About Jesus  -  Steve Sweetman

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Concluding Exhortations (ch.13:1-25)

 

We 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 history.

 

Verse 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.   

 

Verse 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 last chapter.

 

Just 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.        

 

All 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. 

 

In 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.

 

As 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."    

 

In 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.

 

Verse 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.      

 

In 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 church.

 

In 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 lot easier.

 

Verse 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.

 

Note 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 church.    

 

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.     

 

In 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.

 

Verse 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 has had.

 

One 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.

 

Verse 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.  

 

In 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 Holy Place .  As the writer was saying these words, this practice was still taking place.  In verse 12 he compares this to Jesus and His death.  As the animals were burned outside of the camp so Jesus was killed outside of the city of Jerusalem , that holy city of God .  Of course, all of the animals that were killed outside of the camp prophetically spoke of Jesus who was killed outside of the camp.   

 

In 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.    

 

Verse 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.         

 

In 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?

 

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.

 

Verse 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.   

 

These 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.  

 

It 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. 

 

The 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.       

 

Verse 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.   

 

The 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.

 

Verse 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 

 

It 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. 

 

Jesus 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.

 

It 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.        

 

Once 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.

 

The 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. 

 

The 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. 

 

Verse 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. 

 

The 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.

 

In 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 regime.

 

The 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. 

 

This 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.        

      

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