The lessons we are about to embark on covering Hebrews 3:1-4:13 may seem rather long, but are crucial to understanding the book. In order to get the most from the lessons, do the prep work outlined here first then work through the material at your own pace. Hovering or tapping most of the Bible references will pop up the text but you will also want to have my highlighted text open next to you.
The previous lessons revealed Hebrews to be a sermon made up of three divisions starting at Heb 1:1, Heb 4:14 and Heb 10:19. I will be treating the first division in three parts.
Heb 1:1-2:4 explains that God sent the Son TO humanity to reveal God in a way never done before or since and to complete the message He had been communicating to humanity for thousands of years. This portion also contains the first of the author’s 5 warnings, an appeal for God’s people to keep their lives faithfully anchored to God’s message (Heb 2:1-4).
Heb 2:5-18 reveals that The Son was also sent FOR His people, in that it tells us about His activity in calling and gathering people making it possible for those who respond with faith in God to be reconciled to God so they can fulfill the purpose for which all humanity was created which is to rule creation in righteousness. We are told that those who respond become children of God and no longer need fear death.
In this third part, Hebrews 3:1-4:13 the first eleven verses form an introduction to a stronger and much longer warning than the first, though one not as sharp as those to come. Besides learning several valuable lessons for living our lives, if we accurately capture the author’s intent and method in this portion, we will be better prepared to grasp his meaning in the succeeding warnings which have historically presented great challenges to Bible scholars, translators and teachers.
Hebrews 3:1-6 Consider Jesus
“Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession;” (Hebrews 3:1, NASB95)
In the following verses, the author packaged what he wants his fellow siblings in Christ to consider about Jesus in a common Semitic literary form called a chiasm. I’ve highlighted certain words and phrases so you can see the symmetrical structure typical of a chiasm.
A (v2a) He [Jesus] was faithful to Him who appointed Him
B (v2b) as Moses also was in all His house.
C (v3) For He has been counted worth of more glory than Moses, just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house.
C’ (v4) For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.
B’ (v5) Now Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later;
A’ (v6) but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house – whose house we are, if we hold fast the confidence and boast of hope.
An inspection of our chiasm leads to these observations:
- Moses is given high praise for carrying out God’s instructions, confirming the Law was God’s will.
- The establishment of the Law and the Temple through Moses was intended to teach something that would be fulfilled in the future confirming that Jesus’ teaching has continuity with Moses’.
- Jesus is superior to Moses.
- Jesus is the builder of God’s house.
- Jesus is God (since God is the builder of all things).
- Jesus is the Son, the heir, and therefore both the owner and ruler of God’s house in creation (His house – Heb 3:6).
- While the token of God’s presence on Earth was associated with a building in the past, God now dwells in His people and by implication of this and by previous assertions, Jesus is the only builder of God’s true dwelling.1
- In the six uses of the word “house,” it’s idea transforms from a physical building, constructed by Moses (and later rebuilt according to the same pattern) to a non-physical dwelling place of God, His people. This becomes important in later lessons.
Unlike Western logic that usually puts its conclusion near the end of a presentation, the main point of a chiasm is in the middle. So the emphasis of this chiasm is that Jesus, being God, is the builder of God’s house. Overlaid on that truth is the concept that IT WAS THROUGH JESUS’ FAITHFULNESS THAT GOD’S CURRENT HOUSE IS BUILT since He carried out all the Father instructed Him to do when He lived among us.2 From this short analysis we see that the author is calling Christians to consider Jesus’ faithfulness.
We are meant to be left thinking about these ideas: Moses, one of the greatest men in human history was faithful in God’s house; Jesus, the greatest man in human history was faithful in God’s house; Jesus is the true architect and builder of God’s house; we are God’s house. So since Moses and Jesus went to great effort and sacrifice on our behalf we should consider that we are to be just as faithful to God in our lives.
Because there is some controversy over Heb 3:6 that can obscure what we should learn from it and because of some valuable insights it contains, let’s look at this one verse in more detail before moving on.
Hope Creates Confidence
Before we look at the troublesome part of the verse, let’s be sure we have an accurate translation. The word “our” found in many English translations of Heb 3:6 is not in any Greek text and the phrase “firm until the end,” appearing in the King James and New American Standard Bibles, has been dropped from most other translations because it is not in any authoritative Greek text.3
So a more literal translation of the last phrase is “if indeed we hold fast the confidence and boast of hope” which I think better highlights the author’s thought that a Christian’s hope in God and in His promises is the sole source of confidence and boast of a Christian’s view of life. It is not a confidence that we have to be create to be able to share what we hope in but flows out of us naturally in proportion to how real we consider God’s reliability to be in this life and how greatly we look forward to the future He has promised.
What does “if” imply?
Some think the last phrase of Heb 3:6 implies that a person must prove they have held on to their hope in God in order to become a member of God’s house while others claim perseverance is proof of having become a member of God’s house. One factor that will help us resolve this dilemma is the way New Testament authors use if statements. Here are a few examples where authors do not convey cause and effect as our culture usually does. ((Buist M. Fanning, Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews, 2007, 210–211.))
- Heb 12:8 “If you are without discipline, … you are illegitimate and not sons.”
Absence of discipline is not the cause of illegitimacy but the evidence for it.
- James 2:17 “So also faith, if it does not have works, is dead being by itself.”
Lack of works does not produce this effect but reveals such “faith’s” true condition.
- 1 John 2:15 “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
Loving the world shows a lack of love for the Father; it does not cause it.
So this last phrase does not lay out a condition for becoming a member of God’s house. That is in keeping with the whole book of Hebrews being more concerned with how Christians are to live as members of God’s house than how to get into it.
However it’s still true that the author is calling believers to do something. So what is that? As we continue through the book we will find that His theme is exhorting Christians to live in a mature way and that maturity looks like faithfully trusting God’s promises and obeying His wishes. In that light I think here he is exhorting Christians to choose to “hold fast” the confidence that hope that the Gospel supplies rather than slipping away to live unfaithfully.
The simplicity of the phrase “hold fast” hides a valuable insight that is a gateway to what follows. It translates a Greek word that means to possess and protect something with tenacity. The author’s thought is that as a result of considering how faithful Jesus was in carrying out His Father’s purposes we should be motivated to hold God’s promises “close to the chest” as we might say. What does that mean? Think about where you keep the hope God has given you of being His child forever, of fulfilling all that you were created to be and of not fearing any condemnation from Him? Do you just visit it on Sunday? Do you keep it for a “rainy day” when anxiety gets too great to handle and the rest of the time you don’t give it much thought? Or is it a treasure that you hold so close to yourself that how you walk, how you chose what to do or places to go, and the words you speak are affected by it? Holding it fast means keeping close to you all the time.
So far, having presented Jesus’ unique nature, authority and accomplishments on our behalf in the first two chapters, our preacher then called upon every Christian to ponder the example of His steadfastness because he is about to challenge how faithfully they imitate it in their daily lives.Footnotes
- “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19–22, NASB95) [↩]
- We know the author is referring to the life of Jesus on earth because he referred to his faithfulness in the past tense. [↩]
- “…the NASB reflect the variant in some manuscripts that insert “firm to the end” after “we hold fast,” but most agree that the words should be omitted. David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary, Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010, 248. [↩]