About Jesus - Steve Sweetman
Concluding Exhortations (ch.13:1-25)
have now come to the last chapter of the letter to the Hebrews.
The author gives a number of exhortations to his readers as he ends
his letter, exhortations that can easily apply to any Christian in
history, and really, should be taken seriously by any Christian in
1 begins by saying that we need to continue to love each other as
brothers. The Greek word
"philos" is translated as "love" in this verse.
It is a brotherly type love and thus the reason to love as
brothers. Philos is a
reciprocal type love, as in, I love you and you love me. Also, the Greek
verb tense used here is a present active imperative verb.
This means that this is a command.
Loving one's brother and sister in Christ is not an option.
2 tells us not to forget to entertain strangers, because by so doing, you
might be entertaining an angel without knowing it.
The Greek word translated as "entertain strangers" is
best translated as "love strangers" because the word
incorporates the Greek word "philos" that I mentioned in the
what the reference to angels specifically means here I'm not sure at the
moment. At face value, and
according to the English text, it appears that Christians might well be
visited by angels and not know it. I
know that some have given testimony to this kind of thing but unless the
testimony can be proven correct, it is hard to say that such a visitation
actually took place.
of the above said about angels, when we read the word "angels"
in verse 2 we think of spirit beings in the heavenly world, but this might
not be the case. The Greek
word translated as "angel" in the New Testament simply means
"a messenger." Therefore,
the context must tell us just what kind of messenger the author is
speaking about. It might well
be a spirit being, or, it might be a human messenger sent by God.
This might well be what the author here had in mind.
verse 3 the author goes on to say that his readers should remember those
who are in prison and those who are being mistreated.
I believe in the context of this letter, that is, to whom it is
specifically written, those in prison and those being mistreated are
Christians who are suffering for the sake of Christ. I realize that some
people take this verse to base a prison ministry on, and I suppose that's
okay, but, I don't believe this is the intent of the author.
Christians today, we need to remember those Christians around the world
that are being persecuted for the sake of Jesus.
This is what the author is telling us when he speaks of remembering
those in prison. I would think
that remembering means more than just praying for these people. It
would include anything that would help make their lives easier. The
words "as if you were their follow prisoners" should tell us
something about how we should care for those suffering for the sake of
Christ. It's the old rule,
"do for others as you would want others to do for you."
verse 4 the author encourages his Hebrew readers to keep their marriages
pure by not committing adultery. Even
in Christian circles this exhortation has to be made. The
divorce rate among Christians today is about the same as it is among
non-Christians, and much of this is because of adultery, not only by men
but also by women. Obviously
many people aren't adhering to this exhortation.
That's probably because we don't read, study, or understands the
Bible as we should these days. Biblical
thinking that transforms a life is a serious issue.
4 says that God will judge the adulterer and all of those who are immoral.
I believe the author is talking about the unsaved adulterer here.
I think he says this to be a warning.
A Christian can find forgiveness and thus cannot be judged.
verse 5 the author speaks to the issue of money.
He encourages his readers to
be free from the love of money and to be content with the things they
have. This exhortation is
probably lost in our modern culture that constantly seeks after more
things to own. Why should we
be content? It is because God
Himself says that He will never leave us or forsake us.Ē
We should be content because we have God Himself, and everything
else should mean little in comparison to Him, but this is not the case in
much of western world Christianity. Western
world thinking about affluence these days has infiltrated the church, not
only on an individual basis but a collective basis as the church.
This is one of the most destructive factors in the modern day
verses 5 and 6 the author quotes from Psalm 118:6 and 7 to support his
thinking on being content. If
we truly have God on in our lives, we know that He will not leave or
forsake us. We know that He is
our helper and so we have nothing to fear.
This would mean something to these people because of their bad
situation that many of them are in. The
temptation would be to give up their faith and just live a worldly life
that in a material sense would make their lives in this present world a
7 is another exhortation. "Remember
your leaders who spoke the Word of God to youÖ"
The important thing to note about this phrase is the word
"leaders." In the
original Greek, this word is a participle, not a noun as the NIV
translates it. A participle is
half noun and half verb. It
puts just as much emphases on the action of leading as it does the office
of a leader. Therefore, the most accurate way of saying this is,
"remember the ones who are leading you."
The words "ones who are leading" is the participle.
Do you see the difference between the word "leaders" and
the words "ones leading"? The
word "leaders" emphasizes the office of a leader.
The words "ones who are leading emphasize the actual work done
by the leaders. That is to say
that we are to remember the ones actually doing the job of leading and,
leading the way God would have them lead.
This is more than a technical point.
Not every leader is actually leading in accordance with Scripture.
Just because someone holds the office of leader does not
necessarily mean that he is actually leading.
This verse is not exhorting us to follow or remember anyone who
holds the office of a leader and does not lead according to Scripture.
This verse is telling us to remember the ones who are actually
doing the job of leading as seen in Scripture.
We will see this thought expanded on later.
the word "leaders" is plural in this verse.
One title for a New Testament church leader is elder.
It always appears in the plural form (elders) in the New Testament.
It is my understanding that the New Testament teaches plurality of
church leadership in the local community of believers. A one man leader,
as far as I see, as we have today, is not New Testament thinking.
One man leadership began near the turn of the first century into
the second century, and it did so to slow down the force of heresy in the
church. The thinking was if
you obey the one leader, there would be unity.
This eventually morphed into Catholicism with the Pope as being the
leader of all the church. At
this point, the priesthood of the believer was pretty much lost in the
writer goes on to say, "consider the outcome of their way of life and
imitate their faith." This
too is important. For the
leaders who are actually leading as he should lead, we should consider the
way they live. Then after
doing this, we should "imitate their faith."
Note that it does not say ďimitate their way of life."
It says imitate their faith, meaning, imitate the way they trust in
Jesus. This point is crucial
because so many times over the centuries Christian leaders, especially the
one man leader, have been dictators. They
want their followers to imitate them and have them follow their commands.
New Testament leaders are servants.
They are not dictators.
verse 8 the author says the following.
"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever."
This verse almost always is taken out of context.
We attach this verse to lots of statements that we make.
For example, we say that Jesus still heals because He is the same
yesterday, today and forever. Look
at the context of this statement. It
is talking about one thing. The
context says that we should remember those leading us and imitate their
faith. Why should we do this?
It is because Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.
If Jesus helped leaders yesterday, He will help us today, and
forever. This phrase is
in the context of remembering those who are leading us in a Scriptural
sense and who are trusting their lives with Jesus.
For if their trust in Jesus proved well for them, so our trust in
Jesus will prove well for us, because Jesus is the same in our day as He
was in our leader's day.
9 begins with, "do not be carried away with all kinds of strange
teaching." It did not
take long in the early church for some to promote strange teaching.
Things have not changed over the centuries.
We have our forms of strange teaching today, as the church always
of the strange teachings in those days was concerning Jewish Law and
tradition. As Paul and the
writer to the Hebrews so clearly points out, the Law has ended with
Christ. Ceremonial washings,
the eating of certain foods, and the like have no place in the Christian
life. Although these things
would not have been strange to the Jews, it was strange to New Testament
Christian doctrine. When the
Judaizers attempted to make both Jewish and Gentile believers become
followers of the Law, which was against the gospel, this was considered
strange teaching. The writer
here says "that our hearts need to be strengthened by grace."
Godís grace is the basis of our existence as Christians.
By this I mean, the twofold nature of grace.
Grace is both unmerited favour and Godís divine ability within us
that enables us to do His will. This
is how we should be strengthened.
10 says that "we have an alter from which those who minister at the
tabernacle have no right to eat."
As Christians we can come to God directly and be in His presence.
The priests of old who still ministered at the temple and various
sanctuaries have no right to partake of this experience.
They cannot partake of Godís presence because they are attempting
to access Him in a way that is no longer acceptable to God.
This is a major statement against the Jewish leadership of the day.
I would suggest that anyone attempting today to come into the presence of
God apart from God's grace that is seen in the cross of Christ would be
considered in the same class of the Jewish priests spoken of here in this
verse 11 the writer goes on to say that in the Old Testament animals were
killed for sacrifices outside of the camp.
Their blood was carried into the
verse 13 the author exhorts the readers to go outside of the camp and
"bare the disgrace that Jesus bore."
What the author is saying here is that we are to be like Jesus.
We, as Jesus commanded us, must go out into the entire world and
preach the gospel of grace to everyone. Understanding
that also like Jesus, we will be disgraced.
Part of living the Christian life as a testimony for Jesus is that
our testimony will not always be accepted.
We will be looked down upon, and if we aren't, it might just be
possible that we are not the testimony to Jesus we ought to be.
14 says that while on earth, as we go outside the camp with the gospel,
"we have no enduring city."
In fact, we look for a heavenly city that is yet to come.
We saw this back in chapter 11.
As Christians we should understand that we are aliens in this
world. We do not belong to
this world because as Jesus said many times, He has taken us out of this
world. We, therefore, should
live distinctly different than those who live in the world around us.
verse 15 the writer exhorts his readers, and us too, "to offer to God
a sacrifice of praise Ė that is the fruit of our lips."
The Greek word translated as praise here means to speak well or
very highly of. There are a
couple of points to be made here.
First of all we should be giving verbal praise to God.
This is part of our lives as worshippers of the Living God.
The word "sacrifice" is used in this context.
Often the giving of praise is a sacrifice on our part because we
may not feel like praising God. We
may not feel like speaking well of Him but we must.
We donít give Him praise because we feel like it.
We praise Him because He is worthy of it, despite our feelings or
our circumstances. Also, this
should be a fruit of our lips. An
apple grows on an apple tree because it is connected to an apple tree
branch. The fruit of an apple
tree naturally grows apples. Giving
praise to God with our lips is a fruit.
It is just something that should be second nature to us.
If this is not the case then we might want to ask, how connected
are we to the tree God has planted us in?
verse 16 there is another sacrifice mentioned.
This sacrifice is sharing with others and doing good.
These kinds of sacrifices are pleasing to God according to the
writer. Of course, the doing
of good can easily be seen as a sacrifice since our natural tendency is to
do good to ourselves and not to others.
17 says to "obey your leaders and submit to their authority."
Once again, as seen earlier, the English noun "leaders"
is actually a participle in the Greek text.
A participle is a half noun and half verb; therefore, this could
read, "obey and submit to the ones leading you."
As I have mentioned, not all leaders who have the title of
"leader" are truly Scriptural leaders. A pastor of a main line
church that conducts gay marriages, for example, is not a truly Biblical
leader, and therefore, we should not obey and submit ourselves to that
leader. We obey and submit to
the ones who are actually doing the job of leading as seen in the Bible.
Just because one holds the office of a leader does not make him a
Biblical leader to be submitted to. As
a matter of fact, the Bible does not view church leadership in terms of an
office but in terms of a function.
leaders do have authority in the church as this verse rightly says.
The question should be asked to what extent can this leader
exercise authority over you. This
has been well debated over the centuries.
There have been extremes in both directions.
We have groups where the leader is a dictator, telling those under
their authority what they can do and canít do, from the least of things
to the greatest of things. Then
we have the opposite extreme in many churches today where the leader has
no right saying anything to anyone, outside of the context of a Sunday
morning sermon. He is merely
an employee of the board of directors.
This is not New Testament thinking.
is my opinion that there should be a healthy balance between us being a
priest of God ourselves, and us obeying an earthly priest or leader.
The intent of the New Testament is that we can come to God on our
own. We do not need a middle
man. Jesus is that for us.
We do not need a human priest to come between us and God.
Therefore, we have the right to choose what we think is Godís
will for our lives, yet, in areas where we are clearly disobeying
Scripture, a leader has the right and the authority to approach us on such
matters, because as this verse says he keep watch over us as one who must
give an account to God. Leaders
have a measure of responsibility to God for us, and how they lead will be
a matter of question when they appear before Jesus some day.
They will give an account someday of how they led God's people.
So, in these matters, the matters of church life and the matters of
obeying Scripture, we need to submit to Scriptural leaders whom God has
placed us under. That being
said, we should not have to ask our leaders if it is okay to buy a new
television, as some have had to do in the past.
Extreme like this is an abuse of authority.
Again, leaders lead by serving, not by dictating.
last phrase in verse 17 tells us that if we obey and submit, we will be
helping our leaders do their job with joy.
In many churches the leaders do not have much joy because of all of
the trouble the people they care for put them through.
Lack of proper respect for leaders, along with backbiting and the
spread of rumors make it difficult for a godly leader to lead.
18 begins the closing remarks of this letter.
The writer is asking for prayer. The writer says that to the best
of his knowledge, he has a clear conscience.
He has tried his best in the ministry God has given him to work it
out in an honourable way. He
has also tried his best in this letter to present the facts of the gospel
of Jesus that these people are considering forsaking.
You can see the heart of the writer here.
It sounds very much like the Apostle Paul, but as I've said before,
I do not believe Paul wrote this letter.
writer has one particular request of prayer, and that is that he will be
"restored to them soon" as seen in verse 19.
Some suggest that the writer, some, not me, say Paul, was in prison
praying for a quick release. We
donít know for sure if this was the case, but it is clear that this man
was unable to be with the people to whom he was writing.
20 and 21 is like a doxology. These
are glorious and lofty words explaining the greatness of God and what He
has done for us. He begins by
saying "may the God of peaceÖ"
God is a God of peace. His
intent is to bring peace between Him and us, between us as brothers and
sisters in the Lord, and eventually bring peace to the universe.
"Through the blood of the eternal covenantÖ" tells us
that this New Covenant will last forever.
This is the one and only true Covenant has no beginning and has no
end. This should tell us for
sure that what has been called the Old Covenant was temporary.
That covenant was not eternal.
The New Covenant was not an afterthought in the mind of God after
Adam and Eve sinned. This
Covenant was in the mind of God before creation.
It is eternal. This
covenant is the covenant that was expressed to and confirmed by God in the
Abrahamic Covenant. We need to
understand the Abrahamic Covenant as being part of God's overall covenant
that existed prior to the creation of earth
was this eternal covenant "that brought back our Lord Jesus from the
dead." It was always in
the mind of God that Jesus would appear in human likeness and die to
reconcile those who trust Him to God.
It was the power of God, demonstrated in this covenant that raised
Jesus from the dead.
is described here "as the great Shepherd of the sheep."
We have many pastors, but Jesus is the Great Pastor in heaven who
is taking care of us. With
this in mind, therefore, the leaders who lead us must lead us knowing that
there is a Divine Leader greater than them. It
is the Lord Jesus Himself, our Great Shepherd, and our Great Pastor.
is this Great Shepherd "who will equip us with everything good for
doing His will." If God
has called us to do something, and He does and He will, He will give us
the ability to do and to be. We
should understand that each and every Christian has a specific will of God
to be accomplished in his life. Without
this understanding a Christian is not living the life Jesus wants him to
live. We have a job to do and
once knowing that job all that is needed to successfully complete the job
is ours from the storehouse in heaven.
again we also see that it is God "who works in us to please
Him." We, outside of
Jesus do not have the ability to please God.
Remember the basis of our pleasing Him is found in our trust we
have with Him. If we reach out
our hands and our arms to Him in response to Him reaching out to us, He
will supply us with the trust we need to do His will and be the one He
wants us to be.
writer makes a last few personal remarks.
He asks his readers in verse 22 to bear with him in the exhortation
he has written. He knows that
he has said many strong words to them that they may not like.
He has taken some chances with these people. There is the
possibility that they may reject these words as well as him.
author calls this a short letter. In
our modern day letter writing, we probably think that this is a long
letter, but the writer obviously felt that he could have said much more,
but this was enough to get his point across.
It is clear that whoever this author was, he was well educated in
Jewish theology and the New Testament gospel of Jesus.
23 says that Timothy was recently released, most likely from prison.
Whoever wrote this letter knew Timothy and his situation.
Again, because of this, some say the author was Paul, but I'm not
so convinced. I am sure many
people knew Timothy.
writer goes on to say that if Timothy comes to visit these people he would
come and visit them as well. Some
suggest that it might be possible that Paul was already released from
jail, and was just waiting for Timothyís release so that they could
travel together, but that is all speculation.
verse 24 the writer greets all of the leaders of these people and sends
greetings from those in Italy
where he is writing this letter from.
Maybe this letter was written from Rome, where as some point out, Paul had been under house arrest by the Roman
letter ends with "grace be with you all."
We surely need Godís grace in our lives, both His unmerited
favour and His divine ability to do His will.
May His grace really be found in our lives as well.
ends the letter to the Hebrews. It
speaks to the nature of both the Old and the New Covenant.
Although it was written to Jews long ago, the legalism that those
Christian Jews were thinking of reverting has many implications for us
today. This letter is a
thinking person's letter, and for that reason, like Paul's letter to the
Romans, many people avoid reading it.
If you have a clear picture of Old Testament history and theology,
it will go a long way in helping you understand this letter.