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This final chapter begins with further exhortations to the people to whom the letter is addressed. The exhortation is to the love of fellow-Christians, followed by how that love can practically be revealed. They are especially to,
1) Show loving hospitality to ‘foreign’ Christian visitors.
2) Care for those in bonds for Christ’s sake, showing them true love.
3) Ensure the establishment of truly loving godly marriages and avoid sexual misbehaviour.
4) Be free from the love of money, which would destroy their love for God and for others.
5) Look obediently to faithful leaders in loving response.
6) Not listen to false teachings which would destroy their love for one another.
Together with the original urge to reveal brotherly love these instructions make up seven in total, the number of divine perfection, and each relates in some way to brotherly love. The first two are examples of outgoing love, both at home and outside; the second two are examples of the major moral dangers facing Christians which could affect their love for one another; and the third two warn of the need to respond to godly leaders and beware of heresy in order that their love may be maintained.
They can also be summed up as showing true love for fellow-Christians, especially those in need, controlling and rightly using needs and urges, both sexual and wealth related, and the importance of obtaining true teaching and avoiding false. We must revel in love, self control and truth.
The Call To Love Our Brothers and Sisters in Christ (Hebrews 13:1-9 ).
‘Let love of the brothers and sisters (phil-adelphia) continue.’
This is the third mention of Christian love in the letter, although here with a different Greek word. Compare Hebrews 6:10; Hebrews 10:24 (both ‘agape’). As the first exhortation after the climax of the letter it demonstrates that it is central to his thinking. For without love everything else is irrelevant. The word used emphasises love among Christians. He possibly especially had in mind to address those who forsook the assembling of themselves together (Hebrews 10:25). But the idea applies to all Christians.
This love has little to do with deep affection or romantic love, but is a love which is true and reveals itself in action, and while sometimes emotional is not dependent on emotion. It is a pure love. Such Christian love was urged by Christ as an essential element of being a Christian (John 13:34-35; John 15:12; John 15:17; John 17:26. Compare also Romans 12:9-10; Romans 13:8; Galatians 5:13-14; Galatians 5:22; Ephesians 4:2; Ephesians 4:15-16; Ephesians 5:2; Philippians 1:9; Philippians 2:2; Colossians 1:4; Colossians 2:2; 1Th 3:12 ; 1 Thessalonians 5:8; 2 Timothy 1:7; Titus 1:8; 1Pe 2:17 ; 1 Peter 3:8; 1 John 2:11; 1Jn 3:11 ; 1 John 3:14; 1 John 3:19; 1Jn 3:23 ; 1 John 4:7-12; 1 John 4:16-21; 1 John 5:2). It is defined in 1 Corinthians 13:0. And this is now considered in more detail
‘Do not forget to show loving hospitality to strangers, for as a result of that some have entertained angels unawares.’
The first exhortation reveals that Christians should be always receptive of others. The second will show that they must be willing to go out to put themselves out for others. Our love is to be both receptive and outgoing.
In days when inns were few and of doubtful repute, finding hospitality was always a problem for travellers, especially for Christian travellers. These Christians therefore are to ensure that they offer loving hospitality to visitors, especially to those unknown to them personally, and the example is given of Abraham and Lot, both of whom did so without realising that they were entertaining angels (Genesis chapters 18; 19). We can never know who the strangers to whom we offer hospitality might be. Although in a sense we can, for we can be sure that they are Jesus, for when we welcome them in His name we welcome Jesus (Matthew 25:36; Matthew 25:38; Matthew 25:40). But this is not intended to be the motive, only an added spur. The thought is that such hospitality earns its own reward, and we can never know who or what those whom we benefit might be for God, and perform in His service. And by our hospitality we will be a part of that service. To give a cup of cold water to a disciple, or as a disciple, in the name of Christ, is to be deserving of reward (Matthew 10:42). Compare here Rom 12:13 ; 1 Timothy 3:2; 1 Timothy 5:10; Titus 1:8; 1 Peter 4:9.
‘Remember those who are in bonds, as bound with them;
Those who are ill-treated, as being yourselves also in a body.’
The second practical example of Christian love is that of caring for, and watching out for, those who are in bonds for Christ’s sake (compare again Matthew 25:26; Matthew 25:40). See Hebrews 10:33 which suggests that they had already done so. They are to remember such people as though it were themselves who were bound. This was especially important in that prisoners were expected to find their own means of sustenance at the hands of friends and relatives, and such Christian prisoners would need encouragement in facing the consequences of persecution. It was, of course, always a risky business giving such help, for it might also brand the helper as being a Christian.
Onesiphorus was a living example of this principle. In 2 Timothy 1:16 Paul says of him, ‘He often refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain. But when he was in Rome he sought me diligently, and found me.’ Not only did he provide Paul with food and sustenance, but he gave him company in his imprisonment and went to great trouble to find out where he was being held so that he could do so, and could continue to do so.
And just as they were to imagine themselves as bound with them, so were they also to remember that they are in a body like that of those prisoners who are being ill-treated; they are thus to empathise with them in their sufferings and seek to help them in any way possible, just as they would wish for the same if they were in that situation. Being human as they are, we should feel along with them.
It is doubtful if this is a reference to the body of Christ. The context gives no hint of such an idea, and the lack of article is almost conclusive against it (‘a body’ not ‘the body’).
‘Let marriage be had in honour among all, and let the bed be undefiled: for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.’
Thirdly they were all to honour marriage, such marriages being between couples who themselves were pure and had not previously indulged in sex. And even more importantly, marriage was to be honoured by continually restraining from fornication and adultery. They were to be perfect examples of true love. Sexual relations were to be retained for enjoyment within marriage, for God would severely judge those who failed in this respect. This mention of God’s intervention stresses how serious a matter this was seen to be (compare 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Ephesians 5:5; Revelation 21:8; Revelation 22:15). Here the love of the brethren has pinpointed the love between a Christian husband and wife.
This was not only giving marriage the Lord’s approval and blessing, but probably had in mind some who thought that abstinence from marriage made them spiritually superior. It should not be so. All were to honour marriage. The honouring of marriage also meant that divorce would be unthinkable, except on the grounds of unfaithfulness. It would be to dishonour God. It may be that some were following the teaching of the Rabbi Hillel which allowed easy divorce. This idea is here rejected. Under God he clearly saw stable marriages as vital in upholding the witness of the church.
‘Let your way be free from the love of money, content with such things as you have, for he himself has said, “In no way will I fail you, nor will I in any way forsake you.” ’
Fourthly they were to beware of covetousness, especially the love of money. Nothing can destroy a man or woman, or a church, like money. It subtly by degrees takes men’s thoughts away from God. So they should not be concerned about whether they were rich or not. They should beware of craving after money (1 Timothy 6:10) and the deceitfulness of riches (Mark 4:19). For such soon takes hold on men and becomes their idol. Rather they should be content with what they have (compare Philippians 4:11), because godliness with contentment is great gain (1 Timothy 6:6), and can be sure that the Lord will never fail them or forsake them in whatever needs they might have (compare Matthew 6:8; Matthew 6:19-34). With Him as our banker we can never finally run short. For as Jesus emphasised, ‘you cannot love both God and Mammon (wealth)’ (Matthew 6:24), and whichever one we choose will always take precedence over the other. Either our love for God will result in money becoming unimportant except as a tool for doing good and showing love to our brothers and sisters, or the love of money will become idolatry and take away our thoughts from Christ and His ways and will destroy Christian love both for God and for men. Money is spiritually poisonous.
It may well be that he knew that some of them had lost their wealth for Christ’s sake and were deeply affected by their situation, and so is seeking to ensure that they recognise how important it really is. Loss of wealth was a common problem in those days for some who became Christians.
‘In no way will I fail you, nor not at all will I in any way forsake you.’ The word for fail means to let go of, to lose the grip on. It tells us that God will never lose His grip on us (John 10:29). The word for forsake means to abandon, to desert. We who are his can be sure that we will never find ourselves abandoned and deserted. Note the strong emphasis on the negatives which is there in the Greek. It is saying that for God to fail or forsake us is absolutely impossible.
The statement word for word is not found in the Old Testament, but it is almost word for word, after the altering into the first person, of a phrase in Deuteronomy 31:6 LXX in the third person, where Moses is addressing Israel prior to their entry into the promised land. For similar ideas see Joshua 1:5; and compare Genesis 28:15; Isaiah 41:17. Thus God’s faithfulness has continued throughout history. It is probable that the writer is citing a standard form recognised in the churches, who might well have seen themselves as, like Israel (and Joshua), on the verge of entering the promised land and personalised the promise.
‘He Himself has said.’ Thus it is certain. We note again that Scripture is quoted as what God has said.
‘So that with good courage we say, The Lord is my helper, I will not fear. What will man do to me?’
And as a result of the certainty that we have that we know that He will not fail us or forsake us, we can say with good courage and confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not fear. What will man do to me?’ (Psalms 118:6)
‘The Lord is my helper, I will not fear.’ The One Who is sovereign over all is my sustenance and my provision. He is there to help me in all my ways. Having that certainty how can we be afraid of anything? Outside of quotations, ‘Lord’ in Hebrews always refers to Jesus Christ. Compare here Psalms 118:6 LXX from where it is cited.
While the Greek word for Helper is different we may remind ourselves here of Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit as our Helper, Encourager and Comforter in John 14:16-17; John 14:26; John 15:26; John 16:7), and of His words to His disciples at the end, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled, believe in God, believe also in Me (John 14:1-2).’
‘Remember those who had the rule over you, men who spoke to you the word of God; and considering the issue (or ‘end’) of their life, follow (or ‘imitate’) the faith, “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and for ever”.’
Fifthly they are to show their brotherly love by honouring their godly leaders who spoke to them the true word of God, keeping them before them as an example, and looking to them for guidance, both through the word of God and through their manner of life. The importance that the writer places on the leadership is brought out by his constant references (see Hebrews 13:17; Hebrews 13:24). In the days before the New Testament these leaders were the local deposit of the truth.
They are to ‘follow the faith’, the faith that they taught and teach, or possibly ‘imitate the faith (i.e. their faith)’, that is, imitate their faith as revealed in faithfulness to God and the result of their faith as revealed in their lives. Compare Hebrews 6:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:12.
‘Remember those who had the rule over you, men who spoke to you the word of God.’ The word remember means ‘call to mind, consider, think upon’, in the same way as we are told to ‘remember your Creator in the days of your youth.’ In the same way these readers are to remember those who had the rule over them, especially as it was they who had brought to them the word of God. This may have in mind especially those who, having heard the Lord’s words, confirmed them to them (Hebrews 2:3). But those who were appointed by them would also have brought to them the word of God. Thus the thought probably includes all godly men who had watched over them and had been faithful to the Scriptures and the Testimony of Jesus
‘Considering the issue (or end) of their life’ may signify that some have been martyred, or may simply mean ‘consider the manner and result of their life’. If the former this would indicate that his readers are also to be ready for persecution and possible martyrdom. Either way they are to ‘consider them carefully’ and follow their example.
‘Jesus Christ the same yesterday and today and for ever.’ It may be that we are to see this as defining, ‘follow the faith’, and as being a well known credal statement of the early church. (This latter would explain why it is not conformed grammatically to ‘the faith’). Thus they are to ‘follow the faith, “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today and for ever” ’ This makes most sense of its introduction here.
And they can do this with confidence knowing that Jesus Christ does not change. The One ‘yesterday’ (in the past) revealed to them through the word, Jesus the Messiah, is the same today and for ever (compare James 1:17). If anyone therefore come with some new doctrine that portrays Christ differently they should be rejected, for He continues always the same, unchanging for ever. And it is He Whom their godly teachers hear and follow. That is why they too are to follow them.
The statement is absolute. “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today and for ever” He remains unchanged. He is the same as the living One, sent from God, Who brought God’s word to men, as found in the Testimony of Jesus (the living tradition about Jesus passed on in the churches). He is the same as the crucified One. He is the same as the One Who watches over His people in their sufferings (Acts 9:4-5). He is the same for ever.
The thought includes the fact that ‘Jesus Christ’, is the Jesus of chapter 2, the Christ of chapter 3, the Jesus of chapter 4, the Christ of chapter 5 and so on. In both other mentions in the letter (compare Hebrews 10:10; Hebrews 13:21, see also Hebrews 3:1) the combination ‘Jesus Christ’ has in mind His being offered as a sacrifice and the effect that that has on His people. The point here is that He has not changed since they were first converted and learned the fundamental truths about Him; is the same today in their present situation and as He has been revealed in the letter; and will continue the same for ever. Thus their lives are based on Someone permanent and enduring. Leaders come and go, but He goes on for ever.
‘Do not be not carried away by divers and strange teachings: for it is good that the heart be established by grace, not by foods, wherein those who occupied themselves (literally ‘those who walked’) were not profited.’
Sixthly, especially therefore are they to beware of ‘many-coloured’ and unusual teachings not established by God’s word, teachings which are foreign to the Gospel. For Jesus Christ does not change and has come as God’s final revelation (Hebrews 1:1-3). Any further ‘new revelation’, or revelation contrary to the Scriptures, is therefore not to be countenanced.
And this especially applies to regulations concerning food. In the days of the early church false teachers of all kinds abounded, wandering from city to city and bringing strange ideas on religious matters. Many of these related to the eating of foods which connected with religious rituals of various kinds, and to various food regulations. Such teachings were prevalent in those days, as they are among some today. Paul had to combat them constantly (Romans 14:16-17; 1 Corinthians 8:8). Such regulations accomplish nothing spiritually, the writer assured his readers, they are of no profit to the spirit.
Let them therefore recognise that the heart and spirit are fed by what comes to them through the gracious activity of God, through His Holy Spirit working within them. Let them feed on such things as he has taught them (Hebrews 5:14).
And he now goes on to apply this to their own circumstances. For their danger clearly lay in their desiring to receive meat from the ritual sacrificial meals which were connected with the levitical priesthood, when the peace or thankoffering having been made, the meat would be made available to the worshippers. There was the danger of them looking to this rather than to receiving the gracious provision of God through the Spirit as previously described in the letter. They are to remember that those who look to such sacrificial meals are not ultimately profited by them spiritually. Eating such food cannot ‘establish’ them and make them impregnable, wherever the meat comes from. Food can strengthen the body but it cannot strengthen the heart and spirit. However, the grace of God, God’s freely given mercies, revealed in Jesus Christ, can do exactly that, "for the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men" (Titus 2:11). It is the grace of God revealed in salvation that can affect the whole man. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.
It would appear from the mention of these as ‘strange teachings’ that some who had come to them had come with their own particular views concerning the importance and significance of partaking of sacrifices. There was not just one view in Judaism about such things. Many differing views were in fact being canvassed among the Jews at this time, e.g. among the Essenes and the Qumran Community to name but two, and among the Apocalyptists, as well as among the Rabbis and the leading Sadducees.
So there may well be that these words are an indication that certain types of Jews had come among them decrying their stance and pointing out that as Christians they now had no altar on which sacrifices could be offered, that they had no sacred meal resulting from those sacrifices, by which they could directly participate of their sacrifice and thus enjoy a physical contact with the numinous, and that they were even losing out in not participating in the Passover at Jerusalem. It would seem that this had deeply impressed them. His reply will now be that they can easily dismiss such suggestions because they have something better, for their ‘meat’ is found in being established in the grace of God, in other words in partaking of what is provided by God’s gracious action through His Spirit, spiritual participation in Christ and Him crucified. And that is something that is not dependent on Jerusalem. It is ‘outside the camp’ of Israel. It is universally available.
These words would strike a chord with many. Offering sacrifices and partaking of sacred meat was widely known both among Jews and Gentiles (compare 1 Corinthians 10:18-21). And many who had come to Christ might well have looked back in wistful longing for those physical ritual acts which had meant so much to them. But the writer’s answer is clear. As he has been pointing out all along they are to look to the heavenly and not to the earthly, and he now expands on the point.
‘We have an altar, of which they have no right to eat who serve the tabernacle.’
His reply is that we actually have an altar which provides us with spiritual food of which they know nothing and of which they cannot partake. For Jesus Christ was offered up as a sacrifice (Hebrews 9:12-14; Hebrews 10:10) which must mean that He was offered up on an spiritual altar provided by God. We must not see this as just an answer it is a proud boast. It is a declaration of triumph. It is now time for them to recognise that they (and we) have a better altar, of which they who serve the earthly tabernacle and what it represents have no right to eat while they are in their unbelief.
Those who serve in the tabernacle with all its ritual are provided with meat from the sacrifices which have been offered on the altar in Jerusalem, (speaking loosely, they can ‘eat meat from the altar’), but we should recognise that we have a better altar, a spiritual altar, on which has been offered a better Sacrifice once for all, one which, supplies us with better spiritual food than their altar ever could.
For what is an altar? It is a place where a sacrifice is offered to God. And as they should well know, when Jesus died He was being offered up as a sacrifice, which indicates that God had arranged for such ‘an altar’ outside Jerusalem at Golgotha, where this could occur. And that being so, through His being offered up there on that altar, a superior altar to that in Jerusalem, we can participate in Christ’s sacrifice for us. We can participate of God’s Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7; John 1:29). We can feed on the Bread of Life (John 6:35). We can partake of Jesus Christ (John 6:48-58; John 6:63).
And how do we thus feed and drink of Christ? Jesus puts the answer in clear terms in John 6:35, ‘He who comes to Me will never hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst’. In other words we feed and drink by coming and believing. We come in personal faith responding in our spirits to Jesus as revealed to us through His word, looking to Him in our hearts, and we exercise constant trust, faith and response day by day as we continue looking to Him (compare Hebrews 12:2). So do we eat and drink of Him, and participate in Him. And this is especially so as we meet together to look to Him and honour Him and worship Him.
(This is not referring directly to the Lord’s Table, even though the Lord’s Table does symbolise it. He is not comparing religious rituals and saying our religious ceremony is better than theirs. As he has done all through his letter, he is contrasting the earthly with the heavenly. He is saying, ‘they participate in an earthly altar and what it offers, we participate in a heavenly altar and what it offers’).
For, as he will now point out, this altar on which His sacrifice was made is ‘outside the camp’ (Hebrews 13:11). It is not tied to religious Jerusalem. It is a spiritual altar. It is not even visible. It is God’s invisible altar (like the invisible temple of Ezekiel, descending to earth and present in Israel but invisible to all but him - see Ezekiel 40:0 onwards) on which Jesus Christ offered Himself up even as He was being crucified, seen as an altar of sacrifice. It is the altar on which our Great High Priest offered Himself up as a sacrifice for the sins of the world.
The important thing that will be stressed here is not specifically where the altar was as seen on a map. That was not what mattered. What mattered was where it was not. What mattered was that it was situated ‘outside the camp’, and therefore outside the scope of the levitical priesthood and the polluted city. And those who serve the Jerusalem altar have therefore no right there for they have not come to Him to receive life and forgiveness. They have rejected Him.
Note on the Altar.
Many and varied have been the interpretations of this altar, mainly ignoring the context in which it is found. Some would refer it to the altars in their own churches, but that is to totally ignore the context in the letter. We cannot just erect our own altar and say, ‘this is what the writer was talking about’. Nor can we say that our altars represent that altar, as though we could represent our Great High Priest. For earlier he has stressed that there cannot be a sacrificing priest on earth (Hebrews 8:4). That is why the early church did not erect altars.
Others see it as referring to the Lord’s Table at which we partake of bread and wine, but there is nothing in the context to suggest this. What is contrasted to the meats is not the bread and the wine but the grace of God in a far wider sense, which is then expanded on in terms of Christ’s offering of Himself. There is nothing in Scripture which justifies seeing the Lord’s Table as in any way being a sacrifice, whether non-bloody or otherwise, or as being connected with an earthly altar. It is always seen as pointing back to one sacrifice for all time, and as taken along with a meal. Nor does participation in it require a priest (except in the sense that all Christians are priests and that they come to the Lord’s Table to offer the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving and the sacrifice of their own lives to His service). It is a celebration and participation in Christ through faith not a sacrifice.
Still others, with more justification, see it as Christ Himself. (They then usually also see Christ as the heavenly tabernacle as well). But it overloads the picture when we see Christ as altar, High Priest and sacrifice all together, and more importantly it is not justified in the context. The altar is the place where the sacrifice is offered and where the High Priest officiates. But while the sacrifice and the officiating of the High Priest are both shown earlier to be ‘types’ of Christ, there has been no suggestion in Hebrews that the altar is such a type.
Yet it is true in that in that altar He is visualising precisely what was accomplished there. By ‘we have an altar’ he is really meaning, we have a sufficient sacrifice that has been offered, and we have a great High Priest Who offered it on our behalf and has gone into the Heavens with its benefits in order to mediate on our behalf. In that sense the altar is Christ.
Some therefore refer to the cross as the altar. But that is to be too literal in our thinking. It was not Jesus Who hung Himself on the cross, it was the Roman soldiers. They placed Him on the cross. In contrast Jesus was offering Himself on an altar, on a spiritual altar of God’s making, an altar not made with hands. Thus to suggest the cross as the altar is being too literalistic. But we may certainly see the place where the cross was erected as the temporary site of God’s spiritual altar. It is just that the cross was what Rome used, whereas His offering of Himself was a spiritual and invisible action accomplished on a spiritual and invisible altar provided by God using symbolic language.
But certainly, whether we see the altar as Christ, or as the cross, or as a spiritual altar seen as provided by God, he depicts it as physically ‘outside the gate’ (Hebrews 13:12) where Jesus suffered, which specific reference, in contrast to ‘outside the camp’, can only mean that he has in mind one of the gates of Jerusalem (which would simply not apply in the case of the first two suggestions above). Thus we are clearly to see it as a spiritual altar parallel with the spiritual tabernacle mentioned earlier, ‘the true tabernacle’ (Hebrews 8:2; Hebrews 9:11; Hebrews 9:24) not made with hands. It has no physical form. It is an altar fashioned by God and connected with the heavenly temple, and is purely spiritual like the temple of Ezekiel, which descended on a mountain outside Jerusalem, seen only by the prophet himself. And it was by officiating at that spiritual altar by offering Himself as a sacrifice, that the Great High Priest, having offered Himself on it, passed through the heavens to enter the Holy Place in Heaven (Hebrews 4:14).
Furthermore this altar was only required for use once, and once used would be required no more. That is why, in context, it has come rather to symbolise the benefits to be received from His offering of Himself once for all upon it. Men did not literally eat from the altar but from the meat which was sacrificed on it, which was then carried away to be cooked and eaten. In the same way this new altar has provided the sacrifice which is satisfactory to all for all time, and therefore is no longer needed as an altar of sacrifice, nor is it ever to be so used again. We eat of that altar because we eat of the eternal sacrifice offered on it once for all. So the use of the altar and the offering were both once for all. Its importance lies in what it was once used for, and in the benefit we receive from the Sacrifice offered once for all upon it.
So unlike the Great High Priest, and Christ’s sacrificial blood once for ever obtained through His sacrifice of Himself on that altar, the efficacy of which go on day by day, the altar itself is no longer required. What we ‘partake of’ is what it has provided through the one sacrifice offered on it.
Thus when the writer says, ‘we have an altar’ he means simply that they are to recognise that the charge laid against them, that they have no altar, is untrue. They do have an altar. But not one that is in use now, nor one that can be seen. It is the spiritual altar on which Jesus was offered once for all, and from that offering come continually its benefits whereby we ‘partake of the altar’. That is we partake of the benefits of what was once offered upon it. In that sense Christ can be said to be the altar.
End of note.
Our Altar Is a Spiritual One Were Jesus Christ Was Crucified And Is Outside The Camp and Outside The City Where The Levitical Priests Hold Sway and Our Sacrifices Are Of A Different Nature To Theirs (Hebrews 13:10-16 ).
His reference to sacrificial meals leads on into a reconsideration of the contrast between Jesus Christ and the old ways. It is time, he says, that they finally chose between participating in the ritual of Jerusalem and the levitical priesthood ‘within the camp’, or participating in Christ and His sacrifice and going to Him ‘outside the camp’. For as he has already demonstrated from Scripture, the old has passed and the new has come, and the new is not found by looking to Jerusalem.
‘For the bodies of those beasts whose blood is brought into the holy place through (dia) the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. For which reason Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people through his own blood, suffered outside the gate.’
He now likens Jesus to the special sacrifices whose blood is brought into the Holy Place. If by the Holy Place he means the Holy of Holies then these are the Day of Atonement sacrifices. Otherwise they also include the sin offerings for the priests and for the people as a whole. In all cases the bodies of such beasts had to be burned outside the camp because they were especially holy.
‘Those beasts (zo-on.’ This is not the usual word for beasts, especially sacrificial beasts, in LXX . In 2 Peter 2:12; Jude 1:10 it refers to natural brute beasts. It is used in Revelation 4:0 of the ‘living creatures’ around the throne. But the writer is probably trying to make a comparison with Jesus and therefore uses this more startling contrast signifying natural brute beasts in comparison with the heavenly Christ.
For let them recognise the significance of Christ being offered outside the gates of Jerusalem. As all his readers knew intimately, under the Jerusalemite ritual what is dealt with outside the camp belongs wholly to God. Man cannot partake of it. It is sacred. They can only participate of sin offerings offered on the altar in Jerusalem, the blood of which is not taken within the Holy Place, and the carcases of which were not burned outside the camp. We could call them the lesser sin offerings. Those alone may be retained within the camp, and be partaken of. And the consequence is that if Jesus was offered outside the camp, as He was, it is clear that He is inaccessible to them unless they are willing to leave the camp and put their trust in Him, and leave behind their faith in the Jerusalemite ritual once and for all. Otherwise He is forbidden to them by their own laws.
In order to understand this we must be aware of the niceties and significance of Old Tetament ritual. All sin offerings were offered on the altar, but these were basically divided into two groups. In one group are the sin offerings which were for the whole people, and those which were for the priests as the anointed of God. In these cases the blood was offered within the sanctuary and the carcases could not be eaten, and apart from the fat which was burned on the altar, had to be burned in their totality outside the camp in a clean place. These included the great sacrifices on the Day of Atonement, the blood of which alone was presented in the Holy of Holies (in the other cases it was before the veil at the altar of incense). See Leviticus 16:27, and compare Leviticus 4:12; Leviticus 4:21. Any sin offering whose blood was presented in the Holy Place was to be treated in the same way (Leviticus 6:30). And finally the ashes which were taken from the altar each day, while restoking the fire which had to burn continually, were also taken outside the camp to a clean place for they might contain elements of the above offerings (Leviticus 6:9-11).
Then there were the sin offerings for individuals. These were offered on the altar and the blood of the sacrifice presented to God by means of that altar, and the fat was offered on the altar. The blood was not taken within the Holy Place. The edible meat from these sacrifices was then partaken of by the priests, while the remainder would be burned up on the altar.
What must be noted about all these offerings is that even the lesser sin offerings were all ‘most holy’ to the Lord (Leviticus 6:25; Leviticus 6:30 to Leviticus 7:1. See also Exodus 29:34). That is why all that could be eaten was to be eaten within the precincts of the tabernacle, and only by the anointed priests who because of what they were, were thereby also holy, while the other remains were burned on the altar in the court of the tabernacle. This being so these other sin offerings of which none could partake, and which were carried out of the camp and burned there in a clean place, being thereby given to God, must be even more holy. The fact that they had to be burned in a clean place demonstrated that they were certainly holy. Indeed they were so holy that apart from the fat which was burned on the altar because it was God’s they were burned outside the camp of Israel in their totality. The same occurred to burnt offerings which were for the totality of the people. This suggests that these sacrifices were seen as exceptionally holy, so holy that they belonged only to God.
So when we learn that ‘Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people through his own blood, suffered outside the gate’ we are made to recognise that His offering of Himself was also to be seen as exceptionally holy. Not only were the remains dealt with outside the camp, but the whole sacrifice and offering was made there. Even the tabernacle/temple itself was not holy enough for this offering. How holy then must be the holiness with which He sanctified His own. And God did this that it might be clear that no one who partook of the Jerusalemite ritual could have part in this sacrifice.
For the reason that ‘they’ could not partake of that altar was because what was sacrificed on it was a sin offering for the whole world, the type of offering of which none in the camp or even in the sanctuary could eat, but which had to burned outside the camp (thereby being given to God) because of its great holiness.
And now that the ‘camp’ had in the eyes of the Jews, religiously speaking, become Jerusalem the remains of these sacrifices were now in fact specifically burned outside Jerusalem. Thus Jesus sacrifice was seen as taking place outside the camp because it took place outside the city gates.
Burning outside the camp was the regular way of dealing with anything that had been ‘devoted’ to God, or that belonged wholly to God, or that was so excessively holy that man could have no part in it, and religiously Jerusalem was seen as the equivalent of the camp, and Jesus as being offered outside the camp.
Note on The Camp.
The concept of the camp was an interesting one. It was to be kept as holy by the people, in that nothing unclean must be allowed in it, including human excrement (Deuteronomy 23:14 see also Leviticus 26:11-12), because the Lord walked there ‘The Lord walked there’ probably means that He was present in the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle for the verse also refers to His warlike activities which were connected with the Ark (Numbers 10:35-36). So the very presence of the Tabernacle ‘in the midst of the camp’ meant that the camp must be kept free from anything unclean, because God was there. That is why anything ‘unclean’ had to be removed from, or disposed of, outside the camp and anyone who had sinned presumptuously had to be put out of the camp, in order to be stoned, and thereby not touched (Leviticus 13:46; Leviticus 24:23; Numbers 5:2-3; Numbers 12:14-15; Numbers 15:32-36; Numbers 31:19; Numbers 31:24; Deuteronomy 23:10-11; Deuteronomy 23:13-14). This did not include temporary uncleanness which could be coped with by staying in their tents. But the camp had to be kept ritually ‘clean’. This was, however, a lower level of holiness.
But in contrast, anything more positively holy had to be dealt with in the Tabernacle precincts (e.g. Leviticus 6:16; Leviticus 6:26), while it would seem that anything excessively holy had to be dealt with outside the camp in a clean place. This last is why the total remains of sin offerings for the whole community and for the priests had to be burned outside the camp in a clean place, in contrast with the remains of the lesser sin offerings which were dealt with in the tabernacle area. Because they represented the whole of Israel or God’s anointed priests the former were seen as excessively holy (Leviticus 16:27; Leviticus 4:12; Leviticus 4:21; Leviticus 8:17; Leviticus 9:11; Exodus 29:34). The remains of other sin offerings could be burned within the tabernacle.
The red heifer also was slain outside the camp and the ashes of the heifer, which were to be used for preparing the water of purification, must be kept in ‘a clean place’ outside the camp (Numbers 19:9). We must presume that its presence in the camp would defile the ashes, or alternately that the presence of these holy ashes in the camp would make it dangerous for men and women to walk there lest they approach too close to the ashes. How the clean place was made clean we are not told. A further possibility is that the ashes were not allowed within the tabernacle and the camp because they were for dealing with the taint of death. Whichever it was, the fact that they were to be stored in ‘a clean place’ emphasises their holiness.
Furthermore anything that was ‘devoted’ to the Lord had to be burned outside the camp, and thereby God received it (Joshua 7:24-25).
The Tent of Meeting where Moses met with God prior to the erecting of the tabernacle was also sited outside the camp ‘afar off’ (Exodus 33:7-11). There he met with God ‘face to face’. It must not be contaminated by the camp. This was, however, followed by the tabernacle which was ‘in the midst of the camp, once they had been received as His people (although it took time to make). But then it was surrounded by the sub-camps of the twelve tribes, with a special enclave within the camp which was especially holy, in which the tabernacle stood, surrounded by the Levite camp (Numbers 2:17).
When God gave the covenant which included the ten commandments the people were called from the camp to hear it and God gave it from Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:17).
So we may conclude that the camp was modestly holy, the precincts of the tabernacle were truly holy, and outside the camp was divided into clean places for what was excessively holy, and other places which could swallow up what was unclean. And it was there that the One Who was excessively holy was met with.
End of note.
Thus in the same way as the sin offerings for the priests and for the community were seen as excessively holy, and had to be dealt with outside the camp, so the One of Whom we partake is also seen as so excessively holy in that He also had to be offered outside the camp, with His sacrificed body also being dealt with ‘outside the camp’, that is outside ‘the gate’ of Jerusalem (this description is clearly of the site where He was crucified for that was where He ‘suffered’). In His case the offering also took place there, and that could be allowed because it was not to be tied to tabernacle/temple ritual, but was offered by Himself as of a different priesthood and was uniquely holy. His offering of Himself was thus both uniquely holy, and offered by a unique High Priest. This demonstrated that according to the Jerusalemite ritual the worshippers under that ritual were unable to partake of it. Unless they came ‘outside the camp’ they could have no part in it. And this was because it was of a type which was of such holiness that it was forbidden.
For, as we have already noted, ‘the camp’ (now Jerusalem) could never retain what was exceptionally holy. The camp was too secular. It was not therefore a fit place for God’s supreme holiness, and for the Holy One of God. And as we have seen this was evidenced by their own ritual. So when they sent Him out to be cursed, although they did not realise it they were paradoxically revealing His exceptional holiness, and even more drawing attention to the fact that the way to God could not be fully open for the people who still looked to Jerusalem, because their sacrifices could not make them perfect (Hebrews 9:9-10; Hebrews 10:1-3). Their sacrifices were not effective to fully cleanse and make fully holy. Thus they could not cope with God’s holiness. That is why, says the writer, Jesus suffered outside the camp, outside physical Jerusalem, because He was so holy, too holy for a ‘camp’ where the offerings were not sufficiently effective.
Of course the Jews stated that it was because He was accursed. They had sent Him to die outside Jerusalem as a judgment on Him. What they had failed to realise was that it was a judgment on themselves. For the real reason that it had happened in God’s eyes was that it was Jerusalem that was accursed, and that He was too holy for Jerusalem and what it represented. That was why He died outside the camp. It was another sign of Jerusalem’s rejection.
And it is because of this unique holiness that He is able to offer His full holiness to His people, that He is able to sanctify them, making them holy in God’s eyes, and making them fitted to meet God through His blood (Hebrews 10:10; Hebrews 10:14). And it is also the reason why they are able actually to spiritually partake of Him in spite of the fact that He is the sin offering for the sins of the world. Such an offering was, under the Law, something so holy that it was beyond being partaken of even by the levitical priesthood itself, but those who have come to Him have through Him a superior holiness and can actually know Him and touch Him and participate in Him spiritually as He now is in Heaven. Such is the efficacy of His sin offering that because of its effectiveness those who receive atonement by it can also eat of it because they have been made sufficiently holy. They, through Christ, are thus of an equal level of holiness to His offering of Himself and unlike the levitical priests can freely partake of Him.
‘Let us therefore go forth to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach.’
Here then we are faced with the grand paradox. He was sent out of Jerusalem by the Jews as a reproach, just as the reproach of Israel was to fall on the great Servant of Yahweh (Isaiah 53:0). He was sent out to be cursed for being a blasphemer and irreligious. And yet by being thus sent out He was revealed to all but the prejudiced as truly and exceptionally holy. In the same way those who would follow Him must be willing to bear the same reproach, that they too might partake in His holiness. They too must be willing to suffer at the hands of His rejecters. For that is what will demonstrate their holiness.
As with the Servant and as with Jesus they will then find the tables turned. The Servant’s reproach resulted in His triumph after dying for sin so that he could sprinkle many nations and make many to be accounted righteous (Isaiah 52:13-15; Isaiah 53:3-5; Isaiah 53:10-12). And in the same way the reproach on Jesus has revealed his exceptional holiness, has brought about His sacrifice for the sins of the whole world outside the camp, has raised Him in triumph, and has made possible man’s acceptability to God on that basis, if they will but trust in Him. He will thus ‘make many to be accounted righteous’ having borne their transgressions (Isaiah 53:11). He will make them exceptionally holy in God’s eyes.
This being so, if we would be holy as He is holy, we too must go outside the camp, we must go forth boldly to Him, sharing the reproach that He suffered. We must turn our backs on the camp. We must willingly turn our back to the smiters and hide not our face from shame and spitting (Isaiah 50:6). And this will be a divine necessity, for the truth is that if we are made holy by Him we will be too holy for ‘the camp’, and those in the camp, and they will not be able to bear such a thought and will persecute us.
So while those of Jerusalem sent Him outside the camp because they thought that He was unfit, yes, even accursed, and continued to pour reproach and even persecution on His followers, they did so because they had failed to recognise Him as the sacrifice and sin offering which was for the sins of the world (in spite of Isaiah 53:10 and John 1:29). But God sent Him outside the camp so that His perfect holiness and adequacy as a perfect sin offering might be revealed, and that He was so holy that the camp could not contain Him, and to demonstrate the unworthiness of Jerusalem.
What is more in their hearts, had they been willing to admit it, even the Judaisers knew that that was the real reason that they had turned Him out, for, as the tradition (the Gospels) reveals, they had hated Him for being too good. It was precisely because they could not bear His purity and His closeness to God that they had done it. In the same way as they had, long before, remained in the camp of Israel and had let Moses deal with God outside the camp on the Mount, because God was too holy and they could not bear it, so now they had remained in the camp of Israel, in Jerusalem, and had left Jesus to deal with God ‘outside the camp’, because they could not bear His holiness. This time they had not outwardly fully known what they were doing, but God knew, and they knew underneath as the very ferocity of their persecution revealed. The truth is that His rejection was because He was too holy and they were not holy enough. Yet had they only but been willing to see it, they would have recognised that everything of ultimate value had to happen ‘outside the camp’, as it always had, because they and the camp were unfit.
And the final lesson that sprang from this was that if his readers wanted to enjoy true holiness it would not be by returning to Jerusalem as a religious centre, (let Jerusalem lovers take note), but by turning their backs finally on Jerusalem as a religious centre and coming to Him, outside the camp, sharing His glorious reproach (compare Hebrews 11:26).
And paradoxically the very cause that turned the Judaisers against Him is the very reason that we can be redeemed through Him. It is because He was made a curse for us that He can save us. And by our becoming one with Him our curse is taken by Him, and we participate in His awful holiness. That is why Jerusalem as a religious centre now holds nothing for those who participate in Jesus Christ, and never can do so again. Eternal redemption has been accomplished outside the camp, and there alone.
‘For we do not have here an abiding city, but we seek after the coming city.’
So our eyes are not to be on the earthly Jerusalem. It had become a rejected and defiled city, a corrupt city (Revelation 11:8), a city which would not abide and would indeed shortly to be destroyed. For Christian’s do not have here an abiding city. Jerusalem as a religious centre is now not for God’s people. Indeed we do not want a city bound to earth at all. We have left that city and rather seek that city which is to come, the Jerusalem above (Hebrews 12:22; Galatians 4:26), that city that we can ‘come to’ even now (Hebrews 12:22), which represents all the true people of God, the city which is at present unseen to naked eye (although visible to the spiritual eye), but whose full glory will be revealed in the future, the new heavenly Jerusalem which has no part in this world except as in Christ it has as some of its citizens true believers who are still temporarily lodging here, but as citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem (Philippians 3:20). There is now no future for earthly cities in the final purposes of God.
‘Through him then let us offer up a sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of lips which make confession to his name.’
Therefore now when we wish to offer up a sacrifice to God we must do it through Him. For it is there, outside the camp that we can fulfil our priestly service, being as it is outside the old order priesthood and having no connection with it. There we can offer up a sacrifice to God continually, a sacrifice of praise, through Him. We are not earthly priests, offering earthly sacrifices. Legally we could not do that. But what we offer is a heavenly sacrifice, the fruit of our lips, ‘making confession to His name’, declaring ourselves to be His, and proclaiming Him to men. This is a sweet savour to God.
‘But to do good and to fellowship together forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.’
And along with this we are not to forget to ‘offer our sacrifices’ by continually doing good, and by having fellowship one with another continually, communicating with each other, sharing with each other, encouraging one another and exhorting one another. These are to be our offerings to God, knowing that with such sacrifices God is well pleased.
‘Obey those who have the rule over you, and submit to them, for they watch in behalf of your souls, as they who will give account; that they may do this with joy, and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.’
He stresses firstly that they, like all those who are in churches with godly oversight, as he knew his readers were, should be careful to obey those who have the rule over them and to submit to them and to their teaching and guidance. For he knows personally that they are such as are aware that they will have to give account, and are therefore trustworthy. And his yearning is that those leaders may be able to give account with joy because of the success of their efforts, and this not just for their own sakes, but because not to have cause to rejoice would be to the detriment of those for whom they were responsible.
These words, he assures them, arise not because of his concern for the leaders, but because he knows that for this not to happen will be unprofitable to them. It would mean that the leaders had failed in their responsibility, and that their flock had suffered, which would be profitable neither for them or for the flock.
However we must remember, especially in these days, that the leaders themselves have to be tested by their own behaviour. Jesus had said, "You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you: but whoever would be great among you must be your servant" (Mark 10:42-43). He was thus pointing out that such leaders can be tested out, and should be so. He was pointing out that the test of the truly great man of God is found in his humility as expressed at all times towards all (not just in an acted out scenario to some) and especially towards the lowliest. Once a minister becomes too conscious of his own authority he loses the right to that authority. It is only to those who clearly live showing that they know they must give account, and who live in true humility, that submission can be expected. It is God-given only to them.
Final Exhortation and A Prayer For His Readers (Hebrews 13:17-22 ).
So having finally made the great divide between Jerusalem and all that it had come to stand for, and Christianity with its whole concern centred on Christ, the writer closes his letter with personal exhortations and assurance. Rather than looking to Jerusalem they are to obey those who are true servants of Jesus Christ who are appointed to watch over their spiritual welfare. And he requests in true Pauline fashion that they pray for him and his fellow-workers, especially so that he might be restored to them. For he is confident that God on His part will make them perfect in every good thing to do His will, working in them that which is well pleasing in His sight.
‘Pray for us: for we are persuaded that we have a good conscience, desiring to live honourably in all things. And I exhort you the more exceedingly to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner.’
He then asks prayer for himself and his fellow-workers. He does so on the grounds that their conscience is right towards God in all that they do, and that their aim in life is truly to live honourably before God in everything. They are living as they require of others. Thus they are worthy to be prayed for, that their ministry may be successful.
And one reason why he asks this with a greater urgency is so that he might be restored to them the sooner. This may suggest that he is under some restraint such as prison, which he expects to be of limited duration, possibly affected by their prayers, or it may suggest that he has a work to do for God which he cannot leave until it is firmly established. Either way he wants them to know that he desires to come to them, and would do so were it not for circumstances and the will of God. They are clearly very dear to him, and he wants them to know of his eagerness to see them.
‘Now the God of peace, who brought again from the dead the great shepherd of the sheep with the blood of an eternal covenant, even our Lord Jesus, make you perfect in every good thing to do his will, working in us that which is well-pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.’
He then reciprocates by praying for them. His prayer summarises briefly all that he has been saying as he prays that it will be fully effective in them. By this he reveals that in the end, the responsibility for their perseverance lies, if they are truly His, with God.
He prays to ‘the God of peace’. This is the God Who has made it possible for them to find peace with Him ( Rom 5:1 ; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; 2 Corinthians 5:19-20), and Who Himself can bring peace to their hearts in their present period of doubting (Hebrews 12:11; Philippians 4:7; 2 Thessalonians 3:16; Galatians 5:22; Ephesians 6:23; Philippians 4:9). He is the One Who has made peace between Jew and Gentile through the cross of Jesus making them both one as His people (Ephesians 2:11-22), and He is the One Who makes life in this world one that is surrounded by peace for His own, as they dwell within God’s heavenly camp which has replaced for them the earthly camp (Revelation 20:9). They live in the spiritual realm, in heavenly places even while they walk on earth (Ephesians 2:6; Philippians 3:20), for their hearts and minds are in Heaven (Colossians 3:1-3).
The writer then describes what the God of peace has done for us. He has ‘brought again from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep with the blood of an eternal covenant, even our Lord Jesus’. Remarkably this is the first specific reference to the resurrection in the letter, although it is everywhere else assumed, for otherwise He could not have sat down at God’s right hand (Hebrews 1:3; Hebrews 8:1; Hebrews 10:12), nor could He have passed through the heavens as our great High Priest into the presence of God (Hebrews 4:14; Hebrews 9:12; Hebrews 9:24). The description is splendid. The Great Shepherd is brought forth from the dead bearing the blood of an eternal covenant. And those who look to Him enter within that covenant, and are sealed by His blood.
‘The Great Shepherd of the sheep.’ This is the One Who had been promised and had now come. He is the shepherd of the house of David (Ezekiel 37:24) Who will bring about the everlasting kingdom (Ezekiel 37:25-28). This picture is a common one for describing God’s deliverance in the Old Testament. It is used of Moses who is described in an almost similar way as ‘the shepherd of the sheep’ in Isaiah 63:11 LXX where the question is asked, ‘Where is He who brought up from the sea the shepherd of the sheep? Where is He who put his Holy Spirit in them?’. There too the shepherd was ‘brought up’ and delivered from death, in his case from the sea, and as a result God’s people were delivered through the power and working of His Holy Spirit. Now the greater than Moses has been brought again from the dead, to work an even greater deliverance
Moses himself also recognised from the beginning that once he had gone the people would require another Spirit inspired shepherd, and, when he called on God, the shepherd whom God gave was Joshua (Numbers 27:16-18). So the Shepherd was associated with the deliverance of the Exodus.
But later the future Israel would wander from God and be described as being like sheep without a shepherd (1 Kings 22:17), and yet each true Israelite would still be able to say, ‘the Lord is my shepherd’ (Psalms 23:1), because God would always be faithful to the few who believed in Him truly. Then in Psalms 80:1 the Psalmist pleaded with God ‘Who dwells between the Cherubim’ to be the shepherd of His people in their distress and need, and in Isaiah we learn that God heard his prayer and, with His coming deliverance in view, declared that He would indeed feed his flock like a shepherd, He would gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and would gently lead those who were with young (Isaiah 40:11). This thought was continued and expanded in Ezekiel 34:23 where He promised, ‘And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he will feed them, even my servant David. He will feed them, and He will be their shepherd,’ and again in Ezekiel 37:24 where He promised, ‘And David my servant will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd, and they will also walk in my judgments, and observe my statutes, and do them.’ The coming one of the house of David would come and put all to rights, causing His people to walk in God’s ways.
So the idea of the Messiah as the Great Shepherd empowering men and women, and working within them His will, is based firmly on Old Testament promises about the Shepherd. Here is a greater than Moses and Joshua, yes, He is like God Himself. For He is the coming David Who will be their King under the Kingly Rule of God. Here is the grand fulfilment of all God’s shepherd promises. And they are fulfilled in Jesus (‘even our Lord Jesus’). It is also based on His own revelation of what He had come to do as the Good Shepherd Who would lay down His life for the sheep, and had power to take it again (John 10:11; John 10:15; John 10:17-18), a picture also added to by Peter who describes Him as the Chief Shepherd Who will one day appear and will bring for those who are His, those who are faithful under-shepherds, an unfading crown of glory (1 Peter 5:4).
But the Shepherd of Whom the writer speaks has been dead. He had been rejected and put to death. As we have learned earlier He ‘tasted death for every man’ (Hebrews 2:9) and offered Himself for our sins (Hebrews 9:12-14; Hebrews 10:12). This draws attention to another strand of Old Testament prophecy about the Shepherd. While Isaiah 53:0 does not speak of a shepherd, it does speak of the people as sheep (Hebrews 13:6), and of the One Who will rescue the sheep by suffering and dying on their behalf. And this is brought more into the open by the words of Zechariah where ‘My Shepherd’, the shepherd who is ‘God’s associate’ (‘My fellow’), is mentioned as being smitten (Zechariah 13:7). Before God’s final ends are achieved, His Shepherd had to be be smitten and His sheep scattered. Furthermore Zechariah also speaks of the ‘blood of the covenant’ which is associated with deliverance and is found in Zechariah 9:11 LXX, ‘And you by the blood of your covenant have sent forth your prisoners out of the pit that has no water,’ associated with the coming of the Messianic King Who will obtain worldwide dominion (Zechariah 9:9-10). So here we have the scenario that the One Who would come as a King to Zion bringing deliverance and obtaining worldwide dominion (Zechariah 9:9-10), and would deliver prisoners from hopelessness through the blood of the covenant (Zechariah 9:11), is also connected with the Shepherd who will be smitten, God’s fellow (Zechariah 13:7).
The two aspects of the shepherd are brought together here in Hebrews 13:0. Here is the great Shepherd of the sheep, but He has clearly been smitten for He has to be raised again. But now has God triumphantly raised Him from the dead. And this bringing again from the dead of the great Shepherd of the sheep will result in the Shepherd being able to perform His great work of making them perfect within and transforming their hearts to do the will of God (compare Hebrews 2:10-11), as had been promised in the new covenant (Hebrews 8:10-11). He will carry them in His arms and tenderly lead those who are with young.
‘Brought again from the dead.’ In this Great Shepherd, slain and brought again from the dead, the power of death has been defeated, and so for the first time everyone who dies in Christ, all who are His sheep, can expect to be raised from the grave with Him in all the fullness of what He is and of what He can be, in order for them to live eternally. Here was full release from death, first to Him Who was perfect and representative Man, and secondly as a foretaste of what would one day be true for all who are His. Through Him the power of death was broken for ever (Hebrews 2:14-15). Death was swallowed up in victory (Isaiah 25:8).
‘Even our Lord Jesus.’ He clearly identifies Who the Great Shepherd is. He is ‘our Lord, Jesus’. As ‘our Lord’ He is the One to Whom we look for deliverance and protection, Whom we follow and obey. He is seen as identified with Yahweh, ‘the Lord’ of the Old Testament. Though others may turn from Him He is ‘our Lord’. And this Lord is Jesus, the One Who suffered for us, and rose again, and is even now at God’s right hand making intercession for us.
‘With the blood of an eternal covenant.’ The raising of ‘our Lord Jesus’ from the dead, having borne our sin, was brought about through the blood shed by Him in sacrifice, by which the eternal covenant was sealed. It is through His blood that the covenant is made sure for His elect (see Hebrews 8:10; Hebrews 9:15-20; Hebrews 10:16-18; Hebrews 12:24), and through that covenant He Himself is raised and offers the forgiveness of sins. He comes forth bearing the covenant sealed in His blood and will deliver His people from the prison pit that has no water (Zechariah 9:11 LXX). Thus He could Himself refer to ‘My blood of the covenant which is shed for many for the remission of sins’ at the Last Supper (Matthew 26:28).
‘Make you perfect in every good thing to do his will, working in us that which is well-pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ.’ And this is the work of the Great Shepherd as appointed by the Father, to safely lead and guide His flock, making them perfect in doing the will of God (Philippians 2:13), and working within them to make them well-pleasing in the sight of God. Note the perfection of His handywork. He will not cease His work until perfection has been achieved in everything. He is the potter and we are the clay, and He will fashion us with His hands. If we break in the making He will make us again (Jeremiah 18:4). Thus will He confirm us to the end. He is faithful that promised (1 Corinthians 1:8-9).
Last Thoughts (Hebrews 13:22-25 ).
‘But I exhort you, brethren, bear with the word of exhortation, for I have written to you in few words.
In these last thoughts he asks his readers, his ‘brothers and sisters’, to bear with his words. He knows that he has spoken strongly, but he insists that he could have written a lot more. ‘The word of exhortation’ aptly describes the main purpose of the letter which has been a mixture of theology and practical application and warning. Now he wants to ensure with this personal word that they will not take it amiss. As all the way through, he wants them to be aware of the confidence he has in them. The mention of ‘few words’ may simply be a device for trying to make them feel that his letter was not so long as it had appeared after all.
‘Know that our brother Timothy has been set at liberty; with whom, if he come shortly, I will see you.’
This may indicate a personal note added at the end of the letter, commencing here in true Pauline fashion as though he had taken up his pen himself. It is clear that Timothy had recently been in prison but has now been released, and that he expects to meet up with him, and then come to see them. This might be seen as supporting Pauline authorship, but it could equally refer to one of his band of fellow-workers who along with Timothy and others is carrying on Paul’s work. It could, for example, be seen as supporting Lucan authorship.
‘Salute all those who have the rule over you, and all the saints. They of Italy salute you.’
He then calls on them to pass his greetings on to the leadership of their church, and all the other Christians who are there. This would seem to confirm that he is writing to a group within that church, possibly a house group or a special interest group, for he wants his greeting passed on to ‘all the saints’, all God’s people in that area.
‘They of Italy salute you.’ Paul regularly passed on greetings from those whom he was with, and no doubt his fellow-workers, especially those who worked as his emanuenses (personal secretaries), had also learned the habit from him. This might suggest that he was writing from Italy. But it may equally signify ‘those who come from Italy’, that is, possibly, those who have brought him news of this group of people and their troubles, having arrived from Italy to where the writer was to be found.
‘Grace be with you all. Amen.’
With a final flourish he prays that God’s gracious and unmerited activity will be with them all. The words could again easily be Paul’s or those of his trusted companions. Thus can he say his ‘Amen’.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Hebrews 13". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29