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Bible Commentaries

Smith's Writings

Hebrews 3

Verses 1-19

3 The High Priest of our Profession

( Heb_3:1 - Heb_4:16 )

The first two chapters unfold to us the glories of the Person of Christ, and thus prepare us for entering into the blessedness of His service as our great High Priest. In this fresh division of the Epistle we learn, firstly, the sphere in which the priestly service of Christ is exercised - the House of God ( Heb_3:1-6 ); secondly, the wilderness circumstances which call for this priestly service ( Heb_3:7-19 ); thirdly, we are told of the rest to which the wilderness leads ( Heb_4:1-11 ); finally, we learn the gracious means God has provided to preserve us in the wilderness ( Heb_4:12-16 ).

The Sphere of Christ's Priestly Service

( Heb_3:1-6 )

The latter part of Hebrews 2 has shown the gracious way the Lord has taken in order that He may exercise His priestly sympathy with His suffering people. In the opening verses of this chapter the House of God is introduced to show the sphere in which His priesthood is exercised.

(V. 1). In the introductory verse the Jewish believers are addressed as “holy brethren” and “partakers of the heavenly calling”. As Jews they had been accustomed to being called “brethren” and were partakers of the earthly calling. As Christians they are “holy brethren” and, in common with all other Christians, are the subjects of the “calling on high of God in Christ Jesus” ( Php_3:14 ).

The glories of Christ having been set before us in Hebrews 1 and 2, we are now exhorted to “consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Jesus.” The title Apostle is especially connected with the truth of the Son of God presented in the first chapter, in which the Son is seen coming to earth and speaking to men on behalf of God. The title High Priest is connected with the second chapter, in which the Son of Man is presented as going from earth to heaven to serve before God on behalf of men. The true end of all ministry is not simply to occupy hearers with the truth ministered, but to bring them into touch with the end of all ministry - to leave them “considering” Jesus.

It should be noticed that here it is Jesus, not “Christ Jesus” as in the Authorised Version. Every Jew would own the Messiah, but only the Christian would recognise that the Christ had come in the Person of Jesus.

(Vv. 2-6). The Spirit of God alludes to Moses and the tabernacle in the wilderness to show that Moses is surpassed by Christ, and that the tabernacle was only a testimony of things to be afterwards revealed. Moses was never a priest; his service was rather apostolic in character. He came to the people on behalf of God: Aaron, the priest, went to God on behalf of the people. Moses, under the direction of God, built the tabernacle in the wilderness. Jesus, the true Apostle, is the Builder of the whole universe, of which the tabernacle was a testimony. Moreover, if God dwells in the heaven of heavens, it is also true that He dwells in the midst of His people who today form His House. The House in its present spiritual form is one of the things of which the material tabernacle was a figure.

Moses was faithful in God's house in the wilderness as a servant. Christ is over God's House - composed of God's people - as Son. Thus the introduction of the people of God as forming the House of God shows the sphere in which Christ exercises His priesthood; and therefore a little later we read that we have a great High Priest over the House of God (10: 21).

The Wilderness that calls for the Priestly Service of Christ

( Heb_3:7-19 )

The allusion to Moses and the tabernacle very naturally leads to the wilderness journey of God's people. If the tabernacle is a type of the people of God, the wilderness journey of Israel is typical of the journey of God's people through this present world with all its dangers. This wilderness journey becomes the occasion that calls for this priestly grace.

Moreover, in the wilderness the reality of our profession is put to the test by the dangers we have to meet. These Hebrews had made a public profession of Christianity. With profession there is always the possibility of unreality, and hence the “ifs” come in. So the writer says that we are the House of God “if indeed we hold fast the boldness and the boast of hope firm to the end.” This is not a warning against being too confident in Christ and the eternal security that obtains for the believer for, it has been truly said, “There is no 'if' either as to Christ's work or as to glad tidings of God's grace. All there is, is unconditional grace to faith.” The warning supposes that those addressed have this assurance, and they are warned against giving it up. That the true believer will hold fast, or rather that God will hold him fast through the priestly grace of Christ to the end, in spite of many a failure, is certain. The believer's reality is proved by his enduring to the end. The wilderness that tests the true believer exposes the unreality of the mere professor.

(Vv. 7-11). To encourage us to hold fast we are reminded, by a quotation from Psa_95:7-11 , of the warnings given by the Spirit of God to Israel in view of the coming of Christ into the world in glory and power to bring the nation into rest. Today is a day of grace and salvation in view of sharing the glory of Christ in the world to come. In such a day of blessing they are warned against acting as their fathers in the wilderness. Israel made the profession of leaving Egypt and following Jehovah through a wilderness scene which abounded with dangers, and in which confidence in God could alone support them to the end. For forty years they saw God's works of power and mercy providing for their needs and preserving them from every danger. Yet, in spite of every token of His presence, they tempted and put God to the test by saying, “Is Jehovah among us, or not?” They thus proved the hardness of hearts untouched by God's goodness. Seeking only their own lusts and ignorant of God's ways, they clearly showed that whatever profession they had made, they had no real confidence in God. Of such God said, “They shall not enter into My rest”.

(Vv. 12, 13). In these verses the warnings of Psalm 95 are applied to professing Christians. We are to “take heed” lest, through an evil heart of unbelief, we turn away from the living God to put once again our confidence in dead forms, thus showing that, whatever profession may have been made, the soul has no confidence in Christ and the grace that, through His finished work, secures to the believer salvation and forgiveness. However, what is contemplated is hardly the adding of Jewish forms to the Christian life, bad as this is, but the giving up of Christ altogether and turning back to Judaism, which is apostasy.

Further, we are not only exhorted to take heed to ourselves but to “exhort one another” each day, while it is still a day of grace and salvation, lest any be hardened by the deceitfulness of doing one's own will. Here it is not the deceitfulness of committing sins, solemn as this is, for one sin leads to another: it is the principle of sin of which the writer speaks, which is lawlessness. We little think how we harden our hearts by doing our own will. We are thus to take heed to ourselves and care for one another. Love should not be indifferent to a brother slipping away by doing his own will.

(Vv. 14-19). Believers are not only the House of God; they are also the companions of Christ. Here again it is not the body of Christ, and the members of His body as united to the Head by the Holy Spirit, in which nothing unreal can come. Profession is still in view, assumed to be real, but leaving room for unreality. Therefore it is again said, “ ... if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end”. This is not assurance founded on anything in ourselves, which would only be self-righteousness. The assurance insisted upon is grounded upon the Lord Jesus, His propitiatory sacrifice and the accepted efficacy of His work. Such assurance we are not blamed for having: on the contrary, we are exhorted to hold it fast.

Then referring again to Israel in the wilderness, the writer asks three searching questions to bring out the hardness, sin and unbelief of Israel. Firstly, who was it that, when they heard the Word of God speaking of a rest to come, did provoke? Was it only a few of the people? Alas! it was the great mass, “all that came out of Egypt”. Secondly, with whom was God grieved forty years? It was with those who, by reason of the hardness of their hearts, chose their own sins. Thirdly, to whom did God sware that they should not enter into His rest? It was to those who believed not. Thus we learn the root sin was unbelief . The unbelief left them exposed to their sins, and sins hardened their hearts.

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Bibliographical Information
Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on Hebrews 3". "Smith's Writings". 1832.