Hebrews 3:1 Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus;
The theme of Jesus as our High Priest starts in 2:17. So the wherefore in this verse refers us back to the last two verses in the last chapter. In this case, wherefore means ‘for which reason’. So Paul1 says, “for which reason consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus.” What reason is he talking about? There are several. They are: that He became a man so that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest, that He does make reconciliation for the our sins, and that he himself was tempted as we are, and because of that He is able to help us when we are tempted. This is a very good reason.
The high priest of Israel in Old Covenant times was a man and was tempted like we are. As a man, he had empathy with us. So Christ came as a man so that He could have the same empathy with us as the Old Covenant high priest had with the people. He is our High Priest.
Holy brethren are brethren that are consecrated to God. They are set apart away from the world and unto Christ. That is, the holy brethren are Christians, as are the partakers of the heavenly calling. The heavenly calling is that which calls us to Christ and to salvation through Him. Again, this refers to Christians thus Paul is speaking to Christians. But there is something more here. God’s chosen people, Israel, were called holy. This was not necessarily because they were personally holy, just that they were set apart as God’s special and peculiar people. It is also evident in the Epistle to the Hebrews that Paul is also speaking to Israelis. As a people, they were set apart, that is, they were holy to God. And they considered their calling as Jews and Israelites to be a heavenly calling. So it is written to the Hebrews as well (hence the title of the epistle). So he is speaking not only to Christians, but also to Jews. He is making a case from Scripture (for the Old Testament was the only scripture available at the time) that Jesus our Apostle and High priest.
Now this is the only place in the Bible where Jesus is called our Apostle. Now an apostle is a sent one. Here the word is one used to describe an ambassador sent out with a purpose. Jesus said in many places in the Gospels that His Father sent Him. The verb is apostello, to send out or to send on a mission. Jesus was sent by God on a mission to save the world from its condemnation. So He is our chief Apostle, the One sent directly from God into the world. Not only was His mission to save the world but to become the High Priest of those saved.
We are to consider Him to be our Apostle and High Priest. The word ‘consider’ comes from a Latin word that means to observe, to think about, to view attentively. The Greek word rendered ‘consider’ has much the same meaning. Let us observe Him attentively. In other words we should pay attention to Him. If we pay full attention to Him we will learn about Him, His mission, and His work on the cross. He was sent to us with the message of salvation and He is now our High Priest making intercession for our sins while sitting at the right hand on God.
Hebrews 3:2 Who was faithful to him that appointed him, as also Moses was faithful in all his house.
We are to consider Christ, our Apostle, and our High Priest, who was faithful to God just as Moses was. Paul seems to be referring Numbers 12:6-8: “And he said, Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, the LORD will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream. (7) My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house. (8) With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the LORD shall he behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?”
God speaks to prophets in visions and dreams. But He spoke to Moses face to face. Such face-to-face communication is a type of Christ. Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, God Almighty the Son, the living Word of God, necessarily speaks to His Father, God Almighty, face to face. They also communicate in perfect understanding of one another, just as Moses was able to understand God Who spoke understandably to him. Moses was faithful in God’s house, that is, with God’s people the Israelites. Jesus Christ is faithful in God’s house with God’s people, who are the saved.
Hebrews 3:3 For this man was counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as he who hath builded the house hath more honor than the house.
Moses was simply the caretaker of the house while Jesus built the house. The house, as we have already ascertained is God’s chosen people. In Moses’ day, under the old covenant, the children of Israel were the house of God. Under the new covenant, those who believe in Christ are the house of God. What was a mystery in Moses’ day was revealed in Christ. Jesus was the builder of the house (John 1:3). Therefore Christ, as builder was more worthy of glory than Moses, the tenant and caretaker.
Hebrews 3:4 For every house is builded by some man; but he that built all things is God.
“And the Word was [and is] God.” So Christ built all things. John, in 1:3 of his Gospel, makes it very clear that that Christ, the Word, created all. Let us just look at the creation of the universe. The creation story uses the phrase “and God said” (the figure is polysyndeton) at each stage of creation. For example, “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” And, “And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.” (Genesis 1:4 and 1:9). God spoke, that is, His Word went out, and the Word did not return to Him void. It returned to Him having accomplished what God said. That Word was Christ. For a good understanding of this concept, read the study of the Memra.
Hebrews 3:5-6 And Moses verily was faithful in all his house, as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after; (6) But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.
In verse 3, we referred to Moses as a caretaker. Here is the confirmation of that. Moses was a faithful servant. He was a trusted servant and a servant with whom His master was pleased. But he was still a servant. He testified of many things even after his death. The testimony of Moses was the Pentateuch, the first five books of our Bible. It still testifies even to this day. There is another testimony of Moses we must not forget. Jesus spoke these words: “For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me.” (John 5:46).
Christ is not the servant, but the Son of the Owner. As Son the inheritance is His. He has dominion over His Father’s house. Verse 6 confirms another premise we made, and that is that believers are the house of God. We believers are the house of God because we depend on or hold fast the confidence that Jesus Christ died for our sins, was raised on the third day and now sits at the right hand of the Father making intercession for our sins. That is our hope. It is not a wishful hope but is guaranteed. That is why we rejoice in it. The end is the end of the age. For each of us that die before the end of the age, it is the end of our lives. For when we depart this body, we are present with the Lord (Ecclesiastes 12:6-7) , which is our hope.
Hebrews 3:7-11 Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith, Today if ye will hear his voice, (8) Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness: (9) When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years. (10) Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do always err in their heart; and they have not known my ways. (11) So I swore in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.)
Let us leave the word ‘wherefore’ and look into the parenthesis first. The word ‘wherefore’ goes with the phrase that follow the parenthesis. It goes with verse 12.
The verses in the parenthesis are from Psalm 95:8-11, “To-day, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, according to the day of irritation in the wilderness: (9) where your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works. (10) Forty years was I grieved with this generation, and said, They do always err in their heart, and they have not known my ways. (11) So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.“
Paul explicitly attributes this Psalm of David to the Holy Spirit, proving that the Spirit inspired the Psalm when David wrote it. He does not equivocate; he simply and boldly states that the words written in the scriptures are the actual words of God. The Psalm claims that the Israelites were God’s people and that they should hear God’s voice today and not harden their hearts. By quoting this in Hebrews, Paul is continuing the thought that God’s people (who, after the advent of Christ, are Christians only) not harden their hearts and that they listen and hear today. Paul exhorts us to listen and shows what God did in the wilderness to those who did not hearken unto the LORD.
Hebrews 3:12 Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.
Now let us bring the ‘wherefore’ forward to the end of the parenthesis. We thus get: (Hebrews 3:7)”Wherefore” (Hebrews 3:12) “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.” The warning is take heed that no one among you is an unbeliever. Heed the example of those in the wilderness who did not believe God. Why must we heed? Because of our confidence that Christ died for our sins and we are His own. We, as Christians, are of the House of God and Christ. There are those among us (that is, in our fellowship) who are not saved. They are the reason that we must exhort each other daily:
Hebrews 3:13 But exhort one another daily, while it is called Today; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
We are each in need of exhortation. When an evangelist gives the message of salvation and invites unbelievers to have faith in Christ, he is exhorting them to faith in Christ. By continuing to exhort one another we accomplish two great tasks. One is that we always keep a sharp edge on our faith. That is, we mature spiritually and become more Christ like. At the same time our behavior is exemplary, showing the world that we are Christ’s and that makes us different. The second thing we accomplish is that if there are unbelievers among us, who are unknown to us, they will hear the good news of Christ and, perhaps, become saved. The deceitfulness of sin may harden us against spiritual things and we may become entangled with the world. Exhorting each other daily will help us avoid worldly encumbrances and to sin not. The deceitfulness of sin will also prevent the unsaved from hearing the Gospel ad being saved. Daily exhortation will also help them to see the Truth of the Gospel.
In speaking to his brethren, the Jews, Paul is telling them to open their hearts to the Truth and he uses for an example those millions who perished in the desert without entering into the Promised Land.
Hebrews 3:14 For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end;
Turning this verse around may help: “If we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end, we are made partakers of Christ.
A word for word literal rendering of the verse also helps us to grasp it: “Sharers for we have become of Christ if truly the beginning of the assurance until [the] end firm we hold fast“
Here it is in interlinear form:
I have broken this down to help understand it. This verse has been used by many who claim that it says that we can lose our salvation. They say that the meaning of being partakers of Christ is our faith in Christ. They also say that the beginning of our confidence is our faith in Christ. They claim that if we do not maintain or hold fast our faith that we can lose our salvation.
I do not see it that way. To me it says that the proof of our salvation is that we hold fast our faith until the end of our lives. They say that we lose our salvation if we do not hold fast to our faith. I say that if we are truly saved, it is impossible to lose our faith and the fact that we do not do so is proof of our salvation. The literal word for word rendering agrees with me. We have become sharers of Christ, that is, we share in His inheritance because we are saved, if we truly maintain our faith until the end. This is not the same as “if we truly maintain our faith until the end we will be saved,” which is the way some explain it.
Hebrews 3:15 While it is said, Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation.
Let us take this verse by itself though it is a part of a larger statement. The first part of the verse says, “Today, if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” The Apostle used “today” earlier in the chapter, where he was making the point that we need to hear His voice today, and not at some future date, for we are not assured tomorrow. “For now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). The “provocation” occurred when the Israelites were in the wilderness. They provoked God to wrath several times. They hardened their hearts against God and His servant, Moses. They provoked God when they refused to enter Canaan after the search party returned and complained of giants in the land. They provoked God several more times. (For examples, see Deut 9:8; 9:22; 32:16; 32:21.) Hence God did not allow the ones who provoked Him to enter the promised land. We are not to harden our hearts and provoke God. We are to believe God and have faith in Him and His Christ.
(In Chapter 4, the Apostle explains this in a different, but related light. There, he uses it to prove that the God’s “rest” is still available today. We will study this when we get to the next chapter).
Now let us put it together with other verses:
Hebrews 3:15-17 While it is said, Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation. (16) For some, when they had heard, did provoke: howbeit not all that came out of Egypt by Moses. (17) But with whom was he grieved forty years? was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcasses fell in the wilderness?
When the Israelites were in the desert they sent spies in the Canaan. Most of the spies came back and said that it was far too dangerous to enter into the Land of Promise. The vast majority of the Israelis refused to go based upon the report of the spies. They did not have faith. Their hearts were hardened in unbelief. This provoked God, Who would have led them and defeated all of their foes. He did this when the posterity of those in the desert finally did conquer Canaan. But these people refused. God therefore decreed that none of that generation would pass into the Promised Land, their rest. Yet not all refused. Caleb and Joshua were ready to go. These were spared the wrath of God and did enter into the Promised Land. Out of thousands, only a few entered into their rest: Joshua, Caleb, and those who were children at the time of the provocation.
The truth about the Israelites in the wilderness is that most of them never really did believe that God was able to deliver them. After seeing the plagues, the sea parted, water from the rock, manna from Heaven, etc., what was the first thing they did when the going got a bit rough? They complained. Moreover, as soon as Moses left them and stayed a few weeks on Sinai, they reverted to paganism and made a calf to worship. When Moses returned, he was angry and broke the tablets of the law. He then asked, “Who is on the LORD’S side?” All the Levites responded. Consequently, not all of the people were unbelievers. Therefore, not all of the Israelites participated in the pagan rites of calf worship. God always preserves a remnant. He did so in the wilderness as well.
Again, not all of them were unbelievers. Apparently, most of those believers died before all of the unbelievers of that generation died. Since they died before all the unbelievers died, they were not able to enter into the Promised Land. That was not because of their unbelief, but because of natural causes. Moses was a believer, but he did not enter Canaan. That was because he disobeyed God. We know Moses is in heaven, for he appeared at the Mount of Transfiguration. Aaron was a believer. He died before all the unbelievers died and did not enter into the Promised Land. The Levites were believers, yet they did not enter into the Promised Land.
The Promised Land is a figure of Heaven. All of the things the Israelites went through happened as an example for us. Canaan is a figure or a type of heaven, yet it is not heaven. As a figure, it teaches us that our belief in Christ allows us to enter into our Land of Promise. For us, the Land of Promise is Heaven. Furthermore, Heaven is our place of rest. We can understand Canaan as a type of Heaven, but since it is not really heaven, not all the things concerning it can be related directly to Heaven. The fact that neither Aaron nor the Levites entered into Canaan does not mean that some believers will not enter into Heaven. For all believers in Christ will enter into Heaven. Again, the fact that unbelievers did not enter into Canaan shows us that unbelievers will not enter into heaven. But the fact that some believers did not enter into Canaan cannot be construed to mean that not all believers will enter into Heaven. To do so is to take this out of the context of the entire Bible. If you will give heed to the entire Bible, you will see that all believers will enter into their rest, and that rest is Heaven.
By unbelief, I mean that the person has never believed in Jesus Christ as Savior. Once a person is saved, he is no longer in unbelief. If he truly believes in Jesus, he will not lose that belief later. If his belief changes to unbelief, then he was never really saved to begin with. He is like the seed sown on stony ground. He receives the word joyfully but when tribulation comes he is offended and turns away from the faith. Or he may be like the seed sown among thorns. He hears the word and receives it but the riches, lusts, or cares of the world get in the way and he becomes unfruitful. In other words, many who claim to be saved, indeed, who are members of churches, and receive and agree with every word preached, are not truly saved. Unless they become saved, they will eventually turn away.
Do not provoke God because of your unbelief in His Son, Jesus Christ. If you die in that unbelief, you will not enter into your rest. You will die and not go to Heaven but will end up in the lake of fire. I am not talking about momentary doubt or disbelief. Once you truly believe in Christ, you will never again revert to unbelief. But if you do not believe in Christ, today is the day of salvation. You may not have tomorrow.
Hebrews 3:18-19 And to whom swore he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not? (19) So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.
If you do not believe in the Son of God, His death, and resurrection, then you will not enter into your rest that God has prepared for you. You will end up instead in a place God has prepared for the Devil and his angels. That place is the lake of fire.
- The reason I use “Paul” instead of “the writer of Hebrews” is explained in the preface to Chapter 1. If you disagree that Paul is the writer, please continue to read for I have no argument with you. As a scholar once said, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, diversity; in all things, love” (attributed to Augustine). ↩