Fix your thoughts on Jesus. He has been found worthy of even greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house.
Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest. Hebrews 3:1
An apostle means the “one sent forth.” He is an envoy, ambassador, or messenger commissioned to carry out the instructions of one who is in a position of higher authority. In the New Testament originally “apostle” was the official name of those twelve of the disciples whom Jesus chose to send forth first to preach the gospel and to be with him during the course of his ministry on earth.
Jesus our apostle is the Sent One of God. Although there is only one explicit reference to Jesus as an apostle found here in the first verse of Hebrews chapter 3, there are implicit references to his having been “sent” by the Father. These references are found throughout the New Testament and especially in the Gospel of John. A few examples are:
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. John 3:17
For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. John 3:34
“I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to finish—the very works that I am doing—testify that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. John 5:36-38
Jesus in turn “sends out” his disciples to continue and extend his mission. Thus, all apostleship finds its meaning in Jesus the Apostle, sent by God to be the Savior of the world.
When Jesus is called our high priest, it is with reference to both the priesthood of Melchizedek and that of the Aaronic high priests from the tribe of Levi.
The first scripture referring to Melchizedek is in chapter 14 of the book of Genesis after Abram returned from rescuing his nephew Lot who had been taken captive by the armies of the four kings of Mesopotamia:
After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.”
Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything. Genesis 14:17-20
The second mention of this priest of God is in the book of Psalms referring to the prophesied Son of David:
The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” Psalm 110:4
Chapters 8 and 9 of the book of Leviticus detail the ordination of Aaron and his sons as high priests. Verses 1 to 4 of chapter 8 speak of God’s command to Moses concerning the elements of the ordination ceremony:
The LORD said to Moses, “Bring Aaron and his sons, their garments, the anointing oil, the bull for the sin offering, the two rams and the basket containing bread made without yeast, and gather the entire assembly at the entrance to the tent of meeting.” Moses did as the LORD commanded him, and the assembly gathered at the entrance to the tent of meeting. Leviticus 8:1-4
The last verses of chapter 9 of Leviticus record the closing activities of the ordination ceremony:
Then Aaron lifted his hands toward the people and blessed them. And having sacrificed the sin offering, the burnt offering and the fellowship offering, he stepped down.
Moses and Aaron then went into the tent of meeting. When they came out, they blessed the people; and the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people. Fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar. And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell facedown. Leviticus 9:22-24
Like Melchizedek, Jesus is ordained as a priest apart from the Law given on Mount Sinai. Like the Levitical priests, He offered a sacrifice to satisfy the Law of God when He offered Himself for our sins. Unlike the Levitical priests, who had to continually offer sacrifices, Jesus only had to offer His sacrifice once, gaining eternal redemption for all who come to God through Him.
He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house. Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. “Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house,” bearing witness to what would be spoken by God in the future. But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory. Hebrews 3:2-6
The faithfulness of Jesus is made evident by both his first words that are quoted in Scripture and by some of his last words He uttered before His death on the cross.
When Jesus was twelve years old, He accompanied his parents to the temple for the Feast of Passover. When the festival was over Mary and Joseph headed back home, but they were unaware that Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. After three days of searching for Him, they discovered Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. When His anxious mother questioned Jesus about why He had done this thing, His answer revealed His faithfulness to God who had sent Him. These are the first words of Jesus that are recorded in the New Testament:
And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” Luke 2:49
His Father’s business was for Jesus to be a suffering servant who would lay down His life and pay the price of redemption with His own blood.
“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45
On the cross just before Jesus yielded up His spirit He said, “It is finished.” The Greek word translated “it is finished” is tetelestai, an accounting term that means “paid in full.” When Jesus uttered those words, He was declaring the debt owed to His Father was wiped away completely and forever. Not that Jesus wiped away any debt that He owed to the Father; rather, Jesus eliminated the debt owed by mankind—the debt of sin. Jesus was faithful and completed His Father’s business.
In this chapter of Hebrews, the message of the superiority of Jesus to Moses would have been particularly important to Jewish followers of Yeshua in Rome. Many of them were struggling under Nero’s persecution and were considering moving back toward the Mosaic Law. The writer to the Hebrews showed these Jewish believers that, though they were faced with suffering, they were indeed following a much better way and they should persevere.
So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested and tried me, though for forty years they saw what I did. Hebrews 3:7-9
By nature, the heart of man is like a stone, destitute of spiritual life, impenitent, stubborn, and inflexible.
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26
The Holy Spirit calls out to those who have ears to hear, “Do not harden your hearts.” God desires to give us a heart of flesh.
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9
In John 16:7-9 Jesus declared:
But I tell you the truth, it is for your benefit that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. And when He comes, He will convict the world in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment:
There are those people who resist the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. To resist means: to run against, to be adverse, oppose, strive against.
Stephen, a man full of the Holy Spirit, was arrested and spoke before the Sanhedrin. Stephen, by the power of the Holy Spirit, challenges these men with the Old Testament and how they have been responsible for not listening to God.
“You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit!” Acts 7:51
After their miraculous deliverance from their bondage in Egypt, the Israelites rebelled at Mt. Sinai and worshipped a golden calf presented to them by their high priest Aaron. The Israelites murmured and complained during their years in the wilderness. They complained about food, they complained about water, and they challenged God’s appointed leader Moses.
In spite of God’s miraculous provision of manna from heaven and water from a rock, they did not trust that God would fulfill His promise to subdue their enemies and bring them into the Promised Land.
But the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us.” So they gave out to the sons of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, “The land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size. Numbers 13:31-32
All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! Numbers 14:2
…not one of those who saw my glory and the signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times— not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their ancestors. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it. Numbers 14:22-23
Except for Caleb and Joshua, who believed that the LORD would fulfill His promise, none of the Israelites aged 20 years or older who were delivered out of Egypt would live to see the Promised Land. Their lack of faith led to fear, their fear led to rebellion, and their rebellion resulted in their destruction.
That is why I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ ” Hebrews 3:10-11
The LORD works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel: Psalm 103:6-7
Although the people of Israel saw the mighty deeds of Yehovah in both their deliverance from Egypt and His miraculous provisions in the wilderness, unlike Moses they did not know His ways. They did not have an understanding or desire to follow His precepts, walk in faith by believing in His promises, or submit to His will.
See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. Hebrews 3:12-13
To be hardened emotionally means to become cold, insensitive, unfeeling, and unwilling to be submissive. A hardened heart is a stubborn and unyielding attitude that leads a person to reject God’s will. Sin causes hearts to grow hard, especially continual and unrepentant sin.
Fire is a picture of the work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is like a fire in at least three ways: He brings God’s presence, God’s passion, and God’s purity. The Holy Spirit is the presence of God as He indwells the heart of the believer (Romans 8:9). In the Old Testament, God showed His presence to the Israelites by overspreading the tabernacle with fire (Numbers 9:14-15). This fiery presence provided light and guidance through their journey in the wilderness (Numbers 9:17-23).
The Holy Spirit creates the passion of God in our hearts. After the two traveling disciples talk with the resurrected Jesus, they describe their hearts as “burning within us” (Luke 24:32). What seemed to be tongues of fire rested on those at Pentecost. After the apostles receive the Spirit at Pentecost, they had a passion that land impelled them to speak the word of God boldly (Acts 4:31).
The Holy Spirit produces the purity of God in our lives. God’s purpose is to purify us (Titus 2:14), and the Spirit is the agent of our sanctification (1 Corinthians 6:11; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2). As the silversmith uses fire to purge the dross from the precious metal, so God uses the Spirit to remove our sin from us (Psalm 66:10; Proverbs 17:3). His fire cleanses and refines.
The Holy Spirit is a fire dwelling in each believer. He wants to express Himself in our actions and attitudes. When believers do not allow the Spirit to be seen in our actions and attitudes, when we intentionally sin, we suppress or quench the Spirit.
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Ephesians 4:30-31
Sinful thoughts and actions grieve and quench the Holy Spirit.
The words of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, were spoken to a hostile audience. The message of the risen Christ was being rejected. “You stiff-necked people,” he says, “with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit!” (Acts 7:51)
The writer of Hebrews urges his audience to learn a critical lesson from the generation of Israelites that perished in the wilderness due to their sinful and unbelieving hearts. They resisted the Holy Spirit, and their complaining, bitterness, anger, and lack of faith caused their hearts to become hardened resulting in their failure to enter into God’s rest.
Unlike those who perished, we are to be aware of the condition of our hearts and we are to strive to build up one another in our most holy faith.
We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. As has just been said: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.” Hebrews 3:14-15
Perseverance in faith in Christ is the best evidence of the sincerity of our confession of faith. As we hold firmly to our belief that Jesus, the Son of God and Messiah, came to save us, we continue to share in the nature, graces, righteousness, and life of Christ.
Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies perished in the wilderness? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief. Hebrews 3:16-18
Faith in God is the fundamental element that enables us to acknowledge, revere, and embrace His absolute existence and divine presence. One’s confidence in God will lead to doing the will of God by faith and then receiving what is promised. Unbelief was the downfall of those Israelites who perished in the wilderness. Their lack of faith prevented them from doing His will and therefore they did not enter into the Promised Land. Each time the people sinned by complaining bitterly, their every act of disobedience, and their resisting the Holy Spirit progressively hardened their hearts until they provoked God to wrath.
Many of us are familiar with the parable of the boiling frog. It describes a frog being slowly boiled alive. The premise is that if a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put in tepid water which is then brought to a boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. The story is often used as a metaphor for the inability or unwillingness of people to react to or be aware of threats that arise gradually.
Sin’s great deception is that each unrepentant sin gradually dulls a person’s conscience and incrementally hardens one’s heart. Sin progressively leads a person to rebel against God. May we all take to heart the writer of Hebrew’s admonition not to be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.