In our study of Hebrews 2, we saw that Jesus became “a little lower than the angels” when He took on the flesh of a man. Although He dwelt on Earth in human form – subject to all the temptations of the flesh – He lived a sinless life so that He could be the pure spotless sacrificial “…Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Then we saw that, having accomplished the purpose for which He came, by dying on the cross and then rising again from the dead, Jesus has once again been glorified to His rightful place of honor at the right hand of the Father. Finally, we learned that through His suffering, death, and resurrection Jesus made the way that we must also travel so that we too may join Him in the resurrection of our glorified bodies unto eternal life.
Faithfulness to Our Heavenly Calling
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews now gives an exhortation to be faithful to our heavenly calling, using Moses and the LORD Jesus Himself as examples of this faithfulness.
1Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus, 2who was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was faithful in all His house. 3For this One has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as He who built the house has more honor than the house. 4For every house is built by someone, but He who built all things is God. 5And Moses indeed was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which would be spoken afterward, 6but Christ as a Son over His own house, whose house we are if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end. [Hebrews 3:1-6 – NKJV]
As we take up our study of Hebrews 3, we first need to take a small step back to find out – as one of my dear brothers in Christ likes to say – what the therefore’s there for. In our previous study of Hebrews 2:9-18 we saw that it was fitting that Jesus Himself came in the flesh to suffer and die, and was then resurrected, showing us the path of suffering, death, and resurrection that we too must follow. This is the heavenly calling referred to here in Hebrews 3:1 of which Christ followers are partakers. The writer now encourages us to faithfully obey our calling just as the LORD Jesus did His.
In Christian tradition, for the most part when we use the word apostle, we mean those select few disciples who followed and heard the Gospel from Jesus during His earthly ministry, and saw Him in His resurrected body prior to His ascension. We also include Paul in that group because He encountered the risen Jesus on the day of His salvation along the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-8). Indeed, Paul himself uses the word apostle in that same sense in his first letter to the church in Corinth…
3For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. 6After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep.7After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. 8Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.
9For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. [1 Corinthians 15:3-9 – NKJV]
Aside – The name Cephas we find in this passage and elsewhere refers to the apostle Peter. It is a Greek transliteration of an Aramaic name meaning stone. The name Peter is the Greek word Πέτρος Petros meaning stone from which we get our English word petrified – meaning turned to stone. Recall that Peter’s given name was Simon – a Hebrew name meaning hearing. It was Jesus who renamed him Peter at Caesarea Philippi…
15He said to them,“But who do you say that I am?”
16Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
17Jesus answered and said to him,“Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. 19And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”[Matthew 16:15-19 – NKJV]
So in hearing the Gospel preached by Jesus, Simon went from being a common fisherman to being turned to stone as Peter the rock – the fisher of men at whose preaching on the day of Pentecost 3000 people were saved, and whom God used to preach that same Gospel for the first time to the Gentiles in the home of the Roman centurion Cornelius!
But meanwhile… back in our study of the letter to the Hebrews…
It may seem odd to find the word Apostle applied to our LORD Jesus here in Hebrews 3:1. But the Greek word ἀπόστολος apostolos the writer uses in Hebrews 3:1 is a perfect “job title” for the LORD Jesus. It means a delegate, a messenger, or one sent forth with orders. Jesus took on the flesh of a man in order that He might be God’s delegate to us – Immanuel. He brought with Him a message of reconciliation with God through faith in Him. He came to live a life without sin, and thus qualify as the spotless Lamb of God, with the God-given mission to take upon Himself the punishment for the sins of the world. He was obedient to these mission orders despite the terror of separation from and abandonment by His Father for the first time in all eternity. Recall His prayer on the night of His betrayal…
41And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed, 42saying,“Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.”43Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. 44And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.[Luke 22:41-44 – NKJV]
We’ll set aside for the time being the writer’s reference to Jesus – the “High Priest of our confession.” The writer has much more to say about that in Hebrews 7, and we’ll look more deeply into it when we get there, God willing. In the meantime, let’s continue looking at the writer’s exhortation to us to be faithful to our heavenly calling just as Jesus was to His. Indeed Jesus was faithful to obey the Gospel orders with which He was sent forth as an Apostle, and the Hebrews writer now continues with his exhortation for his readers to also be faithful to the Gospel message using Moses as the example. By appealing in this exhortation to the name of Moses, the writer would have grabbed the attention of his Jewish audience who held (and still hold today) Moses in deep reverence.
Moses received his heavenly calling from God who spoke to him from the burning bush that wasn’t consumed by the fire, telling Moses that He had chosen him to lead His people, the children of Israel, out of bondage in Egypt…
9Now therefore, behold, the cry of the children of Israel has come to Me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. 10Come now, therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.”[Exodus 3:9-10 – NKJV]
God’s heavenly calling to Moses also included a promise to the children of Israel…
7And the LORD said: “I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows. 8So I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Amorites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites.[Exodus 3:7-8 – NKJV]
It is this promise, and the Israelites’ failure to believe it that the Hebrews writer spends the remainder of Hebrews 3 and the first part of Hebrews 4 discussing. Recall that Moses was initially reticent to take up his calling – so much so that God’s anger was aroused against him (Exodus 4). Nevertheless, Moses accepted the challenge, and remained faithful to it. There are two aspects to such faithfulness – trust and trustworthiness. Firstly, Moses trusted the promises and power of God despite his initial misgivings. Then, once he had taken up his heavenly calling to lead God’s people out of Egypt and into the promised land of Canaan, Moses remained true to God’s calling even after God denied Moses himself entrance into the land of rest because he struck the rock again at Meribah to bring forth water rather than just speaking to the rock as God had directed. See Exodus 17:2-7, Numbers 20:7-13, Numbers 27:12-14, and Deuteronomy 32:48-52 for that fascinating story.
Aside – God’s punishment of Moses for this single misstep in 40 years of leading the people may seem a bit harsh to us. But remember – God’s standard is utter perfection as Jesus directed very clearly in His Sermon on the Mount…
“Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.[Matthew 5:48 – NKJV]
This punishment of Moses wasn’t a vindictive measure taken by God against Moses, but rather a solemn warning to the rest of us of how utterly incapable we are on our own of the perfect obedience God requires, and our consequent desperate need of our Savior – Jesus – who lived up to the standard of perfection that we cannot. Furthermore, it allows us to see the ultimate mercy of God in that Moses has indeed entered into God’s rest after all…
1Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; 2and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. 3And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.[Matthew 17:1-3 – NKJV]
Note also that Moses’ faithfulness was costly to him. Not only did God deny Moses entry into the promised land of rest, but Moses himself gave up his life of ease and power as a member of Egypt’s royal household in order to take up his heavenly calling to lead the people out of Egypt. In fact, Moses spent the entire remainder of his life leading and serving God’s people without any earthly reward to show for it, and ultimately died without reaching the goal to which God had called him to lead the children of Israel. It is this level of self-sacrificing obedience shown by Moses – and indeed by the LORD Jesus Himself – to which we have been called.
Finally, let’s consider the Hebrews writer’s discussion of the “house” in which Moses was so faithful. Of course we know that Moses received the instructions for the building of the Tabernacle – the earthly model of the heavenly sanctuary – from God at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 25-27). Indeed, Moses was faithful to God’s instructions in building this “house” but this isn’t the house to which the writer refers here in Hebrews 3. Nor is he talking about Moses’ own household, although Moses was also fully faithful in leading his own family. The “house” the writer refers to is God’s “house” – the children of Israel. The wording of the KJV and NKJV doesn’t make this as clear as some other translations do…
For he was faithful to God, who appointed him, just as Moses served faithfully when he was entrusted with God’s entire house. [Hebrews 3:2 – NLT]
He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house. [Hebrews 3:2 – NIV]
who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house. [Hebrews 3:2 – ESV]
He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was in all God’s household. [Hebrews 3:2 – CSB]
Hebrews 3:3-6 confirms this idea. Hebrews 3:4 talks of God having built the “house,” speaking of Jesus who by the Word of His power created all things, including the children of Israel whom God chose for special blessing out of all the nations of the Earth…
For you are a holy people to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.[Deuteronomy 14:2 – NKJV]
The writer continues in Hebrews 3:5-6 comparing the faithfulness of Moses – the servant of God, to the faithfulness of Jesus – God the Son. In order to understand what the writer means in Hebrews 3:5 by the phrase “a testimony of those things which would be spoken afterward,” recall that it was Moses who first wrote down the “Law” – the first five books of the Torah (the Pentateuch). In writing down this testimony, Moses performed perhaps his greatest service to God and to us that Moses in his role as God’s servant. Nevertheless, Jesus is indeed worthy of more honor than Moses as the writer says in Hebrews 3:4 because He is not merely a servant in the house like Moses, but the Son and heir of the house. Indeed, God calls Israel His inheritance (Exodus 34:9, 2 Kings 21:14, Isaiah 19:25, Isaiah 47:6).
Finally, the writer makes the startling statement that we who believe the Gospel are also God’s “house” – that is Jesus’ inheritance. Jesus’ own words confirm this…
15“If you love Me, keep My commandments. 16And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— 17the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. 18I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. 19“A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also. 20At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. [John 14:15-20 – NKJV]
In the remainder of Hebrews 3 and the beginning of Hebrews 4, the Hebrews writer continues his exhortation to remain faithful to our heavenly calling encouraging us not to follow in the failure of the children of Israel to believe the promise of God and obey His calling to them after Moses led them out of bondage in Egypt so that they ended up dying in the wilderness rather than entering into God’s promised rest.
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