HEBREWS STUDY FOUR

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HEBREWS STUDY FOUR

Last week we began to look at the prophecy of Jeremiah in Hebrews 8:7-13.

We made it through verse 9.  I want to point out one thing more from the first verses.

Heb 8:7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, then would no place have been sought for a second.
Heb 8:8 For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, That I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah;

Heb 8:9 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord.

Heb 8:10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:……


Heb 8:12 For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.

God in this prophecy makes five “I will” statements. That is interesting when you consider in Isaiah 14:12-14 when Lucifer rebelled he made five “I will” statements (1).   In all five of Satan’s “I will” declarations he is expressing his intention to exalt himself.

In the five “I will” statements God makes through Jeremiah, God is humbling himself, coming down to man and attending to the problems that keep man from being able to walk with him.

1) I will make a new covenant with Israel and Judah

2) I will make a covenant that is not like the Old Covenant.

3) I will put my laws in their minds and write them in their hearts.

4) I will be to them God and they shall be to me a people.

5) I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more

We looked at the first four verses of Jeremiah’s Quote last week. Look again at verse ten.

I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:

God will put his laws in their minds; he will write them upon their hearts. This is similar to what Romans says about the conscience of the Gentiles.

Ro 2:14 For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves:
Ro 2:15 Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)
Ro 2:16 In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.

God will judge the secret thoughts of men by the gospel Paul is preaching. Notice that judgment is centered on desire, motive and thought. That sounds a lot like the Sermon on the Mount; if you have lust in your heart you have already committed adultery; if you have hatred, you have already committed murder.

The Battle for the Mind:

Paul is saying man has a conscience that is informed by God so that man is without excuse. Man is not born a blank slate that anything can be written on. God has placed the knowledge of truth in man but because of the strength of man’s autonomous desires he overcomes and even sears his conscience. The conscience can be corrupted and even destroyed. The promise of God in Jeremiah is something more; it is the promise that the Holy Spirit will be given to man to strengthen his conscience and keep it tender towards the will of God.

This reveals how desperately man needs a better covenant. God has promised that one day he will give the Jews new hearts and new minds and they will know the Lord. I will return to that. This promise is also for the church. The believer can ask God for his Holy Spirit and the Spirit will fill him. When this happens he enters into spiritual battle.  In this battle he always has the option of yielding to his flesh.

The conflict in Romans is that God’s law is written in their hearts as a conscience, but their thoughts war against their conscience because they are tempted by the lusts of their flesh. God is identifying the cancer in their lives. God knows that the battle for our loyalty and love is a battle fought in the mind.

2Co 10:3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh:
2Co 10:4 (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)
2Co 10:5 Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;
2Co 10:6 And having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled.

In the inner self man can create fantasy worlds that allow him to always have experiences on his own terms. He can role play being a saint or a demon; a hero, or lovers or whatever, secretly all day. That is the playground of the natural man (2).

Scripture tells believers to guard their affections. Paul was speaking about a situation where man’s thoughts were exalting themselves above the character and purpose of Christ. He told the Christians they needed to become pro-active. Once they realized that they had thoughts that insulted God and mocked their own faith they were told to avenge these disobediences. How? Paul was talking about the private thought world. When someone becomes angry or lustful they can give in, they can try to change their thoughts, or they can turn those events into opportunities for intercessory prayer for the other person.  The latter choice is proactive. The Christian does not have to allow thoughts to passively influence him.

In Matt 16 Jesus gave Peter a lesson in thinking by pointing out that one thought he had came from the Father; another thought was Satanic because it sought the things of man rather than the things of God.   Christians can take their carnal thoughts and turns them into prayers that release God to bless the people he was tempted to defile or destroy in his imagination. This works in many ways. For example, when I first became a Christian, the lyrics of a lot of secular songs always went through my head. I didn’t want them there. So I created worship lyrics and sang them when the tunes came into my mind.  The tunes stopped coming. Apparently Satan didn’t want to provoke me to worship God. When you have hatred, lust, or want to talk about the secrets you know about someone; whatever, any thought or emotion of the flesh towards someone; take revenge, learn to reflexively stop and pray for them immediately.  That is taking vengeance on your disobedience.

Spiritual Blessings:

Jeremiah prophesied about a state of grace in which God would renew the heart and mind of Israel.  Ezekiel prophesied the same thing.

Ezekiel 36:24-26:

I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

When you put these two prophesies together they say that the Jews will be made holy, they will have a conscience informed by God’s word but also God’s word will be the foundation for their thoughts. God said he would put his Spirit in them so that their inner life was transformed. Along with these spiritual blessings will come the geographical blessings related to the Millennium.

What is revealed in the New Testament is that the spiritual part of this prophecy is first being fulfilled in the church even though both the spiritual and geographical promises are real and remain future promises to Israel.

Ro 15:26 for Macedonia and Achaia have been well pleased to make a certain contribution for the poor of the saints who [are] in Jerusalem.
Ro 15:27 They have been well pleased indeed, and they are their debtors; for if the nations have participated in their spiritual things, they ought also in fleshly to minister to them.

Eph 1:3 ¶ Blessed [be] the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ;

Heb 8:10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:

Notice in verse 10 that the word laws here is plural. In the Masoretic Text it was singular, but in the Septuagint it was plural. The Holy Spirit inspired the writer to quote the Septuagint version. We are told often in the New Testament that we are no longer under the Law of Moses. At the time of the Masoretic text when a Jew thought of law they only thought about the Mosaic Law so the singular form fit. But God is communicating that a change has come so laws in the plural form is important.  By using the plural term the prophecy is saying God will put his laws within them; which is probably the Law of the Spirit and Life rather than the Mosaic Law which is the Law of Sin and Death. The Mosaic law condemned people but had no power to deliver them. Its job was to convince them of sin and the need of a savior. But for those saved, the Law of the Spirit and Life is about the process of transformation once forgiveness has been secured.

Ro 8:2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.
Ro 8:3 For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh:
Ro 8:4 That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.

The Christians relationship to the law is no longer founded upon a dirty conscience. It is transformed and internalized so that it defines the direction and process by which we are made into the image of Christ.  The laws that the church is under are the laws of Christ.  We will return to that again.   For now, just understand that the law placed in the hearts and minds in the New Covenant is not the Mosaic Law. It is the Law of Christ.  The Mosaic Law brought condemnation. Jesus Christ, who is the fulfilment of all Law and who fulfilled all Law in his own flesh, brings grace and truth. The goal never changes. The goal is to make man holy.

For now we will continue with the prophecy of Jeremiah quoted in Hebrews.

Heb 8:11 And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest.

What is it that no one needs to learn?  “Know the Lord”!  This is a reference to the Millennium. Christ will be reigning in the earth and all people will know him.  Israel had been called to be a light in the world in order to honor and demonstrate the will of the Lord through their obedience.   The church today is a witness to the Lord, because the world does not know God. In the Millennium everyone will know him. Nobody needs to say ‘know the Lord’. The lord will be reigning from Jerusalem.

This part of Jeremiah’s prophecy is about when the Kingdom of Heaven is set up and it is quoted to these Hebrew Christians to assure them that God has not forgotten his promise to their forefathers. When Christ returns and sets up his kingdom then all Israel will be saved. Everyone will know the Lord. But this promise to know the Lord is spiritually being fulfilled in the church now (for example John 14:16-18 or John 16: 13-14).

Heb 8:12 For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.

I will be merciful to their unrighteousness. We have talked about the difference between the natural man and the spiritual man. The natural man is self-willed, arrogant, ambitious, and follows his own appetites. By this I do not intend to suggest some form of asceticism because that is still the work of the natural man imagining that he can perfect himself through some form of self-denial.  Ambition is not wrong if it is submitted to God and allows God to direct its outcome.  The flesh does not seek to honor God. It seeks to exalt itself.  As long as man lives in the flesh his flesh will cause him to be at war with God.

Ga 5:17 For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.

Christ has promised believers a new body, but until that happens, (I Corinth. 15:52) this battle of human appetite warring against obedience to the faith will continue. The battle to defeat the flesh is not about self-denial, self-denial is still the flesh trying to add something to what Christ has finished. Rather the battle is fought in the mind as Christians recognize and act upon the truth that Jesus Christ nailed their flesh to the cross when he died. The Believer enters into that union allowing the Holy Spirit to teach, guide, and transform him through the scripture. Our faith grows as we are slowly being changed into the image of Christ. This process is called walking in the Spirit. This passage applies to the dispensation of the church.

The Millenium:

But this passage is not denying the future fulfilment when Christ changes Israel at his Second Coming.   In the Millennium God will fulfill his promises to Israel. Then he will be “merciful to their unrighteousness”.  This is the covenant promise to Israel and Judah and not necessarily to everyone living on the earth in the Millennium. It is a spiritual blessing to the church now. But for those people who go into the Millennium they will still be carnal (natural) men who are still self-centered.  It will be a time when Satan is bound and man will be forced to live the way God intended for him.   In Psalm 2 the Son is given the heathens for an inheritance. He will rule them with a rod of Iron and smash them to pieces like pottery. Consequently they are warned to be wise, to be instructed and to serve the Lord with fear.  The Psalm concludes:

“Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.”

This same authority is promised to the church of Thyatira in Revelation.

“To the one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father.”

Here we see that the church will rule and rein with Christ. They will be given authority over nations and cites. This is the kind of authority Israel will have. Think back to our study on why God created Israel as a nation. God wanted His holiness to be displayed in the world through that nation. Here God will display his holiness in the whole world. In Israel we saw the harsh penalties for sin. So it appears in this verse in Hebrews God will demonstrate a special mercy to Israel’s unrighteousness because of what they suffered throughout history; but the rest of the world will be under the same strict authority of God that the nation of Israel once was. The shoe will be on the other foot. There are over fifty verses that speak of this time. For example; Isa. 27:6; 43:10; 60:1,3,5,14; 62:2,3; and Joel 3:2.

8:12 For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more,

This seems to be an assurance to the Jews that God will show them the favor he promised them, at some point in the future, during the Millennium. The Jews were given many specific promises about the Kingdom of Heaven, but the Hebrew Christians who received this letter were being shown how to reinterpret what they knew based upon their nations rejection of the Messiah and the institution of the church age. Now the Kingdom of Heaven was being delayed until the Millennium. The doctrine of the Millennium was not fully addressed until John wrote Revelation 20 in 90 AD, many years after the epistles to the Hebrews.

This passage is, at least in part, dealing with their concerns about that time period which they knew as the Kingdom of Heaven.

Why the Millennium:

God has chosen a period at the end of salvation history to fulfill the promises made early in the history of salvation when he dealt with the people of Israel.

The Kingdom of Heaven was a constant concern to the Jews, even the Christian Jews. They legitimately wanted to know what happened to it, and when it would happen.  It was a promise to them.

Are those promises loose end that God has to deal with at some point or is it part of the flow of salvation history?  Is God just fulfilling promises that didn’t fit into any earlier scheme of things? There was a chance that the promises could have been fulfilled at Christ’s first coming. But they were not because he was rejected (Matt 12).

When the Pharisees had blasphemed the Holy Spirit and lost the right to the kingdom Jesus began to talk in parables and at that time referred to the Kingdom of Heaven (KOH) as a mystery (Matt.13:11). We now understand that the KOH will be in the Millennium. The KOH happens when Christ and David (Ezek. 34:23-24; 37:24) and others (Zech. 14:5; Matt. 19:28, Lk. 19:14; Rev. 20:4) reign over the earth from Israel. That time was obviously of concern to the Hebrew Christians. The disciplines last question to Jesus as he was ascending was “will you set up your kingdom at this time (Acts 1:6)?” He said it was not for them to know when. Revelations has revealed that this time will be the Millennium. But why is there a Millennium? Does it have a point, or is it just some extra things God promised to do? Before we look at that we need to see another part of salvation history.

Fullness of Time:

Ga 4:4 But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,

This is an interesting phrase, “the fullness of time.” I see a couple of meanings in it. The Jews had been taught the language of redemption and had amply chances to succeed at keeping the law. The process had come to a point of endless repetition. It was time for something new. That could be an indication of why this was the fullness of time.

But it was also the fullness of time in another sense because every type of human institution had been tried and failed before Christ came. Anarchy was tried before the flood. But after that the world had seen the rise of empires, democracies, agrarian communities, manufacturing and trade; every possible way that man could live had been tried and proven to be wanting. All that subsequent history has added to this is technical innovations. So in the fullness of human history, when every imagination of man had failed, Christ came. Why is that important?

God is Vindicated:

When the Great White throne Judgement happens at the end of time every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Fear is a reason to bow and be silent. Their eternal destinies are being decided. But also God’s righteousness is being vindicated for all ages to come. His righteousness is being vindicated by silencing every argument that could be made by man in which man could say to God ‘if you had done it this way I could have been successful’.  All of man’s accusations are being silenced. To silence them they had to be played out in history.

God always has two witnesses. One witness is the mighty cloud of witnesses spoken of in Hebrews 12:1. People of faith were saved out of every conceivable situation and will be able to say, ‘my faith was strengthened by my experience.’ To ever voice that would say I couldn’t believe because of such and such, a host of believers will rise and say that very experience is what strengthened my faith.  A chorus will testify to the goodness of God at the sound of every excuse.  That will silence anyone who uses those experiences as an excuse to reject faith. It is important to see this so we understand that our trials are designed to give glory and honor to God on the day of judgement.

The other witness to God’s righteousness in that day is the fact that self-centered natural man has been given every possible way to live in order to attempt to attain righteousness apart from God. In every way he has made a mess of things.

Before the flood man lived in the world without restraint. That didn’t work. Later, the Hebrews had God tell them how to live and that didn’t work. The church has had the Holy Spirit and what Christians have learned is that even with the help of the Holy Spirit man cannot change himself. God must be the agent who brings change to him. Either God will accomplish his will in us or we will continue to fail. Every way has been tried and failed except one.

Could man have remained faithful to God if there were no Satan? Could men have lived righteous lives if they had guardians that made sure they got taught the right things and they came from good homes; and received all the abundance for the things needed for life?  All of those questions are dealt with in the Millennium.

Do you see how the Millennium closes the loop?  Satan is bound and man has a thousand years under the rule of Christ and his righteous servants.  The natural man will draw from this wisdom and under the authority of the righteous who rule and reign with Christ. There will be unity and diversity founded on truth and the world will be united by this government of peace and the singular faith in Jesus Christ and his law.  The natural man will have a thousand years to learn righteousness.  Nevertheless, when Satan is unleashed for a short time a third of the population will rebel because self-will is always tempted to go its own way.

The faithful from both Testaments vindicate God because of their faith in him rather than themselves. Understanding how the Millennium closes the loop on all human possibilities it then makes sense that the Millennium is the perfect time for the Kingdom of Heaven to take place in Salvation History. What we see is a chiasmic history.

  1. Creation
  2. Fall
  3. A millennium when man lives unrestrained.
  4. The Bride of Jehovah- Israel obedience to Law
  5. The birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ,
  6. The Bride of Christ- obedience to Faith
  7. The Millennium when man is completely restrained
  8. Salvation completed at the Great White Throne Judgment
  9. Creation of a new heaven and a new earth

 

God Keeps His Word

The point of this little rabbit trail is to say that what the Hebrew Christians expected from the Old Testament will happen. They were confused because they believed those prophecies and were trying to see their fulfilment at that time.  They did not fully understand that they were being called to something different and better.  They were told by the author that Jeremiah was being fulfilled at that time, but what was being fulfilled were the spiritual promises within it. Those promises are the spiritual roots of the church.

As Christians we all recognize that God is merciful to our unrighteousness and we do not deserve it. We have been chosen and are beneficiaries of his mercy. God has declared us to be righteous apart from the law because of our faith in Christ. God sees us through the sinless blood of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit makes God known to us. The Hebrew Christians were seeing the beginning of the new, but many were hanging onto the old. The author was telling them to let go.

Heb 8:13 In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away

That concludes the prophecy of Jeremiah.

From the middle of verse 8 to verse 12 he has been quoting Jeremiah. The author has shown them in two ways why the old must pass away. First it failed because it could not reach a conclusion where sin and death were finally dealt with. They should have seen that it needed something other than itself to finally finish the process of redeeming man. Second he says it was prophesied in scripture that this would happen. They were told in Psalm 110 that they needed to look for a priest after the order of Melchizedek; a priesthood that is greater. Jeremiah and Ezekiel both prophesied that a new covenant was needed and would come.

Why was it so hard for the Jews to understand the church?

Paul wrote in in Romans 9 that blindness in part has come upon Israel, so that the Gentiles could be saved. In 2 Corinth 3 Paul said blindness was a veil that was over their eyes. Paul said that veil is the Law of Moses and those who turn to Christ do have the veil lifted so they too can see.  Paul follows this thought in keeping with Jeremiah and Ezekiel and speaks of hearts that are flesh; hearts that have been circumcised and are tender towards God.  In the New covenant for the church, God gives believers his Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit reveals the truth of scripture to them; and he washes them in the word and makes them clean.  Believers receive the living word so they can stand in the faith and also continue Christ’s ministry to the lost.

Blindness in the Mosaic Law:

In 2 Corinthians chapter 3, Paul gave a lengthy description of who Christians are.  He says the old Law was written in stone, but now in Christ the word is written in the fleshly tables of the heart. To this end Christians are living letters, known and read among men.

The Mosaic Law was glorious, but it blinded men because they were still walking after the flesh and thought that in the Law they could attain the righteousness the Law demanded. They were blinded by that. Every time they study Moses they are charged up to go out and accomplish in their flesh what can only be accomplished by the Holy Spirit working in and through man. So the letter of the Law kills. It is the Spirit that gives life. The veil over their eyes is removed when they come to Christ.

2Co 3:15 But to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart.
2Co 3:16 But whenever one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.
2Co 3:17 Now the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
2Co 3:18 But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord, the Spirit. 

The blindness of the Jews is understandable. They received a revelation from God that appealed to the carnal nature and said “do this and be righteous.”   In reading the Law they are encouraged to do better and to resolve to obey God. They remain blind to the weakness of their own flesh and think if they determined to do what they should, they could do it. God does not ask people to do the impossible. But the flesh always presumes that it can do what it sets its mind to do. It is blind to the fact that its self-will and self-centeredness are antithetical to being one with the will of God. They have the Law to encourage them to do it.

Blindness is not limited to the Jews. The whole world has had their minds darkened by Satan (2 Cor. 4:4).  There is blindness in the church. Jesus marveled at the inability of the disciples to understand him even when he spoke plainly to them. This is part of the human condition.

Blindness in the Church:

Blindness also resides in the church, but it has less to commend it.  How is it possible that believers can read the same passages and come to opposite conclusions about the meaning of the text? Is God unable to communicate his will?  Is his word impenetrable?  The problem lies with man. Everyone has presuppositions, that is, things they presuppose to be true before they come to the text. Presuppositions are blinders. Blinders were put on horses to block their peripheral vision so they would not stray off the road and into the adjoining fields. The things we assume about truth or reality determine what we see and what we do not see. Doctrines have this same effect on believers.

Some people presuppose the Bible to simply be another piece of literature. Some presuppose it to be the Word of God. Among these latter, some think it is infallible; others believe it is full of errors. Some think it is God’s Word without error, but think it is allegorical. Others think it is literal.  Some pay no attention to the genre of a particular text. Is it poetry, history, doctrine or parable? Does this matter?  Most people attempt to read their culture into the text and judge the text by their cultural values. All of these things determine what is seen and what is not seen. People take what fits and gloss over the rest. When examining these blindness’s willful ignorance comes to play because such examination challenge the identity of the believer who holds to and identifies his self with a particular position. Man defines himself by his beliefs and the group associated with those beliefs.

Doctrines are built out of these things and they can make the believers fruitless in their true calling. The blindness of the Jews because of the reading of Moses was pale in contrast to the denominational defensiveness that neuters believers called to the greater things of Christ. We are encouraged to examine ourselves to see if we are of the faith.  This is the struggle we witness in those Hebrews who first received this letter.

2Co 13:5 Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?

Being “in the faith” is a misunderstood term. We are called to the faith. The faith here is not personal commitment, it is the content; the truth that unites us. Belonging to the faith here means being united in truth with others who hold to the truth. It is a belief held in common. We are told to contend for the faith once delivered onto the saints (Jude 1:3).

We are told to rightly divide the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15).  It is important to periodically examine what we believe in the light of our growing understanding of the word. Is the foundation for our personal faith faulty?  If so it may rob God of the fruit he desires to glean from our faith. We see Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount saying “you have heard…, but I say onto you…”.  He is calling to their attention the fact that they have not correctly understood scripture. This was a chastisement he gave to the Pharisees when he said “You search the scriptures daily thinking you will find life, but they all testify of me.” For Christians the issue is not that of salvation, it is about growing in Christ and producing fruit. In the course of learning God’s will we all error. It is important to reexamine what we hold to be true and see if it is in fact something that is blinding us to what God desires for or from us.

Paul had a miraculous calling; he preached for fourteen years, he had a clear conscience, but still, by revelation he was led to seek out the apostles in order to make his ministry accountable to the truth.

Ga 2:2 And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain.

The Hope of Glory

Christians have a far greater glory. Paul writes that Christ in us is the hope of glory.  The church, by the Holy Spirit, ought to be becoming living letters written in flesh; they are the tabernacle of God going forth everywhere so that God can tabernacle with all the people of the world. The Tabernacle is the tent of meeting where God meets with man. The church is made up of believing people who are now the place of meeting.  Their faith is a living letter telling people that God wants to be involved in men’s lives.  Both Jewish and Gentile people are called out of the world to become this one new body of Christ.

A New Creation

We talk about the natural man and the spiritual mans. They have some things in common. They both live in the earth. They are both contingent on something other than themselves to define who they are.

What is being developed here is a new identity. For the Hebrews the difficulty was doubled because they were trying to discern the purpose and difference between two covenants both given to them by God. They were trying to define themselves by two systems that were not compatible.  Man can only understand himself by what he attaches himself to.

Man is Contingent:

Ge 1:26 ¶ And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness

The Hebrew words for image and likeness both speak about man representing something other than himself. The word “Image” is sometimes used for an idol and suggests that God’s intent was to create something that visibly symbolized his glory. The word “likeness” means similarity. Adam and Eve were to be a physical representation of the glory of God. Glory is the result of God’s action in revealing himself.   His first revelation was making man as a mirror or reflection of who he is.  When they rebelled the glory departed. A state of sin remained.

The point here is that man is always defined by something other than himself.  Roman’s makes it clear that when he turns away from God he worships and serves the creation. Chesterton wrote that “when man ceases to believe in God he does not believe in nothing; he believes in anything.  But man doesn’t just believe, he draws his identity from what he believes. As CS Lewis noted, Man is not a noun. He’s an adjective that attaches his self to a noun and defines himself by it. So if believers, through the Holy Spirit, define their lives by and attach their self to the Word of God they become a living letter of the Word in the flesh.  It is not the same as the incarnation. But in some sense a transformation by the Holy Spirit enables God to build his word into the core by which people define themselves.  Christianity is not simply an intellectual exercise of believing. It is God making his word alive in them.

For the natural man this is not possible.  Self-centeredness cannot create a heart devoted to serving God alone.  Chrsitians are new creatures whose spirit is being regenerated by the Holy Spirit.  Paul says we are flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone. James tells us to receive the engrafted word which is able to make us whole. To be balanced in the faith Jesus gave us three parameters in John 15. He said abide in me. Abide in my love. Abide in my word. Too often people settle for one or two of these and the neglect depending on the choices leads to license, legalism, or mysticism.

For the balanced remnant:

Here the passage of Jeremiah quoted in Hebrews is being fulfilled in part; for those who come to Christ because the Holy Spirit is making his word alive in them. The spiritual promises are given to the church.

Eph 1:3 ¶ Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ:
Eph 1:4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish before him in love:

At the time the Hebrew Christians received this letter the temple remained and the church was an undefined concept. The author was sorting this out for them. The process was to turn their attention away from the rituals of the sacerdotal system and onto the person of Christ.

The Manifold Mysteries of God:

The author has just told them they should have seen the need for a new covenant and they should have understood from Jeremiah and Ezekiel that such a covenant was coming. But in the New Testament there are things that they could not have learned from the Old Testament. Some of those things are alluded to in the promises in Jeremiah and Ezekiel but do not find real expression until the New Testament.  The New Testament reveals mysteries that were not known in the Old Testament. When something was not revealed in the past but was in the process of being revealed, scripture calls it a mystery. It did not remain a mystery because it was being revealed at that time. Paul uses a phrase like “Behold I show you a mystery.” He calls himself the steward of the manifold mysteries of God.

There are many mysteries revealed in the New Testament, by Jesus, Paul and John. Many of them clarify the confusion the Hebrew’s were experiencing.

The epistle to the Hebrews is an early letter and most of these mysteries were revealed after the letter to the Hebrews was written.  These Hebrew Christians had a duel problem in that there were things they should have known and things they could not have known.  Today the church has hindsight because they have the whole canon of scripture. The first two mysteries mentioned by Christ are the mystery of the Kingdom of Heaven and mystery of the Kingdom of God. I believe these are two separate kingdoms and the Hebrew struggle is centered around being called out of one and into the other. I believe much of the confusion of many churches comes from mixing these kingdoms together. Next week we will take a pause to examine these mysteries.

 

Footnotes:

  1. This kind of symmetry runs throughout all the sixty six books of the Bible like so many threads creating continuity that makes it simply, “The Book”.   God not only teaches truth; he brings balance which ties together and illuminates all the books in the light of all the other books. In this regard the Bible stands alone in literature. In addition, many passages, particularly in the Old Testament are poetic in the original language; they organize as chiasms and other artistic literary forms.

Note: A Chiasm is a circle structure in literature where a point is made and then mirrored back.   ABBA. Benjamin Franklin’s axiom “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Jesus’ words in Mark 2:27 are in the form of a chiasm: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”

2. Man lives in a world where people can turn the fantasy of movies or novels into vicarious characters he pretends to be in his imagination.  He can create imaginary character in chat-rooms and remake the whole world into a private place where all his desires are inflamed or temporarily satiated.  Computer games and social media allow him to be interactive in every form of evil.  Bring thoughts that exalt themselves above the authority and purpose of Christ must take place in the mind where imaginary characters are created and vicariously pretended.

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