now going to concentrate upon one aspect of the great
transition: the superiority of the heavenly Israel to the
writer of this Letter, whoever he was, was giving himself
wholly to the immense superiority of what had come in
with this dispensation. It was as though he said to
himself. 'The time has come for someone to let these
people know how superior is that which has come in with
this dispensation. This final movement of God in the
history of this world is greater than anything before.'
So that is what he set himself to show to the people of
his day. But God meant it for more than that: He meant it
for His people for all time.
knows who wrote this Letter. Many names have been
mentioned. Some have been very certain about who it was,
and then someone else has come along and upset that
certainty. Some have been sure that Paul wrote it, while
others have very nearly proved that he did not. Some have
thought that Apollos wrote it, and others have said that
it was Barnabas. Apollos, it was said, was a man "mighty
in the Scriptures" (Acts 8:24), and it certainly
did require such a man to write this document! Barnabas
was a Levite, and he knew all about the Levitical system
of the Old Testament, so he would be a good one to write
the book. As for Paul, well, of course, he was the
perfect master both of Judaism and of Christianity, and
it needed a man like that to write this book. If Stephen
had not been martyred I would have chosen him, because I
think that in his last great discourse you have all the
substance of the Letter to the Hebrews.
cannot say. Perhaps the Lord has never thought it to be
very important to settle a human name upon it, but rather
to make everything of "God... hath spoken."
touching very old and well-worn ground when we remind you
of the place that the word 'better' has in this Letter.
It occurs more often here than in all the rest of the New
Testament put together.
a study for the beginners in Bible Study. Get out your
box of coloured pencils, choose a colour that you think
is suitable to 'better', and underline that word through
word occurs thirteen times in the Letter and always in a
very instructive connection. I wilI just mention the
Chapter 1:4 - "Better than the angels". (That
is a high place at which to begin!)
Chapter 6:9 - "We are persuaded better things of
Chapter 7:19 - "A better hope".
Chapter 7:22 - "A better covenant".
Chapter 8:6 - "A better covenant" and
Chapter 9:23 - "Better sacrifices".
Chapter 10:34 - "A better possession".
Chapter 11:16 - "A better country".
Chapter 11:35 - "A better resurrection".
Chapter 11:40 - "Some better thing".
alongside of that, you can put:
Chapter 12:24 - "The blood of sprinkling that
speaketh better than that of Abel".
chapter 1:4 and 8:6 there are the words "more
excellent", and in chapter 1:4, chapter 3:3 and
chapter 10:25 there is the phrase "by so much...
word is a key to the Letter. Everything here is better
than it has ever been before. And we can come back with
that to our own key words: "Holy brethren,
companions of a heavenly calling"
- called to something so much better than has ever been
in the history of this world.
remind ourselves of why this Letter was written.
first place, it was written to save these Christians from
spiritual declension or spiritual arrest. For various
reasons they were being tempted to draw back. You will
remember that those words occur in a warning: "If
any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in
him" (Hebrews 10:38 - A.V.). It
is a terrible thing to get into a place where the Lord
has no pleasure in you, to lose the pleasure of the Lord!
And it was to prevent these Christians from getting into
such a position that this Letter was written.
these Christians were inclined just to stand still and
not go on any further, so that their spiritual life would
be arrested and they would no longer go on and grow. They
would become "stand-still" Christians - 'As it
was, so it is now'. Nothing of the future was governing
them. So this Letter was written to save them from
going back or from standing still.
we have already pointed out that there was another
reason: It was to carry these Christians through a time
of great trouble which was coming. Evidently this Letter
was written very shortly before the destruction of
Jerusalem. Perhaps the writer already saw the signs of
that, but, whether he did or not, the Holy Spirit saw
what was coming. He knew that a time of great testing was
coming to these Christians, when all that in which they
had trusted on this earth was going to be shaken, so He
led this writer to write this Letter. It was intended to
be a strength to them and salvation in a time of trouble.
And the method of so ministering help to them was to show
again the greatness of the Lord Jesus, the greatness of
the heavenly calling, and how great a thing it is to be
companions of Christ and of the heavenly calling. So the
writer sets out to bring into view the Lord Jesus in His
superiority to all who had gone before. But in doing so,
he does another thing, and this is a very interesting
matter. He says: 'Down through the past ages there have
been men who have had great difficulties, many
discouragements and trials,' and he mentions Abraham.
Abraham had indeed a difficult life. There was the
difficulty of the postponed promise - God's promises did
not seem to be in the way of fulfilment. He was taking
such a long time to fulfil His word. We all know
something about that difficulty! We are in a hurry and
God is not - He seems to have all time at His disposal.
Our trouble is: 'Oh, if only the Lord would hurry up!',
and I suppose our prayers are so often marked by one
word: 'Lord, hasten it!'
man knew about having to be patient, it was Abraham!
There was this difficulty of God taking so much time to
fulfil His promises, and Abraham sometimes broke down
under that. On one occasion he left the land of promise
and went to Egypt - and there he found himself in still
greater trouble. He had to tell a lie to get out of it.
matter was a very real test to Abraham. I think there are
signs that his wife was not always in sympathy with him.
When they were both old and the Lord said that they would
have a son, Sarah, who was in her tent, heard and "laughed
within herself'' (Genesis 18:12). The Lord was angry,
and Abraham had to rebuke Sarah. Well, we must have full
sympathy with Sarah. She was being hard put to it by the
way the Lord was taking her husband and she was not
always able to see as he saw, or feel as he felt.
Perhaps, for that reason, Abraham had a certain measure
of spiritual loneliness in his life.
what about that young man Lot? He was just a lot of
trouble! He certainly did not share Abraham's vision! His
vision was all on this earth, his ambitions all for the
present, and you know well his story and what a thorn he
was in the side of Abraham.
add other things to the painful story. Abraham's was not
an easy life. But, do you know, the New Testament says
that Abraham rejoiced! Why did he do so?
Why did he rejoice in tribulation? Jesus Himself tells us
the answer to that: "Your father Abraham rejoiced
to see my day; and he saw it and was glad" (John
8:56). In some way Abraham had seen the Lord Jesus, had
seen the day of the Lord Jesus, and that had got him
through all his troubles.
know, there is more in this Letter to the Hebrews about
what Abraham saw. He had seen in the spirit a heavenly
country, and was looking for it. He had seen "the
city which hath the foundations, whose builder and maker
is God" (Hebrews 11:10). Abraham had seen the
day of Jesus Christ. You will remember that this writer
said: Ye are come unto... the heavenly Jerusalem"
(Hebrews 12:22). Abraham had seen that, and, having
seen the Lord Jesus, he was able to go on and rejoice in
a long life of trial.
about Moses? Did he have any troubles? Well, we can make
a long story about the troubles of Moses! He had to carry
a very heavy burden, and there was a time when he nearly
lost heart. He said to the Lord: "I am not able
to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy
for me" (Numbers 11:14). Moses often had
to go back to the Lord like that and say: 'You have asked
me to do something which is more than I can do.' He had
very many trials through forty long, weary years. But we
have this word here: "He endured, as seeing him
who is invisible" (Hebrews 11:27). Who
was the "him" that Moses was seeing? Notice
what this Letter to the Hebrews says! When Moses was in
Pharaoh's palace and saw his own brethren being
persecuted, he decided that he was going to take sides
with them, and this Letter says: "Choosing
rather to be evil entreated with the people of God"
- and now comes a wonderful thing - "accounting
the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures
of Egypt" (Hebrews 11:25, 26). The
reproach of Christ! What did Moses know about
Christ? Somehow he had seen Him and seen that these
Hebrew people were called in relation to Him, so "He
endured, as seeing him who is invisible".
a point at which our minds have to get adjusted. Perhaps
we have the idea that when Jesus came into this world,
that was the beginning of Him, but the Word of God makes
it perfectly clear that Jesus Christ was present in the
days of Abraham and Moses. Indeed, the Word says that He
was present in the creation of the world: "All
things were made by him" (John 1:3). He was
there all the time. He was the One who appeared again and
again and they did not recognize Him. He appeared to
Abraham, to Moses, to Joshua, to Gideon... yes, this same
Christ was there, active all the time. He did not just
begin when He was born in Bethlehem. It was then that He
came into this world in human form.
think that is exaggerating? Well, let us come to our
Letter to the Hebrews: "Jesus Christ... the same
yesterday, and today, yea and for ever" (13:8).
I have left out one little word - "Jesus
Christ IS the same...": He IS yesterday, He IS today
and He IS tomorrow. There is no yesterday, today or
tomorrow with Jesus. Yesterday was the day of the old
dispensation. When this writer wrote this Letter it was
'today' in which he lived, the new dispensation that had
just begun. 'Today' is the period between Christ going
back to heaven and His coming again. We have seen already
how one phrase is quoted three times in this Letter, and
it is brought over from yesterday to today:
"Today if ye shall hear his voice, harden not your
hearts" (Hebrews 3:7, 8). That is a message
for this dispensation. 'Tomorrow' is forever, and it is
going to be the same Jesus Christ.
writer of this Letter is saying: 'Jesus Christ was back
there in yesterday. He was in the past dispensation. And
it is the same Jesus Christ that we know today.
And He will be the same Jesus Christ forever.'
notice how many quotations from the Old Testament there
are in the first chapter of this Letter? We cannot stay
to look at them, but the Old Testament is used here a
very great deal, and the quotations are concerning
Christ, so that, in the first place, it is quite clear
that He was in the Old Testament. He was being spoken
about then and was present in the minds of Old Testament
writers. There are quotations from David. Jesus Christ
was very much in the mind of David. The words "Thou
art my Son, this day have I begotten thee" were
first written by him (Psalm 2:7), and there is
much more like that.
are very many quotations from the Old Testament at the
beginning of this Letter, which simply shows that Jesus
Christ was present then. And that Jesus Christ is brought
over from yesterday to today. This writer is just saying:
'That Jesus Christ of the prophets and the men of old is
this One of whom I am writing today.' The first chapter
of the Letter just takes up all that about Christ and
brings it here into the present - and it is the same
hardly begun to see the superiority of this today over
yesterday. We have only sought to do one thing, and that
is what this writer set out to do: to show that to get
through trouble and testing you need to have a large
conception of the Lord Jesus. To get through to the end
in victory will depend upon what kind of Christ our
Christ is to us.
writer realized that these Christians were finding the
'race' rather long and difficult, and their need was the
most testing thing in spiritual life - patience. "Ye
have need of patience", says the writer, "that,
having done the will of God, ye may receive the
promise" (Hebrews 10:36). Later he says: "Let
us run with patience the race
that is set before us" (Hebrews 12:1).
What is the real strength of patience? Oh, it is so easy
to say to people: 'Now, be patient. Don't be in a hurry.
Things will turn out all right.' But this writer did not
just say to these Christians: 'Now be patient!' He said:
"Let us run with patience the race..." It will
test our patience, will call for a lot of patience, but
the thing that will keep our patience strong is this -
"Looking off unto Jesus" (Hebrews
12:2). If we look at ourselves we will give up the race,
and we shall do so if we look at other people. There are
a lot of people who will make us give up the race. If we
look around us on the world we shall lose patience. And
so we like the true translation of this phrase. Some
versions just have "Looking unto Jesus".
Well, that is all right, but the real version is:
"Looking off unto Jesus". You must
take your eyes off yourself. You must positively refuse
to look at yourself. You must train yourself in the habit
of refusing to look at yourself. Every time you are
tempted to do so you have to say: 'No! I shut my eyes to
that.' You must not have your eyes on those Christians
who are disappointing. You must remember that the very
best Christians are only human, after all. It is a very
dangerous thing to think of any man or woman as being
Paul was very near to doing that once. You know, he owed
a very great deal to Barnabas. It was Barnabas who went
off to find Paul and brought him back. I think that when
even some of the Apostles saw Saul of Tarsus come in
through the door they drew back. They were all suspicious
of this man and they drew back from him. But Barnabas
took him by the hand and brought him in, saying: 'Don't
be afraid, brothers. He has met our Lord Jesus. He is now
a companion of Jesus Christ. He is one with us.' And so
they received him.
Barnabas who brought Paul to Antioch, a church that was
in great need at that time. They needed a very strong
minister, and off went Barnabas, saying: 'I know the
man.' He brought Saul to Antioch and introduced him to
his life ministry.
owed a lot to Barnabas. of whom it was said: "He was
a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit" (Acts
11:24). Perhaps Paul put Barnabas on a high
pedestal! And then came that terrible day when Barnabas
fell off that pedestal. You know of the division between
the Jewish and Gentile Christians and that the new order
of Christ demanded that they should be all one, eating
and drinking together. Peter had learnt that lesson at
the house of Cornelius, but then that day came when this
whole question of Jews and Gentiles eating and drinking
at the same table arose. It was a very strong dispute and
a very critical day. James and some of the others from
Jerusalem went down - and Peter withdrew from the table.
He was afraid of James and of those others from
Jerusalem! He said: 'I must not let these senior brothers
see me eating with Gentiles.' And Paul says: "And
the rest of the Jews dissembled likewise with him;
insomuch that even Barnabas was carried away with their
dissimulation" (Galatians 2:13). 'Just think of
it - Barnabas! I never thought
Barnabas would do a thing like that! I thought he was far
above anything of that sort.' I am sure it was a very
great blow to Paul's confidence in men, but if he had
continued to keep his eyes on Barnabas no one knows what
would have happened. He had to look off from Barnabas to
always having to do that. In many ways and situations he
had to take his eyes off and look unto Jesus. There is a
real touch of Paul in this Letter to the Hebrews -
"Looking off unto Jesus". Whoever actually
wrote this Letter, the shadow of Paul is over it. His
influence is everywhere. And certainly he was called upon
to look off unto Jesus.
is a very vital lesson for us to learn. We have to do
that again and again in our Christian life. If we get our
eyes upon anything but the Lord Jesus we just go to
pieces. Have all respect for God's saints. I am not
saying that you have to eye every servant of God with
suspicion and be saying all the time: 'Well, of course,
he is not perfect, you know.' Give honour to whom honour
is due, but never build your faith upon any man, however
good he may be.
for ourselves - well, I think perhaps we are more tempted
to look at ourselves than anything else! This is one of
our real Christian exercises. We have continually to
remove our eyes from ourselves and everything to do with
ourselves. There is nothing more discouraging than this
self of ours, and nothing more misleading. Our own
judgments are all wrong, and so are our thoughts and
ideas. They are not God's thoughts.
take our eyes off ourselves, but not look out into space
and be vacant. "Look off unto Jesus",
and you know how that sentence is finished - "Jesus,
the author and finisher of our faith". Did
you start this thing? Are you a Christian because you
decided to be a Christian? Well, the Lord help you if
that is so! No, He started this thing. Are you not glad
that you can say: 'It was the Lord who found me. It was
the Lord who put His hand on me.'? What He said is very
true: "Ye did not choose me, but I chose
you" (John 15:16). He was the author of our
faith, and it says that He is the finisher - He will
get to heaven we will be full of wonder that we ever did
get there! We will just look at one another and say:
'Well, we are here! It is a wonderful story! How we got
here we do not know. We have thought a thousand times
that we never would get here. We had given up all hope -
but we are here!' And it will be because Jesus is the
finisher. Believe that, dear friend! In the day of your
despair and difficulty, look off unto Jesus. He has said:
"Where I am, there shall also my servant
be" (John 12:26). Though it takes a
thousand miracles, He will work them to get us there. Do
believe it! Take hold of it with both hands and trust Him
to see you right through to glory, for that is one of the
great things in this Letter: "Bringing many sons
unto glory" (Hebrews 2:10). That means you and
it means me.