A study of Hebrews chapters 8-10 in nine parts

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SALVATION HISTORY FROM ADAM TO CHRIST

The book of Hebrews teaches us the full gospel of Christ. For the Hebrew Christians who were the recipients of the epistle to the Hebrew the purpose of the author was to teach them how to read the Old Testament in the light of Jesus Christ. Everything they have learned and lived has been turned upside down.

THE FALL AND ITS CONSEQUENCES

In order to see the importance of these chapters it is necessary to have a basic understanding of the history of man in his relationship to God, which is to say man’s rebellion against God; the consequence of this fall from grace; and the salvation history that reaches its fulfillment as it is expressed in these chapters of Hebrews. Redemption history started when God killed an innocent animal in order to cloth Adam and Eve and is completed in the ascension of Jesus Christ as a man, when the Father accepts his sacrifice for the sins of man.

What is essential to a study of Hebrews is the need to understand the depth of man’s sins in order to fully appreciate God’s forgiveness?  Jesus said the one who is forgiven little loves little, but the one who is forgiven much loves much. Such an understanding requires both an understanding of uncompromising nature of holiness and the total offence sin is to holiness. An important question this raises is ‘just how fallen is man’.  There are five issues to consider before proceeding.

1) What do we know about God?

2) What do we know about man?

3) There is a natural man and a spiritual man.

4) God has a problem.

5) Man has two problems

As we progress I will tie all of this directly back to our study of Hebrews.

 

WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT GOD?

This is not a philosophical question. I begin with the presupposition that the Bible is God’s word and he has given it to man so that man can know certain things about him. The Bible shows us God acting in the history of man revealing himself within a series of historical contexts.  The situations and conditions of man allow God to enter history and declare different facets of his self to us

In attempting to understand the meaning of the attributes God claims for himself it is important to notice that he does not define his words, he demonstrates them through his action. He is revealed in history. How has God described himself?

God never changes. (Mal 3:6)

God is God (De 7:9)

God is a creator. (Gen 1:1, John 1:1-14)

He created all things for his pleasure. (Rev 4:11)

God is sovereign. (Isa 45:5) I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God.

God is good. (Mat 9:17) There is none good but God.

God is faithful (De 7:9)

God is love. (1 Jn 4:8)

God is a God of Hope (Rom 15:13)

God is Holy. (Lev 11:45)

God is righteous  (Psalm 145:17)

God is just (Rom. 3:26)

God is jealous (Ex 20:5)

God is a God of war (Ex 15:3)

God is a God of wrath. (Rom 1:18)

God’s wrath is just.  Ro 2:6; tells us his wrath is to be feared. (See De 32:35).  Also God’s wrath is consistent towards sinners in both the Old and New Testament. God has directed the wrath he has for man upon himself by killing his own Son. Jesus voluntarily took God’s entire wrath upon himself and therefore those who believe in him are not under God’s wrath. The rest of the world is.

God is a judge. (Romans 14:12; 2 Corinth 5:10)

God is a consuming fire. (Heb 12:29)

All of these facets are part of God. Each of these revelations must be reconciled with all the other disclosures God has made. God is internally consistent so that his righteousness will not allow any compromise of his character. God is. This is non-negotiable. God cannot change who he is because he is not created, he is eternally who he is.

WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT MAN?

Gen 1:26 Adam and Eve collectively were called “man” by God.

Man was made in God’s image and likeness.

He had dominion over the earth.

Man walked with God

If man had not fallen his offspring would have existed within the relationship with God in a shared truth, faith and identity. Before they had children, God declared that their offspring were to pair off (Gen 2:24) and to become independent couples.  By this declaration God instituted the potential for both unity and diversity in the garden.

Man rebelled by choosing to yield to Satan’s words rather than remaining obedient to the one commandment God gave them.  This commandment was not moral. It constituted a choice. By choosing to obey God they could have demonstrated love, trust and confidence towards God. As a result of the rebellion man has fallen into corruption. All men have been changed.

The Bible refers to mans new condition as the natural man.

WHAT IS NATURAL MAN?

Paul says in 1Co 2:14 “But the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

The natural man is sometimes called a carnal man. Being carnal simply means living for one’s own appetites. Man does what is right in his own eyes. He is boastful, self-willed, ambitious, and determined to have life on his own terms. Paul says to be carnally minded is death and enmity with God.  Man has become an enemy that cannot be reconciled with God on man’s terms. God intended for man to live in trusting faith towards him and to reflect his image and glory. The obedience in the garden was obedience to faith. Man was free and he showed faith in God by denying himself the fruit of the one tree God asked him not to eat.  Man was free from need, free from lies, free from restraint, free from fear. He lost all this freedom when he rebelled. The rebellion has caused man to live for himself and his own glory. Self-will inevitably produces conflict. By cursing the ground God turned man’s self-will towards work.  His life is now restrained by necessities. This in itself is proof of his fallen condition.

The Bible calls man in this state “the natural man”.  Man just does what seems natural to him. Man was made to have a heart and mind that said to God “thy will be done”, but the fall made it natural for him to say “my will be done.” I don’t intend to convey here a doctrine of Sovereignty such as that of Islam or Calvinism where free will does not exist. Man is still free to commit his life to God; to acknowledge God in all things and to understand the needs created by his separation from God.  What corrupts this is man’s flesh which seeks to exalt itself on its own terms rather than Gods.   This will be developed as we go along.  Being carnal is also called living after the flesh.

In Galatians Paul describes the fruit of the flesh:

Ga 5:19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious, which are: adultery, sexual immorality, uncleanness, lustfulness,
Ga 5:20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, jealousies, outbursts of anger, rivalries, divisions, heresies,
Ga 5:21 envyings, murders, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these;

The natural man is self-centered, ambitious and covetous which logically puts him in competition and conflict with other men. Here we return to the question, just how fallen is man.

BEFORE THE FLOOD

Genesis reveals that after the fall man existed without restraints and the consequence was not utopia, as Progressives now envision; instead man completely filled the earth with violence and his imagination was evil from his youth. Only one family managed to follow God from Adam to the flood. We are told that Noah was righteous in all his generations.

Man on his own does not progress, he digresses into a monster. This is despite the fact that God places a conscience in every man and that conscience convicts him when he does evil. John 1:9 says that Christ is the light that lights the heart of every man that comes into the world.

In Romans chapter one Paul describes man as knowing God but not wanting to be mindful of him; refusing to be thankful and so his conscience is torn away from God’s influence by the appetites of the flesh. Romans 2 says in his heart he knows what to do but in his mind he wars against his heart because he prefers his desires over his sense of what is right.  In this manner his conscience becomes corrupted so that he glories in his sins and becomes blind.  In this respect, all men do what is right in their own eyes. Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25 says there is a way that seems right to man but the end is the way of death

Jer 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
The word “deceitful” in Jeremiah means crooked, fraudulent, or pretentious.  The phrase “desperately wicked” means to be frail, feeble, incurable, sick, or woeful.

LESSON’S FROM CAIN

That is the very picture scripture reveals in the life of Cain. God warned Cain that he needed to master his thoughts and passions. Cain was jealous because his brother was approved of by God. Abel gave God the sacrifice God required. Cain gave of the fruit of his own labor, that is, what was important to him, and God rejected it.  God told Cain to do the right thing and God would accept his sacrifice. Instead he appears to have blamed his brother for his rejection. After he murdered Cain he hid the body demonstrating a degree of fear and guilt.  He became defensive when God asked him where Abel was. Lying and defensiveness are the natural man’s way of keeping control of a situation.  Once Cain’s deeds were exposed, he expressed fear that other people would kill him. This is a natural reaction. It is the opposite of repentance and acceptance of consequences.

God cursed Cain and told him he would be a vagabond. Cain attempted to circumvent this curse by building a city. The meaning of the Hebrew word for ‘city’ is a place guarded by waking or a watch; or in the widest sense, even of a mere encampment or post. Cain name the city Enoch (initiated). Here we see how the natural man reflexively deals with the world. He seeks others who will join with him and help him magnify his power. He builds a society or a fort so he can feel safe.  By examining Cain’s genealogy in Genesis 4 and seeing what they did as well as the names they were given the chapter paints a picture of a high society. They had animal husbandry, metallurgy, and music, and the names of these descendants meant things like ornament, pleasantness, and perfume; so there is a sense of order and culture. In the middle of all these names that speak of a pleasant society one name means “fugitive”. Fugitives are alienated and seeking refuge. This seems to suggest that societies cannot fill a void left by a separation from God. Man is always left with a sense of emptiness and not belonging.

Chapter four also reveals a man who after killing one and wounding another, twists God’s words in order to claim God’s approval or power or protection.  Lamech declares “if Cain is to be avenged seven times, then I will be avenged seven times seventy.” The natural man needs to feel justified and so he deceitfully invokes the name of God to protect and justify himself.

Society provides a surrogate for everything man lost in his relationship to God. God gave man Identity, provision, fellowship, order, and purpose. All of these things were damaged in the rebellion.

What does society provide to man? It offers him rules so he can live together; it offers him protection.  It is a place of provisions and opportunity to pursue his own ambitions or interests. It offers him a surrogate for the garden.

This raises a question. Historically why and how do societies begin? We see here what they provide. But what is the impulse that begins a society. First we may note that men united in a belief are self-justifying.  All people need to feel right about the lives they choose. This is possible when they belong to something bigger than their self. Likeminded people glory in one another’s flesh. The values or beliefs they choose enable them to feel just and good.

HOW DOES A SOCIETY START?  

Societies develop when someone comes up with a way that seems right to those around him. They form a group and as they follow this leader/teacher they feel righteous; they justify their society and this gives the members an justification for being like the other members.  As the group grows it needs order so rules are made. Rules are like a skeleton that gives structure to growing life. But at some point the group gets large enough that the body of laws is too much for the religious leader to manage.  He has religious duties to attend to and administrating law all day keeps him from it. A split happens and two powers begin to co-exist; one for the law and one for the religion; a chief and a shaman, a priest and a king. The law still reflects the values of the religion and so the people feel they live in a just society.

As the society grows and becomes more sophisticated institutions begin to emerge. Proper relationships need to be defined; Justice needs to be administrated; decisions must be made on how to manage and distribute scarce resources; it requires policing behavior within as well as protection from dangers without. Other institutions are required. We are talking about law, economics (defining and creating wealth; production and distribution), finances (how wealth is converted to individual satisfaction) marriage, education, military, and politics. These are the things that define the natural order of the natural man. This is what Cain initiated. But the world of Cain was destroyed because it was full of violence.

AFTER THE FLOOD

After the flood God told man to scatter and fill the earth. To stop the world from once again becoming full of violence he made a covenant with Noah and in it he instituted capital punishment (Gen 9:6).

But man did not scatter. Instead we are introduced to a mighty hunter named Nimrod. He founded two cities that figure prominently in history, Babylon and Nineveh. Nimrod was a mighty hunter, but the Hebrew suggests his skill was in hunting men. He was charismatic and beguiling. He created the first recorded world empire. All of mankind submitted to Nimrod and he put all of mankind under one religion and purpose, to build a tower to heaven (the stars).   He was in a sense putting himself on God’s level by the strength of his will.

To stop this God confused man’s language and probably his understanding. Then the population began to scatter. But they didn’t scatter as couples would have in the garden, they were at war with God and needed to devise their own value systems; they divided up into seventy nations listed in Gen 11.  Each of these nations took their knowledge of the past and contextualized it into their own traditions to justify their own group and to show that there group was the authentic beginning of the human race. See illustration:

 

IN THIS ILLUSTRATION EACH OF THESE CIRCLES REPRESENT A DISTINCT SOCITY.

In these early beginnings of the natural man he had an impulse to bond together but was commanded to scatter, to draw back and think for his self. This dualism set in motion a conscience, but in was offset by his fleshly desires for power, security, and the approval of men. It was natural to gravitates toward communities.  Cites or societies give man rules, purpose, identity, justification and the chance to climb the social ladder and have the illusion of becoming better than others. It also enabled them to make war against those who refused membership. See illustration:

 

PRINCE AND POWER OF THE AIR

Satan offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus would simply worship him (Matthew 4:9). Satan would not tempt the Son of God with things he could not provide. He offered Jesus all the societies of man.

Eph 6:12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

What are these powers and principalities?  In Daniel we see Daniel pray and angels in charge of cities or countries fight against the angels of God to prevent those answers from getting to Daniel. So we could say that the powers and principalities are demonic forces. Most Christians do. But these can at the same time be the societies of man.  Man builds his identity and culture from the doctrines of demons that blind his mind.

2Co 4:3 But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost:
2Co 4:4 In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.

The natural man is blinded from God by Satan because Satan gives man societies that on the surface seem to answers the why questions about life. That is the world of Cain and Nimrod, the world of the natural man.

Whatever blinds them has to seem reasonable. It has to offer them answers to the emptiness they have. It needs to offer them some reason for unity and also for their individual place in the community. That is natural.

“Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14).

SIN VERSES GLORY

Let’s consider the fall of man. Sin according to Romans is falling short of the glory of God.

Whenever God acts in human history in any capacity or expression of his character we are seeing his glory.  Glory is the action or revelation that reveals God. Sin is man’s failure to glorify or reveal God through his actions. Before the fall man’s actions glorified God. Man was what God wanted him to be. After the fall the glory departed and man was left in a state of sin. Scripture does not complicate this the way theologians do. There is no indication of total depravity which destroys free will or original sin that can be washed away by infant baptism. What we see is God continuing to interact with man. He was appealing to Cain’s reason when he talked to him.

But man had been changed in some fundamental way. Man now exists in a condition or state of sin. There is no glory. Ecclesiastes cries out, vanity of vanity, all is vanity. Everything done under the sun is vanity and chasing the wind.  The societies of man are vain. They are empty in that God is not in them; man uses them to hide from God. He satisfies all of his needs artificially through society rather than by faith in God.

Paul puts it this way:

Ro 8:20 For the creation was subjected to vanity, not of its own will, but by reason of him who subjected it, in hope
Ro 8:21 that the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God.
Ro 8:22 For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.
Ro 8:23 And not only so, but ourselves also, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for our adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.
Ro 8:24 For in hope were we saved: but hope that is seen is not hope: for who hopeth for that which he seeth?

Man has been subjected to emptiness so he will be dissatisfied and seek for something more than what is. Some will find God. When man tries to fill his emptiness by his own will or with the things of this world he simply multiples his lies and increases his vanity. Every culture seems right to those who are in it. Man needs to believe that he has God or the gods or truth or ideal on his side. Whatever he deems is the ultimate purpose, he needs to believe he has it in on his side. This is the lie that Satan uses to darken the minds of men. In the illustration below we see man on one side of reality choosing between his manufactured estimates of good and evil. But God is not part of creation. He stands outside of it and judges it on the basis of what he intended from it.

 

An old Chinese proverb says “If you want to know anything about water, don’t ask a fish.” Why? A fish cannot develop a perspective on water. It is its world. The fish is totally immersed in it. It cannot draw away from it and reflect upon it. It is the only world he knows.

What allows societies to appear to be right to its individual members depends on how well each member is immersed into it.  To this end good members propagate the faith of their society.   The purpose of patriotism or propaganda is to make a society appear to be a self-evident truth. If propaganda is successful it is total and it is therefore invisible. It is simply the air members breathe. It is a value that is reinforced from every part of society. If it works well the people are their own jailers. They lock themselves in their little world. And they are also the reality police that arrest those who are straying from society. But in making this description I have left out the very real fact that God is always free to invade man’s history and reveal his truth to those who hunger for it.  By stating this in this manner, it demonstrates that God comes as an iconoclast exposing the lies by which man validates himself.

If Satan so immerses man into a system in the world that he can’t see anything outside of it, he is blinded and lost in darkness. Cultures do that. Some cultures are closed systems like the Aztecs, Christendom, or North Korea, where all the answers are contained in the society and few new thoughts were allowed in. Others are open societies like 5th Century Greece, or the West where individuals can seek out novel ways of thinking.

Jesus said we cannot serve two masters. The blood of a culture is money. It is what allows man to control his own ambitions. Jesus sets a contrast between coming to God in trust and taking control of life by the means of wealth. Societies generate wealth. They call to man to put his confidence in them. The battle is for the mind.

1Jo 2:15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

Why is this so? Why can’t we have wealth and live the good life and have God be happy for us?  The natural man thinks God should wink at his behavior and love him as he is.

MAN HAS TWO PROBLEMS

Man has two problems, they are sin and death. Sin reigns in the heart of man and so death is the inevitable end of man. Sin is a refusal to glorify God on God’s terms; to yield to him and say “thy will be done”.  Such a refusal makes him an enemy of God. Man cannot function properly unless he is what he was created to be. When he deviates from this purpose he self-destructs.  Such a person can be a pillar of his society, a paragon of the virtues of his society. If that society is built on a lie it is robbing God of the pleasure for which he made it.

This truth runs through the whole of scripture. In the epistle to the Romans Paul follows four threads; the righteousness of God; the grace of God; the reign of sin and the reign of death.  Frequently Paul mentions sin as a singular thing; not a group of behaviors. Ro 5:12 “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:”

The condition of the natural man is sin. Paul describes it in Romans chapter one when he says man knows God is real because the creation testifies to his reality. But man does not want to think about God and he refuses to be thankful to God.  In his willfulness he pulls away from God and becomes a slave to sin. He does what is right in his own eyes. He is boastful. James warns Christians to be wary of boasting because it is evil.

Jas 4:13 Come now, ye that say, To-day or to-morrow we will go into this city, and spend a year there, and trade, and get gain:
Jas 4:14 whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. What is your life? For ye are a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.
Jas 4:15 For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall both live, and do this or that.
Jas 4:16 But now ye glory in your intentions: all such glorying is evil.

None of this appears to the natural man as sin until God declares such independence as an offence to him.  In boasting man declares his independence from God rather than giving God the pleasure for which God created him; the pleasure of giving God his trust and faith.

The last thing to discuss of the five things stated at the beginning is this: God has a problem. It is this. How can a holy God have a relationship with a rebellious and offensive creation without compromising who he is?  In the next lesson we will look at that.

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