Continued from Thursday
Much of Hebrews is devoted to building its audience's confidence in Christ, whether in Rome or wherever this sermon was sent. They can trust in his atonement. Whatever the cause of their worry--whether the destruction of the temple, expulsion from the synagogue, or something else--the author makes a brilliant case that Christ's death has made any earthly means of atonement irrelevant. They have a reason to be confident, a solid footing on which to stand.
Accordingly, the last few chapters play out the need for this congregation or community to continue on in faithfulness. The theme was always there in the sermon. In the first few chapters of the sermon, Hebrews has regularly interrupted its argument to remind the audience what the bottom line was--they needed to keep going in faith. If the argument about Jesus as high priest bolstered their confidence, the author's interruptions in the early part of the sermon warned them of the consequences of disregarding God's command.
Hebrews 1 began with a celebration of Jesus' enthronement as cosmic king at God's right hand. He had received a name that they did not have, the name, "Son of God" (1:5). Jesus was God's king, God's Lord of the universe. By contrast, even the angels were nothing. They were just servants in God's house (1:14). Their role with humanity was passing, like a flame of fire (1:7). They were our ministers in the lead up to final salvation.
But now final salvation has begun with Christ. Hebrews warns the audience that if those who disregarded God's word under Moses faced severe punishment, then imagine what awaits those who choose to ignore the covenant of the far superior Christ (2:1-4)! This is another thread that runs throughout Hebrews, a warning of the consequences of turning away from Jesus after starting on the journey.
For example, when we get to Hebrews 3, the author begins as he did with the angels, except this time, he looks at Moses. The angels brought the old covenant to Moses (2:2). But Moses was the one that delivered the Law to Israel. Moses was perhaps the greatest Israelite of all time in the Jewish mind.
And yet, again, Moses was just a servant in God's house (3:5), just as the angels were. Jesus was a Son, in fact the Son of God. If it was serious to disregard the first covenant, it is far more serious to disregard the second.
The rest of Hebrews 3 emphatically makes this point. The Israelites had left Egypt (3:16). But they did not finish the journey. Their corpses fell in the desert because of their lack of faith (3:17-19).
The point to the audience was obvious. They had started well. They had a history of faithfulness even under persecution. But it wasn't enough to start well. They were in danger of not making it to the Promised Land because they were wavering in their faith.
The audience need to keep going so that they might finally enter God's rest (4:11). On the one hand, the God's rest is something we enter every day (3:13; 4:7). But the most important entrance is the final one, the one that ultimately counts. The audience, as us, needs to be careful not to miss it (4:1)! ...