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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Hebrews 3

Verses 1-6

Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest

Heb 3:1. With the first word “therefore”, the writer of the letter makes a strong connection between the two previous chapters and what is following. In the chapters 1 and 2 he magnificently presented the glories of the Lord Jesus to the readers including you. Because He is so excellently exalted and still so close too, therefore you should keep your eyes upon Him. In that way you will be able to keep on going on the road of faith, right through all temptations and afflictions. You will not be discouraged when it gets tough, for you keep focusing on Him Who is far beyond everything and Who leads and helps you.

Look at how you are addressed here. You hear that well, “holy brethren”. Do you remember that the Lord Jesus is not ashamed to call the faithful believers ‘brethren’ (Heb 2:11b)? You are even addressed as a ‘holy’ brother. You are one of those whom the Lord Jesus has sanctified and whom He has connected to Himself (Heb 2:11a).

And still it doesn’t stop there, for you are also one of the “partakers of a heavenly calling”. Israel had an earthly calling and hope. But together with these Jewish Christians you have part in a new privilege. It is about something you get by the calling of Christ from heaven. That’s why this privilege is not limited to those who are members of God’s earthly people by a natural birth, but it applies to everyone who is related with the Lord Jesus by faith. It is a calling from heaven (that is the origin, where this calling comes from) and it is a calling to heavenly glory (that is the purpose of the calling; that’s where the journey goes to, cf. Phil 3:14; 2Tim 1:9).

With regard to the earth it means: the loss of earthly blessings together with the endurance of rejection, suffering and shame. The letter shows that from the beginning until the end. But that is no deterioration. You and everyone who keeps focusing his eyes on the Lord Jesus like that, get something better instead. It is like the many believers in the Old Testament, who knew that they would not have part in the millennial kingdom during their life, but they did not mourn about it. They indeed learnt to look forward to a better homeland and that is their heavenly homeland.

To be able to persevere it is necessary that you focus all your attention on “Jesus”. This Name opens a world of rejection on the one hand and a world of glory on the other hand. Every time when the name ‘Jesus’ appears in the Bible without an addition like ‘Lord’ or ‘Christ’, God wants to fix our thoughts on two aspects. On the one hand on Him like He once was as a humble Man on earth and Who was rejected by people. On the other hand God shows us that it was just that Man Whom He glorified with Him in heaven and that it is exactly in that Name that every knee shall bow (Phil 2:10).

To Him you already testified, because you already bowed your knees for Him. You confess Him to the people around you. But what you confess in the world, you first had to learn to see in the sanctuary. Therefore this calling “consider … Jesus”. You see Him as the One Who came from God to His people as “Apostle” to reveal God’s thoughts to them. You see Him also as “High Priest”, that is as the One Who in the name of His people went to God to represent them to God. As ‘Apostle’ He is the true Moses and as ‘High Priest’ He is the true Aaron.

Heb 3:2. After describing His functions the writer emphasizes the faithfulness of the Lord Jesus. How important is faithfulness! What is the advantage when somebody has the highest and most powerful function, but is not faithful in practicing it? The Lord Jesus is faithful. He is faithful to God, Who appointed Him as Apostle and High Priest “in all His house”. ‘His house’ may remind you of the tabernacle or maybe also of ‘the house of Israel’, with which God’s people is meant (Heb 8:8).

Heb 3:3-4. God also could testify of Moses that he was faithful in God’s house (Num 12:7). Moses might have resembled Christ concerning his faithfulness, yet Christ exceeds far above Moses, as He also exceeded far above the angels in the previous chapters. Actually Moses was not the builder of the house, neither of the tabernacle and nor of Israel. Moses was not above the house, he was part of it, while Christ is the Builder of it. The glory of the Builder is reflected in the house.

The writer is easy to understand. He says: ‘If you see a house, you know that there is a builder.’ The Builder is God the Son. He is the Builder of the universe, the Builder of the tabernacle, of Israel and of the church. As Builder He is the source of all His buildings. He has invented and executed them (Jn 1:3; Col 1:16; Heb 1:2) and He dwells in them. Christ goes beyond all things. Moses was only connected to the house of Israel, but the Lord Jesus is connected to all things, with no limit.

Heb 3:5. Here the writer refers again to the faithfulness of Moses in all God’s house. God designed this house and Moses executed God’s design (Heb 8:5; Exo 25:9; 40). He was God’s minister in His house and therefore part of the house. His ministry consisted of passing on to the people what God spoke to him in the tabernacle (Exo 25:21-22).

Heb 3:6. And again the comparison is made between Christ and Moses. In Heb 3:2 the comparison indicates that there is an accordance between Christ and Moses, regarding faithfulness. Regarding the house of God, there appears to be a clear difference. Moses was a minister, indeed an honored minister, in the house, but Christ is Son over the house, which is even His house.

And then the writer clarifies almost unexpectedly the meaning of the house of the Son. Up until now, regarding the house of God you had thought of the tabernacle. And rightly so. Nevertheless it appears now that still something else is meant by the house. You read in fact “whose house we are”. That means that the believers are the house of the Son.

By itself that is not a new thought. Paul has already used earlier the picture of the house in his metaphor of the church to indicate certain aspects of the church of God (1Cor 3:16; Eph 2:21; 1Pet 2:5; 1Tim 3:15). The house as a picture of the church puts the emphasis on the dwelling of God in the church and it emphasizes that the order which is in the house, is His order.

In the letter to the Hebrews God’s people are not really seen as the church, but as a company of pilgrims that is on the road to the promised blessing. This company is also seen as a nation of priests. The house of God has to do with the latter. The house of God is a house wherein priestly service happens. Therein Christ practices His priestly service and the believers do that in imitation of Him. In the Old Testament you see that Aaron was in charge of the priestly family of the service that was practiced in God’s house, the tabernacle. The believers are now that priestly family (1Pet 2:5) of which the true Aaron is in charge, the Lord Jesus, as Son over His house.

The word “if” that now follows, may possibly give the impression that what is previously said, suddenly is made doubtful. What does it mean? On the one hand you know for sure that as a believer you belong to the house of the Son. On the other hand it seems like because of the word ‘if’ a condition is connected to it. You are a member of the church, but you should indeed persevere till the end, otherwise you fall away. That’s what it says, isn’t it? Is that really the intention?

That is really not the intention. He who has ever become a child of God by conversion and faith, is forever a child of God (Jn 10:28-29). This is the word of the Lord Jesus and is therefore above every doubt. There is no such thing as a falling away of saints. He who falls away proves that he has never been a child of God. The word ‘if’ has to do with the responsibility each professor has. You are a professor too, for you profess the Lord Jesus as your Lord. The same goes for me.

The course of time makes clear whether somebody is really a Christian or whether he is a Christian only by name. The pseudo Christian sooner or later gives up, but the true believer perseveres till the end. That is not a matter of sowing doubt, but the addressing each individual on his profession. You are to hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope. If you do not hold fast the confidence, you will end up like the Israelites in the desert, who by unbelief never reached the promised land. This is explained in the next verses.

If your confession is real, you will hold fast, for you will ask God to give you the strength to be able to. You will then hold fast the confidence to testify of Somebody Whom you are only able to see by faith. You will also hold fast the rejoicing of the hope in a future, wherein He indeed will be really seen, but then in power and majesty. If you hold fast your “confidence and the boast of our hope”, you will surely be able to resist each temptation to return to your former life.

Now read Hebrews 3:1-6 again.

Reflection: How is the Lord Jesus presented in this portion and why?

Verses 7-13

Encourage One Another Day After Day

Heb 3:7. Also this portion begins with “therefore” (see Heb 3:1) and that’s why it also connects to what is said in the previous verses. You will see that the writer through examples from the Old Testament shows how important it is to hold fast to what he mentioned in the second part of Heb 3:6. Those examples are from the journey of Israel through the desert.

God’s earthly people had to go through the desert to the promised land to be able to enjoy the rest of God and be with Him. That desert journey is a picture of the journey of God’s heavenly people through the world with the goal of glory with the Lord Jesus. To that journey of faith all kinds of dangers are connected, through which the genuineness of faith is being tested. This portion begins with chapter 3:7 and continues till chapter 4:13. It is to be divided into three parts:
1. the apostates will not enter the rest (Hebrews 3:7-4:2);
2. the believers will enter the true rest (Hebrews 4:3-10);
3. the testing power of God’s Word (Hebrews 4:11-13).

After ‘therefore’ a quotation of the Holy Spirit from Psalm 95 is quoted (Psa 95:7b-11) and is applied by a “today” to now. In Psalm 95 it is a “today” to Israel, but until the end, which is until the coming of the Lord Jesus, God repeats this word in His love. What is so important about ‘today’? Listening to His voice. Whenever you read or hear this, it is always ‘today’ and it is always the moment to listen to God’s voice.

The remedy and the protection against all evil is the Word of God. It may be the case that only a few hear it, nevertheless it still sounds to each individual among the Hebrews who has ears to hear. Hearing the voice of the Son of God is characteristic for the sheep (Jn 10:27). All blessing depends on that.

Heb 3:8. The appeal is not to harden the heart. He who hardens his heart, is unreachable for God’s voice and will surely perish on the journey to the blessing presented. The writer clarifies his urgent appeal by an example to listen to God’s voice and not to harden the heart. He points out to the readers, including you, an event from Israel’s journey through the desert. It is about two events actually, but the evil conduct of the Israelites is similarly revealed in both events.

Those events you find in Exodus 17, right after they were brought out of Egypt (Exo 17:1-7), and in Numbers 20 at the end of the journey through the desert (Num 20:2-13). They took place at Massah and Meribah. The writer doesn’t mention these names literally, but actually by their meaning. Meribah actually means ‘protest’, ‘fight’, ‘quarrel’, ‘dissatisfaction’. You recognize ‘bitterness’ in it. Massah means ‘trial’ or ‘temptation’.

Their bitterness began with their dissatisfaction about having no water to drink. They concluded from that, that God did not seek their happiness, but that He only sought the bad for them. Isn’t that a warning for you and for me? How do we react when we lack for something that we find necessary? Do we find this a reason to get dissatisfied and embittered? Don’t we run the risk to tempt God by becoming rebellious and by challenging Him to prove that He is there also for you and me?

Heb 3:9. The Holy Spirit shows us that the conduct of Israel was not occasional, but that this conduct characterized the people of Israel during the whole desert journey. Moreover God showed them for forty years that He was there for them (Deu 4:32-35). He liberated them, He guided them and took care of them and yet they went precisely against Him (cf. Deu 6:16; Deu 9:22; Deu 33:8). The biggest mistake you can make is thinking that you are better than they. Therefore it is really important that you take this warning to heart.

Heb 3:10. Now the people of Israel responded in this way to all of God’s care for them, it is no wonder that God became angry at this generation. God also indicates what the problem was: their error was in their sinful heart. Because their heart always went astray from God they did not understand anything about His ways, which means His actions both in blessing and in judgment.

Moses did know God’s ways, for God revealed them to Moses (Psa 103:7), because he feared and loved Him. For knowing God’s ways it is necessary to give Him your heart. That’s what He asks of you (Pro 23:26). If you give Him your heart you put your whole life in His hands, so that He can direct it. In this way you walk in His way which comes out in glory.

Heb 3:11. If you do not fix your heart on Him but go astray, you will never enter God’s rest. It is impossible that God will allow a person to enter His rest, who goes astray in the way the writer is telling here about Israel (Num 14:21-23). He swears that He will never allow that. “My rest” is God’s rest. It is the rest that He will have when He dwells in the midst of His people. That is the promised land, where the people will live in peace and in security, without any fear of enemies. This rest will only be in the millennial kingdom of peace of the Messiah, the great Son of David.

Heb 3:12. By the words “take care, brethren” the writer now applies the quotation to the readers. What had happened to those who once left Egypt can happen to some of these readers too. The writer has a tender care for each of his readers. He addresses all of them as ‘brethren’, which means that he reckons them as true believers. However, he also appeals to their confession, actually as being responsible for their deeds.

There is a possibility that in any of them there is “an evil, unbelieving heart”, a heart that doesn’t trust in God. The writer does not presume that in all of them there is an evil heart of unbelief. He says: “In any one of you.” By putting it that way they should all know that they were all addressed. Every person will come to self-examination and ask: “Lord, is it I?” (Mt 26:21-22).

Only an unbeliever has an evil heart of unbelief. If such a person doesn’t truly convert to God, he will surely ”fall away from the living God”. Such a person appears to have never been a believer. Through the test of faith he is exposed. The true believer perseveres, despite hardships. He knows that he has no power in himself to persevere, but that God has all power.

The pseudo believer will depart under the pressure of the circumstances. He has no confidence in God, for he has no life from God, because he never went to Him with true repentance of his sins. Still he pretended that and he joined a Christian company. However, when the moment of truth comes, he departs from God.

Departing is rebelling against God. A person does that if he turns his back on God when the adversities get that great that he cannot fight against them and therefore blames God for that. The root of evil is unbelief and the core of unbelief is the lack of confidence that all circumstances lie in God’s hand, that He never tests beyond capacity and that He finally will surely make a way through all difficulties. ‘Falling away from the living God’ happens when a person goes back to a dead and outward religion (as the temple service had become), after having confessed the true service of God of Christendom. Beside and apart from Him there is no life.

Heb 3:13. After the appeal to examine themselves the writer points out that they also should seek one another’s interest. They have to encourage one another. That is necessary because the danger is lurking that unbelief creeps into one’s heart, because he gets trapped in “the deceitfulness of sin”.

Sin always deceives. It always looks attractive, for you wouldn’t take the bait otherwise. But once you have committed sin, you feel the bitterness of it. If you do not immediately repent by confessing your sin and forsaking it, sin will harden you. Let us not take this lightly and let us encourage one another “day after day”. That means that it should be habitual to encourage each other. This also implies that we as believers should have daily contact with one another.

Unfortunately, regarding that, individualism has gained a lot of ground among believers. Each individual is occupied with his own matters and having contact with each other as believers falls through. Therefore it doesn’t come as a surprise that many get astray from faith, though still hopefully without them departing from the living God. It is important to give attention and care to one another’s souls and to seek one another’s spiritual well-being. We ought not to leave this care to some ‘clergyman’. It is a command to each Christian to do that to another and which ought to happen ‘today’ for tomorrow may be too late. After ‘today’ the eternal judgment follows.

He who doesn’t allow himself to be warned, will leave the way of the shame of Christ and will turn back to the nice, but deceiving rituals of a tangible religion with earthly benefits. Returning to that means returning to a religion without forgiveness, without hope and even without the possibility of conversion. Therefore it is that important to encourage one another day after day.

Now read Hebrews 3:7-13 again.

Reflection: By which warnings are you being challenged here and in which way could you warn others?

Verses 14-19

Hold Fast the Assurance Firm Until the End

It is a good thing to repeat that in this letter everyone is addressed who confesses to belong to God’s people. In the first place it is about believing Hebrews, Jews who came to faith in the Lord Jesus as the Messiah, given by God. They are familiar with the prophecies of the Old Testament. They learnt from that about the coming of the Messiah. When the Lord Jesus came, they believed in Him as the Fulfiller of all God’s promises to His earthly people of which they were part. But the Lord Jesus was rejected. By that their faith was severely put to the test. They do not see the Lord Jesus, but to faith He certainly is there, in heaven actually.

They found themselves on earth. Instead of finding themselves in the millennial kingdom of peace, that was to start with the coming of the Messiah, they are being mocked and persecuted by their unbelieving fellow countrymen. They had to learn that the fulfillment of the promises was being postponed. That fulfillment is sure, only there is still a way of faith to go before it happens.

Here you see the parallel with the desert journey that the people of Israel made from Egypt to Canaan. You travel with God’s people through the world on the road to the promised blessing of rest. In this letter the world is pictured as a desert, the territory of the trials of faith, accompanied by temptations through worldly and religious seductions.

Heb 3:14. You are one of the “partakers of Christ”. The writer sees himself as one of them. He speaks about “we”. Then that conditional “if” appears again (Heb 3:6), through which it seems that it is still not sure and that it will only be sure if you have made a certain performance. That performance is here: “Hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end”.

Again I want to make it clear that it is different from making a performance. You ought to discern again two things clearly. On the one side, a person who once has become a child of God through conversion and faith, remains a child of God for ever. If a person is a child of God, his life must and will show this. Therefore on the other side it becomes clear through trials whether someone is really a child of God. On the one side each believer is a companion of Christ, but on the other side, not everyone who externally belongs to God’s people is a believer. The latter will appear from perseverance.

Although genuineness is assumed, there is room left that the confession is only a lip confession, whereby there is no life from God present. Therefore hardships are the test if there is real faith with the confessor. To a true believer hardships are not hindrances for faith, but on the contrary it is a motivation to show faith. Such a person has started the journey of faith with assurance and he shall continue with assurance. A lack of assurance in God causes a person to doubt his salvation. Then the awareness of His love, His power or His concern for us is not there anymore. The assurance has disappeared. The hope and the appreciation for intangible things are diminishing, while the appreciation for tangible things is increasing on the other side.

The exhortations are intended to keep you in the assurance you have and to persevere in that. They are not intended to stop fear and doubt. The letter is not addressed to doubting Christians or people who still do not have total assurance in God.

I again went into details here because I know that young Christian believers, and even older Christian believers also, may struggle with these things. I hope that it has also helped you to understand the writer’s arguments better.

Heb 3:15. The writer repeats (see Heb 3:7-8) the essence of the quotation from Psalm 95 to make the reader aware of the power of it. The danger the Hebrew confessors were being exposed to (and to which we are exposed in Christendom), was the same as that of their very early ancestors when they were in the desert on their way to the promised land. To be able to face this danger it is a crucial thing to listen to God’s voice. You hear His voice if you read His Word and in the meetings where His Word is being proclaimed. By subsequently doing His will you will be kept from a hardened heart and from being embittered.

Heb 3:16. To emphasize his exhortation more, the writer asks three questions in Heb 3:16-18. In these three questions he summarizes in three great events from the past the history of the people of Israel. The first question is about the departure from Egypt, the second question refers to the desert journey, the third question regards the entry into the promised land. He himself replies to these questions in the form of questions wherein the answer is embedded. By teaching in an interrogative sentence he forces his readers to think. It is not the issue to rationally give a good answer; the point is that the question moves the heart.

The first question shows that a whole nation can be affected by the sin of unbelief. So not only an individual was involved. This is the embarrassing answer of a whole nation to the mercy of the Lord towards Israel. “All” refers to those who were guided by Moses from Egypt, which means six hundred thousand men together with their households (Num 1:46).

The gravity of sin is that they became rebellious after they heard God’s voice. That makes them much more responsible than many who live in sin without having heard anything about God and Christ. Therefore the idolatry that is being committed by Christians in worshipping Mary and Peter and angels is much worse than the worship of idols as Zeus or Venus by pagans.

Heb 3:17. The first question deals with the attitude of the people towards God. The second question shows the reaction of God to the sin of the people. It was not only that the whole nation was sinning against God, but they did that all the time for forty years. Therefore God was angry with them the whole time, which was the reason that they who had sinned didn’t reach the promised land. Their “bodies fell in the wilderness”. God didn’t punish them because of only one mistake, but because of their persistent rebellion during the time when His care for them was very obvious.

Heb 3:18. The third question shows that they hardened their heart to the utmost. Even when they were standing at the border of the land, they did not enter the land because of their disobedience. Disobedience is unacceptable to God. He abhors and judges that. He swore because of this evil “that they would not enter His rest”. God cannot possibly connect Himself to disobedience in any way. To bring these disobedient or unbelieving people into His rest would be in contrast with His Being. His rest is only for those who do rest in Him and in His will.

Heb 3:19. You can see this verse as a conclusion. That conclusion is that their unbelief is the cause of their perishing and of not being able to enter. Unbelief is the lack of confidence in God being able to bring them there and that He wanted to bless them. They didn’t know God. He was acting strangely in their eyes. Still God had spoken to them and had revealed them His will and His way. However, when the heart desires other things than only honoring God by trusting Him, which means to believe Him, the blessing will not be obtained.

It is not written that they were stopped by God, but that their own unbelief made it impossible for them to enter. They were not able to do that. The inevitable result of unbelief is that it does not take into possession what has been reserved for the faith. Unbelief excludes confidence. Unbelief robbed the desert generation from the rest they were supposed to expect, after they departed from Egypt.

The character of unbelief is the attitude of neglecting or forgetting God, acting as if He doesn’t exist, while the everlasting Present One is full of mercy. Unbelief makes God a liar instead of Someone Who speaks the truth in what He promises. Unbelief makes God Someone Who is too weak to fulfill His promises. Unbelief means that He is changeable and that He reconsiders His promises and that He is therefore not the Unchangeable One. Unbelief doubts His faithfulness to the expectations that He inspires through His promises.

I hope that unbelief will not get a chance to lodge in your heart. I rather hope that you look like Caleb and Joshua (Num 14:6-9). Against the unbelief of their ten fellow spies and the unbelief of the whole nation, they honored God by keeping His Word as the absolute truth and His power as infinite, His counsel as unchangeable and His faithfulness as that great that He surely fulfills the expectations inspired by Himself.

Now read Hebrews 3:14-19 again.

Reflection: What makes you sure that you will enter God’s rest?

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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Hebrews 3". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.