Thursday, February 22, 2018

9. Persist in Faith (10:19-11:40)

III. The Application (10:19-12:29)
A. You Need Endurance (10:19-39)
  • 10:19-25 is a hinge paragraph which corresponds to 4:14-16. They both have at their core the exhortation to "hold fast to the confession" and to approach God with confidence on the basis of Christ's priestly work.
  • 10:20. This verse is a clear indication that much of the author's heavenly sanctuary imagery is metaphorical in nature. Grammatically, the veil here is most likely Christ's flesh. The author is not thinking of Christ's flesh as an obstacle but as the entrance to the heavenly Holy of Holies.
  • 10:22. Our hearts have been sprinkled from an evil conscience. That is, our sins have been cleansed by the blood of Christ. We have no more consciousness of their existence. Our bodies have been baptized.
  • 10:24. Believers should spur each other on "to love and good works."  
  • 10:25. This is the central preaching text on the need to go to church. We meet together to encourage each other to keep going.
  • 10:26-31. This is the second warning passage in Hebrews urging the audience not to turn away from Christ. 
  • 10:26. Intentional sinning, in a sense, "uses up" the sacrifice of Christ. None is left for you because you have exhausted it. Coming to Christ is once again related to getting a certain knowledge ("enlightened," 6:4).
  • 10:27. The prospect of those who turn from God face the same future as those who never turned to him--the prospect of fire. Those whom God judges are considered here his enemies (cf. 10:13).
  • 10:28-29. These verses are again somewhat surprising to Christians. Unlike John who pits law against grace, Hebrews makes a lesser to greater argument--if the punishment under Moses was bad, how much worse will the punishment be for those who despise the Son of God?
  • There is holiness and honor-shame language here: "despising," "insulting" the Spirit of grace, "considering common the blood by which sanctified."
  • 10:30-31. The judgment of God is evoked, including the classic text from which Jonathan Edwards preached the famous sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God."
  • 10:32-39. This is yet another passage that gives us insight into the past of the audience (cf. 6:10-11). 
  • 10:32-34. In the past, they went through a time of suffering. They were publicly shamed or were associated with those who were. Given 13:7, it seems possible that some of their leaders were martyred during that crisis. If the audience is at Rome, certainly the persecution of 64 under Nero comes to mind. Peter and Paul were also martyred at Rome under Nero, although not necessarily in conjunction with that persecution.
  • 10:34. They had association with prisoners. Peter and Paul come to mind. Prisoners needed external support to survive in jail. The plundering of their property has sometimes been connected with the Claudian expulsion of 49, although it seems like we should pick between Nero and Claudius.
  • The better and remaining possession is of course the heavenly homeland of Hebrews 11:16.
  • 10:35-39. "Therefore" suggests these verses are what the audience should now do. Here is the application. They have done admirably in the past, so they should resolve to endure now. They should not throw away their confidence.
  • The exhortation to endure, to have faith, to have confidence is the primary exhortation of Hebrews. Hebrews never tells the audience, "Don't go to the temple," "Don't offer sacrifices." Perhaps the temple is not even standing. The exhortation is rather positive--keep going!
  • 10:36. Another reminder of God's promises (cf. Heb 6).
  • 10:37-38. The author quotes/paraphrases Habakkuk 2:3-4. This is of course a key Pauline text (Rom. 1:17). Hebrews uses it a little differently than Paul does. He was building a case for justification by faith. Hebrews is talking about continuance in faithfulness.
  • 10:39. The author has confidence that the audience will not shrink back. They are people of faith, people who keep going to preserve their souls.
B. Witnesses of Faith (11:1-40)
  • This is the faith chapter of the Bible! It is not just a chapter out of the blue. It fits entirely into the flow of Hebrews. You need endurance, 10:36 says. Seeing these witnesses, keep running, Hebrews 12:1-2 say. They need faith.
  • So the examples of faith are examples meant to encourage the audience to have faith. All of the different examples speak to the audience's need to have faith or continue in faith. They fall into a number of categories: 1) faith in what you can't see, 2) faith in God's promises, 3) faith in the right kind of sacrifice, 4) faith despite evil rulers, and 5) faith in rescue and resurrection.
  • 11:1-3. 11:1 is not so much a definition of faith as a description of it with a special view to the situation of Hebrews. "Faith is the substance of things hoped for." This statement relates to the temporal, horizontal dimension of believing now something that has not yet happened. "Faith is the evidence of things not seen." This could also relate to the future, but might also relate to the vertical dimension of faith--seeing the heavenly beyond the earthly.
  • 11:2 forms an inclusio with 11:39. Both have the statement, "were witnessed." This chapter thus forms a unit of thought. Witnessing is a minor theme in Hebrews, the verb appearing 8 times.
  • 11:3 falls in the category of faith in what you cannot see. The worlds were "knit" out of things that do not appear. The visible was created out of what was invisible. It is not clear whether the author had creation out of nothing in view, although this is how we Christians read the verse today.
  • 11:4-7. Abel, Enoch, and Noah are mentioned in this paragraph. Abel is an example of offering the right kind of sacrifice with faith. So the audience should trust in Christ's sacrifice.
  • 11:5. Enoch did not experience death because of his faith. So it is possible the audience will be rescued from death, perhaps by being taken to heaven.
  • 11:6 is a general statement that is a major take-away for the audience from the chapter: "Without faith, it is impossible to please God." The audience therefore needs to continue in faith. They need to believe that God will keep his promises, no matter what things may look like at present.
  • 11:7. Noah believed in the promises of God even though they were unseen in the future. 
  • The mention of "righteousness by faith" again confirms that the author of Hebrews stands in some relation to the Pauline circle.
  • 11:8-22. These paragraphs relate to the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.
  • 11:8-12. Abraham was called toward a land of promise, which his heirs were to inherit. He went in faith. The theme of alienation is present in this paragraph and the next. The audience is in a homeland that proves not to be their own. 
  • Abraham was looking forward to a city built by God. We find out soon that this is a heavenly city (11:16). It seems that Hebrews is alluding to some earthly city here that the audience must leave metaphorically, must come to realize is not truly their city. More on this in a moment. He was in the land but not of the land.
  • 11:11-12 talks about how Sarah conceived even though she was beyond the age of procreation. This falls in the category of God bringing back from the dead.
  • 11:13-16. The author pauses in the middle of his examples to reflect on the heroes of faith thus far. They died without receiving the promises. Such might be the case for the audience. They were foreigners on the earth--as the audience truly is. Their homeland is not on earth but in heaven. So the audience must not think that Jerusalem or Rome on earth is their true homeland. If Jerusalem is destroyed, it was never truly their home. God himself has prepared a city in heaven.
  • 11:17-22. Now the author resumes the examples of the patriarchs. Most of the illustrations in this paragraph have to do with coming back from the dead.
  • 11:17-19. Abraham had faith when he offered up Isaac, believing that God could bring him back from the dead. Abraham believed God's promises, as the audience should.
  • 11:20-22. All of these patriarchs believed that God would fulfill his promises even after their deaths. Isaac believed in the future of Jacob and Esau. Jacob believed that God would bless Joseph. Joseph believed Israel would enter the land again after his death. So the audience need not fear death. God would raise them.
  • 11:23-28. This paragraph moves on to Moses.
  • 11:23. In the category of not fearing the king (=Roman emperor), Moses' parents hid him.
  • 11:24-26. Moses chose to suffer with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a time. So the audience should not hide while God's people are being persecuted.
  • There are advantages to going along with evil powers when they are persecuting others and you are not yet the target. I think of the famous quote from Martin Niemöller: "First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me."
  • 11:27. Again, Moses left Egypt not fearing the king's anger. He was looking toward the invisible. So the audience should not fear the Roman emperor's anger. They should have faith in the invisible.
  • The timing of 11:27 is contested. The Passover is mentioned next, but it was after Moses fled the first time, out of fear. 11:27 sounds more like the exodus.
  • 11:28 may be another allusion to the better blood of Christ. And those who participate in Christ's blood need not fear the judgment either.
  • 11:29-31. The author takes the audience to the entrance into Canaan with crossing the Red Sea, the walls of Jericho, and Rahab. 
  • 11:29. If the Egyptians are a cipher for the Romans, the audience is being told not to worry in the face of persecution. 
  • 11:30. God sometimes chooses to destroy enemies like the Romans, as happened with Jericho. 
  • 11:31. Rahab could represent Roman Christians in Rome who hide Jews or those who were in danger because of the destruction of Jerusalem.
  • 11:32-38. The author now stops individual examples and lists by name individuals and types of faithfulness.
  • 11:32. The masculine singular participle here suggests that the author is male.
  • 11:32-34. Most of these examples come from Judges and the books of Samuel, although Daniel is the one whose faith shut the mouths of lions. 
  • Sometimes God delivers now. Sometimes he delivers from death. That is a key message in these verses.
  • 11:35. The first example is probably the son of the Shunammite woman in 1 Kings 4. The second mother trusting in the resurrection of her sons may be an allusion to 2 Maccabees 7.
  • 11:37. There is a tradition that Isaiah was sawed in half (a work called Martyrdom of Isaiah). Is being stoned to death an allusion to Stephen? The apostle James was killed by the sword. 
  • 11:38. Is this an allusion to Elijah?
  • 11:39-40. None of these received the promise because it was not possible until Jesus died and rose from the dead. Only then was perfection of the conscience possible. So they were commended for their faith (remember the inclusio with 11:2) but did not receive the promise.
  • 11:40. Now that Christ has done his high priestly work, both the examples of the past and the audience in the present can be made perfect. All the rainchecks of the sacrifices of the past are now cashed in.

I. Sermon Introduction (1:1-2:18)
     A. Exordium (1:1-4)
     B. Celebration of the Enthroned Son (1:5-14)
     C. Background of Salvation (2:1-18)

II. The Argument (3:1-10:18)
     A. Enter into God's Rest (3:1-4:13)

     B. The High Priestly Argument (4:14-10:18)
          1. A Superior Priest (4:14-7:28)
               a. Hold Fast (4:14-16)
               b. Appointed High Priest (5:1-10)
               c. Central Exhortation (5:11-6:20)
               d. The Order of Melchizedek (7:1-28)
               e. Superior Sanctuary and Sacrifice (8:1-10:18)

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