LESSON 2 - Heb. 2:1-4 - PAY CLOSER ATTENTION
INTRODUCTION: Last week, in Heb. 1:1-4, we were introduced to the book of Hebrews with an emphasis on the superiority of Jesus Christ to angels specifically, with a more general exposition of WHO JESUS IS according to God's revelation of Him. The writer demonstrated nine underlying truths about the superiority of Christ: (1) That God's ultimate "revelation" to humanity came through His Son, Jesus Christ; (2) That God the Father appointed Jesus Christ to be the "heir" of "all things" (this includes everything that is and ever will be); (3) That from the beginning, Jesus was involved as God's agent of "creation" (He is uncreated and was present with God before the creation); (4) That Jesus displayed the "radiance" of "God's glory" at His transfiguration (Mt. 17:1-2); (5) That Jesus Christ is an exact "replica" of God (as God incarnated in the flesh, He revealed to humanity the nature of God whom no one has ever seen); (6) That the entire universe is being held together by the "word" of Jesus' "power"; (7) That by His sacrifice on the cross, Jesus "made purification of (our) souls" (which grants us eternal life); (8) That Jesus' present position in heaven is the place of "honor" at the right hand of God; and (9) that Jesus' uppermost name is "The Son" (which is the name above all names).
Today, in Heb. 2:1-4, we'll hear the writer issue the first of five warnings. The general theme of this warning pertains to "drifting away"-i.e., falling into apostasy-by failing to play "closer attention" to what they have heard, specifically the gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed by His apostles. In the Christian faith, "apostasy" can be defined as "drifting away" from the true doctrines of the Bible into false teachings that claim to be newer and better interpretations of Christian doctrine. This warning is just as relevant to 21st Century Christians as it was to the writer of Hebrews' audience nearly 2,000 years ago. I have assembled a paper that explains examples of modern Christian Apostasy if anyone wants a copy of it.
Read Heb. 2:1-2 - PAY MUCH CLOSER ATTENTION!
1 For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it.
v. 1a: "For this reason" - The preface "For this reason" points back to everything that we should have learned from the previous chapter about the superiority of Christ over angels and the revelation of His spiritual precedence as "the Son" who presently sits at the right hand of God the Father. The bottom line is that this is a fundamental Christian doctrine that must not be altered in any way.
v. 1b: "we must pay much closer attention" - This is an all-inclusive, imperative command that is applicable to every believing Christian. We can never be too familiar with the content of the Bible, both the OT and NT. It's something that we must strive to imprint onto our conscious way of thinking. As a personal discipline, it entails a lifetime of deliberate and careful of study.
v. 1c: "to what we have heard" - By saying "we," the writer includes himself as one who needs to pay closer attention. The phrase, "what we have heard," refers to the apostle's oral testimony and teachings. By the time this letter was written (circa 60-70 A.D.), none of the writer's audience had heard Jesus speak firsthand but many had personally heard the preaching and teaching of Jesus' apostles, although the written New Testament had yet to be completed. For us, in this age, the "what" in this phrase comprises all 23 books of New Testament, from Matthew to Revelation.
v. 1d: "so that we do not drift away from it." - What they were in danger of drifting "away from" was sound doctrine-the truth-of the apostle's teachings. The idea here of the word "drift" pictures a Christian believer as a boat tied to a permanent dock with a line. If the line is allowed deteriorate over time, the boat (believer) runs the risk of being cast adrift into uncertain waters-i.e., the rocks and shoals of apostasy. The bottom line of this warning is that Christians who allow themselves to drift away are allowing themselves to get into dangerous territory.
Read Heb. 2:2 - THE UNALTERABLE WORD
2 For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every violation and act of disobedience received a just punishment,
Note: This verse is tricky because the actual meaning and application of it must be drawn from an inference between the OT and the NT.
v. 2a1: "For if" - The expression "For if" means this is an unconditional statement, completely true.
v. 2a2: "the word spoken through angels proved unalterable" - The "word" referred to here was the law that God spoke through angels at Mount Sinai in what became known as the written Mosaic Law-the Torah. The "word" that God handed down in this instance was legally binding upon all those to whom it was given-in this instance, all the children of Israel. And it was "unalterable," meaning that it could not be changed because it was the revelation of God Himself-the final Word.
v. 2c: "and every violation and act of disobedience received a just punishment," - a "violation" referred to doing anything that the law expressly prohibited (i.e., sins of commission) and "disobedience" was a failure to do something that the law required (i.e., sins of omission). The "just punishment" pertained to the certain penalties prescribed for both sins of commission and omission under the Mosaic Law. And what Israelites ultimately lost as just punishment for their violations and disobedience was not their salvation (from bondage in Egypt), but the loss of their reward of the promised land. Keep this idea in mind.
• Now, let's look at the Inference of this verse as it applies to NT Christians:
(1) The first parallel is the "word spoken" through angels versus the word spoken through His only Son, Jesus Christ, which, as God's ultimate revelation, is superior any words spoken by angels. (Heb. 1:2). The superior words of the Son come from the testimony of the Apostles, who heard Jesus speak in the first-person (Heb. 2:1c). Do you see this parallel?
(2) The second parallel is God's "just punishment" for sin under the Mosaic Law (Old Covenant) versus sin under the gospel message. In both instances, the people of faith are saved, from slavery under the Old Covenant and from the condemnation of sin (i.e., eternal life) under the New Covenant. In both, the punishment for sin is a loss of reward. The Israelites lost their land; for the Christian, it doesn't mean a loss of salvation (John 10:28-29), which is impossible, but a loss of rewards in God's heavenly kingdom. The key idea here is the loss of rewards.
Read Heb. 2:3 - IF WE NEGLECT SO GREAT A SALVATION
3 how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard,
v. 3a: "how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?" - The warning of this verse pertains to neglecting salvation, not rejecting it. Neglecting assumes a lack of care for something a person already possesses, whereas rejecting assumes he or she doesn't have it. Rather than encouraging sinners to become Christians, the writer is encouraging believers to pay closer attention (v. 1) to the "great salvation" they have received by faith in Jesus Christ. As Christians, more spiritual problems are caused by our "neglect" than any other failure on our part. This happens when we neglect God's Word, when we fail to pray, when we don't worship with God's people, when we're stingy with our resources, and ignore other opportunities for spiritual growth. When this happens, we drift. What we cannot "escape" are the spiritual consequences of neglect, both in this life and in the next.
v. 3b: "After it was at first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, This seems to be kind of a footnote that ties-in with the superior words spoken by Christ in v. 2, above. Although the readers of Hebrews never heard Jesus speak directly, His words were "confirmed" by apostles who heard Him speak in the first-person. So, the author of this passage is Jesus, and He is warning us that we neglect our "great salvation" at our peril. In terms of heavenly rewards, what exactly do we stand to lose? (1) I don't know and (2) I don't want to find out.
Read Heb. 2:4 - GOD ALSO TESTIFYING WITH THEM
4 God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.
Note: It appears that the following passage was intended by the writer of Hebrews to corroborate the message and the claims of the letter because the occurrence of signs, wonders, and miracles might have ceased by the time the letter was penned. However, many of the earlier converts, who are being warned here "not to drift away" may have seen them and needed to be reminded.
v. 4a: "God also testifying with them," - This is the only place where the word "testifying" appears in the NT. Jesus Christ spoke of salvation during His early ministry (Matt. 4:17; 19:28; Luke 12:31-32; 22:29-30) and the apostles taught the same truth, and by doing so, confirmed His word. This is the gospel at its widest meaning. God "testified" to His approval of Christ's preaching and the apostles' subsequent preaching about Christ by providing and authenticating miracles that demonstrated God was with them (see numerous examples in the Book of Acts generally).
v. 4b: "both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will." - By definition, "signs" emphasize that a miracle points to the truth of something; "wonders" emphasize the reaction of awe that a miraculous event produced in those who observed it; "miracles" emphasize the supernatural participation of God and His graciousness in providing them; and "gifts of the Holy Spirit" emphasize the special supernatural ability to perform the work of God in some way. The writer clearly intended that the reference to these miracles would corroborate and strengthen the readers' confidence in the gospel message they had received.
APPLICATION-The Perils of Falling into Apostasy:
1. We must constantly pay close attention to the sound doctrine taught by the Bible so that we do not "drift away" into apostasy. In practical terms, this means an ongoing study of the Bible generally, with a working knowledge of the sound doctrines taught by the apostles specifically.
2. Unrepentant Christians who allow themselves to drift away from the truth, stand to lose their heavenly rewards as just punishment for their sins. While it's impossible for a Christian to lose his or salvation (John 10:28-89), they stand to lose rewards in God's heavenly kingdom. This is generally referred to as the judgment seat (bema) of Christ. (see, Rom. 14:10-12; 2 Cor. 5:10).
3. As Christians, more spiritual problems are caused by our neglect than any other failure on our part. This happens when we neglect God's Word, when we fail to pray, when we don't worship with God's people, when we're stingy with our resources, and ignore other opportunities for spiritual growth. When this happens, we drift. What we cannot "escape" are the spiritual consequences of neglect, both in this life and in the next.