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Bible Commentaries
Hebrews 4

Ironside's Notes on Selected BooksIronside's Notes

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Verses 1-13

The subject is continued in the first thirteen verses of chapter 4 (Hebrews 4:1-13). “Let us therefore fear, lest a promise being left us of entering into His rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.” The rest here spoken of is not our present enjoyment of Christ, as many have imagined, but clearly refers to that rest which, as in Israel’s case, is at the end of the way. What a solemn thing for any who eventually come short of that! The glad tidings of a rest to come, we have heard as did they. Let us then see that we profit thereby in a way which they did not, proving the reality of our faith by our behavior.

Then in Hebrews 4:3 we have present rest as we truly believe God, and thus enjoy the rest of faith. The quotation from Psalms 95:0 is again referred to in order to show that the rest there spoken of could not refer merely to creation rest, for God entered into that centuries and millenniums before the psalm was written, as we read in Genesis 2:2: “God rested the seventh day from all His work,” but the psalm says, “If they shall enter into My rest,” showing that the rest was still future. Nor was it merely Canaan rest, for they had long since reached Canaan, though those who did not believe failed of this. But another and a better rest is before the mind of the Spirit, for if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken as though their rest was still in the future. It is well known that the name of our blessed Lord which we read as Jesus, is the Greek form of the Hebrew Joshua, so that Israel’s great leader and our Great Saviour both bore the same name. Joshua led those who believed into Canaan rest. Jesus leads those who believe into the present rest of faith and later into eternal rest. Both are brought before us in Hebrews 4:9-11: “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that is entered into His rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from His. Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.” In Hebrews 4:9 it is eternal rest, a sabbath keeping that shall have no end, whereas Hebrews 4:10 speaks of that rest which we now enter into and enjoy as “we walk by faith and not by sight.” We are exhorted to be in earnest lest we even so much as seem to fall short of what is our proper portion in Christ.

And we need to remember that God’s Word is ever the standard of judgment, and not our knowledge of it. Therefore the importance of becoming thoroughly conversant with the truth revealed in the Holy Scriptures. “For the Word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in His sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Hebrews 4:12-13). We cannot but notice how intimately the written Word and the Eternal Word are linked together. It is clear that Hebrews 4:12 is referring to revealed truth. This is the Word of God which is described as living and energetic, “sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit,” that is, distinguishing between these two parts of the inward man and also separating between the joints and marrow, making a difference between what is outward and that which is hidden; and “is a discerner (kritikos) of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Men presume to criticize and to sit in judgment on the Word of God, but here we are told that the Word itself is the supreme critic of our inmost thoughts and inclinations. It is plain that throughout this twelfth verse it is the written Word that is in view, but in that which immediately follows we have the personal pronouns used, showing us that the Living Word is now before the soul, He from whom nothing is hidden but to whose all-seeing eyes everything is naked and open. How important that those who have to do with Him be real and true in all their ways!

Verses 14-16

Division III. Chaps. 4:14-10:39 The Priesthood of the Heavenly Sanctuary Superior to that of Aaron, Resting on the Better Sacrifice of Christ Jesus

Subdivision 1. Chaps. 4:14-7:28

The Enthroned Priest, after the Order of Melchisedec, though of the Pattern of Aaron

We are now to consider the Priesthood of Christ, a precious and wondrous theme meaning much for all believers during His present session at God’s right hand in Heaven, but something into which Jewish believers could enter with peculiar interest because of their former relationship to the earthly sanctuary and the high priesthood of Aaron and his sons.

There are those today who deny utterly Christ’s priestly service on behalf of the Church. They say (to use the exact language of one of the teachers of this school), “Christ is not my High Priest; He is a High Priest for Israel, not for the Church which is His Body. All believers now are part of the High Priest and it will be our place to intercede for Israel by and by.” What an absurd obsession must he be laboring under who can use such language! Christ, the Head of the Body, the Church, is one aspect in which our blessed Lord is presented in the Word, but Christ as the High Priest is another aspect altogether. As members of the Body we are seen in a peculiar relationship to Him which does not involve the thought of failure or infirmity. But as a pilgrim people passing through a sinful world, we have a Great High Priest ever representing us before God in Heaven and ministering to our needs as they arise from moment to moment. To rob the Christian of this blessed truth is to leave him poor indeed. But that teaching is just part of an ultra-dispensational system which is soul-withering in the extreme, and occupies its votaries with fine distinctions that are often thoroughly unscriptural, instead of with Christ Himself and His work on our behalf.

The division upon which we now enter, extending from ver. 14 of chap. 4 to ver. 39 of chap. 10, is by far the largest part of the epistle, and, as already intimated, it opens up to us a vast system of precious truth, namely, the Priesthood of the heavenly sanctuary, a Priesthood far superior to the Aaronic system, not only because of the more excellent character of the Priest Himself, but because of the infinitely better sacrifice upon which it rests, the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all upon the cross for our sins.

Properly speaking, priesthood has to do with the heavens. Our blessed Lord was anointed to fulfil three offices-those of Prophet, Priest, and King. While to a certain extent these offices overlap, yet generally speaking we may say that He was Prophet on earth, He is Priest in Heaven, and He will reign as King when He returns in glory. This, however, is not to deny that He was just as truly the King when He presented Himself to Israel in the days of His flesh. He was rejected in that special character when they exclaimed, “We have no king but Caesar,” thus fulfilling the expression in the parable, “We will not have this man to reign over us.” And so too it was as High Priest that He lifted up His eyes unto Heaven and offered that wonderful intercessory prayer recorded in John 17:0. And as High Priest, fulfilling the type of the great day of atonement, He offered Himself to God as a sacrifice on our behalf. Then, too, we see Him in the role of Prophet when, on Patmos Isle, He appeared to the beloved apostle and gave him a marvelous revelation concerning things which must shortly come to pass.

The high priest of the Old Testament must of necessity be a man, one who could enter into the trials of his brethren, and so our Lord Jesus has already been demonstrated to be true Man as well as very God, that He might thus enter practically into all the sorrows and difficulties of His people. This is emphasized for us in the first section of the present division.

Section A. Hebrews 4:14-16; Hebrews 5:1-10.

The Man in the Glory, our Great High Priest

“Seeing then that we have a great High Priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of, grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins: who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity. And by reason hereof he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins. And no man taketh this honor unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron. So also Christ glorified not Himself to be made an High Priest; but He that said unto Him, Thou art My Son, today have I begotten Thee. As He saith also in another place, Thou art a Priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec. Who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death, and was heard in that He feared; though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered; and being made perfect, He became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him; called of God an High Priest after the order of Melchisedec.”

I have quoted the entire passage in order that we may not lose sight of the connection of its various parts. First observe that in Hebrews 4:14 our Lord is spoken of as a Great High Priest, great in the dignity of His Person and in the perfection of His character. He has passed into (or, literally, through) the heavens, as the high priest of old, having sacrificed at the altar, passed through the court and the Holy Place into the Holy of Holies. So our blessed Lord, having died upon the cross, has passed through the lower heavens surrounding this earth which we call the atmosphere, in which the birds fly, which are often spoken of as the birds of the heavens; on through the stellar heavens, the created universe stretching through apparently illimitable space; up and on into the Heaven of heavens, the immediate dwelling-place of God, where He has taken His seat as Man upon the eternal throne. There He sits exalted, Jesus the Son of God, the entire title speaking most blessedly of His humanity and divinity. In view of His session there at God’s right hand, we are encouraged to hold fast our confession. It is generally recognized that this is a better translation than profession, as in the A. V. We may profess what is not true. We confess what is real.

Our High Priest then is not One whose heart is indifferent to our circumstances; not One who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. He is as truly human as we, and in the days of His flesh He was tempted in all points like ourselves, though apart from sin. The expression, “yet without sin,” has frequently been taken to mean, “yet without sinning,” as though it simply implied that He did not fail when exposed to temptation, but the exact rendering would be “sin apart.” That is, His temptations were entirely from without. He was never tempted by inbred sin as we are. He could say, “The prince of this world cometh and hath nothing in Me.” When we are tempted from without, we have a traitor within who ever seeks to open the door of the citadel to the enemy. But it was otherwise with Him. If any ask, How then could His temptations be as real as ours? let us remember that when temptation was first presented to Adam and Eve, they were sinless beings, but being merely human, they yielded and plunged the race into ruin and disaster. Christ was not only innocent but holy, for He was God as well as Man.

“Tempted in all points” means of course that appeals were made to Him by Satan from the three standpoints whereby alone any of us can be tempted: “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” Tempted on these three points, Eve capitulated completely. “She saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food” -the appeal to the lust of the flesh; “it was pleasant to the eye”-the appeal to the lust of the eye; “and a tree to be desired to make one wise”-the appeal to the pride of life. She failed on every point. To our Lord in the wilderness the same appeals were made. “Make these stones bread”-an appeal to fleshly desire; “he showed Him all the kingdoms of earth in a moment of time”-the lust of the eye; then in the suggestion that our Lord should cast Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple to be borne up by angels before the wondering eyes of the populace, we have the appeal to the pride of life. But He met every suggestion of evil by the Word of God. And now as the enthroned Conqueror, He sits exalted on the right hand of the Majesty on high, interceding for us, and we are bidden to come boldly unto the throne of grace there to obtain mercy because of failure, and find suited grace for seasonable help when exposed to temptation.

Bibliographical Information
Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Hebrews 4". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/isn/hebrews-4.html. 1914.
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