, then much more shall Christians today not "escape" (pheugo) if they "turn away from" (apostrepho) God as He speaks from heaven through Jesus. They who "turn away from" (apostrepho) God and Jesus are not simply turning their eyes or faces away, but are turning away from God "in the sense of deserting" Jesus (Thayer 68) and His teaching. Thus, they are renouncing Jesus, an act of apostasy. Paul’s warning is the same as he taught previously:
Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward; How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will? (2:1-4).
Whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven.
Whose voice then shook the earth: The earth shook when God spoke on different occasions. An event in the days of David caused him so much sorrow that he says "the sorrows of hell compassed me about" (Psalms 18:5). In this situation he prayed to the Lord, and the Lord responded and the earth shook. David says:
In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried unto my God: he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him, even into his ears. Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations also of the hills moved and were shaken, because he was wroth (Psalms 18:6-7).
When Paul uses the word "then," he refers to the occasion when the earth "shook" from Mount Sinai when God spoke and gave the Ten Commandments to Moses. The term "shook" (saleuo) means "to cause to totter" (Thayer 567); however, the earth did not simply quiver—it quaked violently like an earthquake or a volcanic activity. Paul is referring to Moses’ words when he says, "And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly" (Exodus 19:18). King David records the same event, saying, "The earth shook, the heavens also dropped at the presence of God: even Sinai itself was moved at the presence of God, the God of Israel" (Psalms 68:8).
but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven: As mentioned above, the earth shook several times when God spoke, but then He made a promise that He will shake the earth only one more time. As Paul records, "Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven." The prophet Haggai records these words from the Lord:
Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the LORD of hosts (Haggai 2:6-7).
The occasion referred to when God will once again shake the earth and heaven is symbolic of the final day at the second coming of Jesus when God will destroy this earth. This is the same day as "the day approaching" when he says, "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching (10:25).
And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.
And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made: The phrase "Yet once more" indicates a once for all action. Specifically, Paul says he "signifieth" (deloo) (Thayer 131), indicating "the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made," referring to the earth that was created by God. The word "removing" (metathesis) is defined as a "change" (Thayer 405). Paul’s emphasis is that the physical perishable world will be changed, and something new will come into being.
that those things which cannot be shaken may remain: Paul is explaining what will happen when God decides that time will be no more. Shortly before the judgment day, events that have never before happened will take place; there will be a final shaking and removal of the physical world, creating an eternal change. This change is God’s way of leaving behind only that which will remain. This final kingdom is different from any other kingdom that has ever existed. Heaven is a steady and eternal kingdom that will never be shaken again—it will remain for eternity. Paul is speaking about the conclusion of that which he first mentions in the opening words of this epistle, referring to the creation of the earth:
And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands: They shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; And as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail (1:10-12).
Paul emphasizes the necessity of the visible earth’s coming to an end so that the invisible world can remain and the eternal kingdom can be fully established. A Christian’s entrance into this eternal kingdom comes only through faith in Jesus and obedience to His instructions. Peter writes of those who escape the world’s corruption and also gives instructions for an entrance into this eternal kingdom:
Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust…For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the present truth (2 Peter 1:4; 2 Peter 1:11-12).
Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear:
Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved: Paul is speaking of God’s followers who have persevered in faithfulness as being rewarded in heaven, "a kingdom which cannot be moved." Several times in this epistle, Paul writes of the coming kingdom that cannot be shaken, that is, the kingdom that cannot be moved. In the eighth chapter, he says:
Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; A minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man. For every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices: wherefore it is of necessity that this man have somewhat also to offer. For if he were on earth, he should not be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law: Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount (8:1-5).
Paul compares the earthly sanctuary that would be destroyed with a perfect tabernacle or "kingdom which cannot be moved" or destroyed. He says:
Then verily the first covenant had also ordinances of divine service, and a worldly sanctuary…But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building…It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: (9:1, 11, 23-24).
This "worldly sanctuary" of the Old Testament foreshadows the eternal heavenly sanctuary.
let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably: The word "grace" (charis) is defined as "thanks for benefits, services, (and) favors" (Thayer 666) and means thankfulness for being allowed to "serve God acceptably." Paul refers to worshiping God. The word "serve" (latreuo) means "to render religious service or homage, to worship" (Thayer 372) God "acceptably" (euarestos) or "in a manner well-pleasing" (Thayer 257). Paul warns that to have assurance of this home in heaven, God’s children must worship Him in a way that pleases Him.
with reverence: Christians must serve God acceptably with "reverence" (aidos) or shamefacedness, indicating "a sense of shame (or) modesty," suggesting that our worshiping God must be with respect almost to the point of shyness instead of boldness. The emphasis is that our worshiping God must be only by His instructions and not by our own bold way of doing things.
and godly fear: Again, Paul says Christians must serve God acceptably with "godly fear" (eulabeia) or "veneration (and) piety" (Thayer 259), indicating that our worshiping God must be an act of faithfulness and holiness.
For our God is a consuming fire.
God is described as "a consuming fire," possibly the strongest warning one can give to someone who is in sin or on the verge of sin, as the Hebrew Christians are. Describing God as a consuming "fire" (pur) portrays Him as a jealous God, "as one who when angry visits the obdurate with penal destruction" (Thayer 558). Moses describes God, saying, "For the LORD thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God" (Deuteronomy 4:24). Consequently, God severely punishes those who are obstinate and stubborn and are not faithful to Him and His Son, Jesus. God is a consuming fire to those who stubbornly reject Jesus and His teaching. Moses makes plain how God’s children can avoid seeing God as a consuming fire:
Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you…Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the LORD my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it. Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people (Deuteronomy 4:2; Deuteronomy 4:5-6).
Obedience to the commandments of God without adding our likes and without removing our dislikes from worship is our only avenue of avoiding the punishment of God. Many examples in the scriptures prove that God is pleased with those who are faithful in obedience to Him. A study of the scriptures (see the examples of faith in chapter eleven) reveals that those men and women in each dispensation who were the most pleasing to God and enjoyed the most intimate fellowship with Him have been those who stood in awe of His holiness. Boldness in standing up for God and His instructions will bring forth pleasure and respect from God; however, boldness in standing up for our own ways and opinions will cause us to see God as a consuming fire.