Lesson 3:   Hebrews 2:1-4

David Linden  University Presbyterian Church, LAS Cruces, New Mexico,  USA

 

The First Warning     This is the first of six warnings.  Some warnings will focus on conduct; this one is addressed to the mind. The cognitive side of the Christian life is a very important emphasis in Hebrews. We act according to what we think. A later appeal will urge the readers to consider Christ, (3:1). The command to love the Lord our God includes the mind in Mark 12:28-31. This warning is to ‘pay attention’. To ignore the message of Christ is bring God’s judgment, from which there can be no escape. If we are convinced, we will listen. They had already received numerous reasons to convince their minds. In chapter 1 they had the OT statements God had spoken of the Son. Chapter 2 reminds them of the message spoken by Christ Himself and confirmed by those who had heard Him in the beginning. That witness to Christ was corroborated by the unusual activity of the Holy Spirit – miraculous things men can observe. God had done enough to convince; the issue then, was for them to pay serious attention lest they drift away. 

 


2:1,2   Paying attention to what was heard is the proper response to God and His revelation. The readers of Hebrews had had exposure to the message of Christ.  The danger was that they would drift away by ignoring it.  Hebrews does not picture the message as the thing drifting, but people drifting from the message.  The analogy of a boat getting off course illustrates imperceptible change. One may not notice quiet drifting, yet it can lead to disaster.  

 

What had they already heard?   They had heard “the message spoken”.  God has spoken in His Son (1:2), and that was a superior revelation to all that had preceded.  Since Christ is greater than angels, greater attention ought to go to Him and His message.  In chapter 1 they had quotations of Scripture familiar to them.  God was making truth about Christ clear.  More than mere hearing is needed: they must pay attention.  Later the writer will emphasize that they must believe (3:19 – 4:2).   Faith is preceded by hearing (Romans 10:17).

 

Two major revelations from God are compared.  God had used angels in some way when He communicated His law (Deuteronomy 33:2-5; Acts 7:53; Galatians 3:19).  Violating that law spoken by angels brought God’s punishment.  When those angels spoke, that was one of God’s “various ways” of speaking in the past, (1:1).  Now He has spoken by a greater means (His Son) of a greater message (salvation).  What will happen to those who ignore the Son-message?  Christ as the Word (John 1:1), is Himself the message.  Further, the Scriptures quoted in chapter 1 were God speaking of Him.  Others (v.3) had heard Christ directly and had relayed that message.  To all this, God added supernatural support (v.4).  The problem cannot be whether the message had been given; the question is whether God’s communication was being ignored.


 

 

 

The Importance of Doctrine:   That such a warning comes after the highly doctrinal material of Hebrews 1, is an example of exhortation based on teaching.  In this case the point is that we must have a clear understanding of Who Christ is. If we do not, we will lack good reason to maintain a grip on whatever His ministry is.  A failure to grasp that He is The Son would make it easier to slip back to ways of a closed approach to God (7:19) under priests God has replaced (7:12) in an old covenant that did not change hearts (8:6-13), in sacrifices that cannot take away sin (10:4), by rejecting the only priestly intervention that can save (7:23-25).  The first antidote against this is to believe in Christ as God the Son.  To be without Christ, because He has been rejected in favor of priests who were merely forerunners of the real thing, is to face God without a saving sacrifice!  It is vital that we have the doctrine of Who Christ is and how salvation comes only through Him.  The later warning of Hebrews 10:26 begins by speaking of “the knowledge of the truth.”  Ignorance of Christ is the garden in which false doctrine and immorality grow.  Faith must have something to believe; when ignorant of Christian doctrine, faith lacks knowledge of what and Whom to trust.

 

 


2:3  In the case of the various ways of speaking (1:1), no one escaped if he refused attention to God’s word.  (See Jeremiah 7:21-29; Isaiah 34:1,2; 48:18,19).   Salvation is a greater message than the law, so rejecting the greater message brings greater punishment.   Two passages in Hebrews compare rejecting and refusing the old message of the law with rejecting the Lord Jesus.  In both of these passages, Hebrews warns of greater punishment (10:28,29 & 12:25).     

 

This paragraph has been comparing God’s former and His recent speaking.  Now it refers simply to the final revelation as “salvation.”  The Bible knows only two prospects for man: punishment or salvation. To ignore Christ is to lose all the benefit that comes only in Him and is available nowhere else.  Hebrews reviews how much has come to them to gain their attention.  Salvation was first announced by the Lord.  (This does not mean there was no previous announcement of salvation.  The Old Testament held out sufficient truth for the saving faith of God’s people.)  The action of God in these last days is a message of salvation first announced by the Lord Jesus.


 

 

The Lord Himself declaring the message of salvation:  “This salvation was first announced by the Lord.”  In the four Gospels, the Lord Jesus repeatedly promised in detail multiple benefits of salvation, such as eternal life in Himself (John 6:35), the resurrection of the body (John 11:25,26), fellowship with God (John 14:21-23), treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:20), and many more.

 

He further laid out the foundation of these benefits in the event of His death and resurrection.  In some places He declared the gospel as His death and resurrection (John 2:18-22;  Matthew 16:21;  17:9,12;  20:18,19;  Luke 12:50;  John 18:31,32). 

 

He included a number of declarations to indicate the saving purpose of His death.  He said He would give His life as a ransom (Mark 10:45); that the prophesies of Isaiah 52,53 were written about Him and were being fulfilled in Him (Luke 22:37; cf. Matthew 26:56).  He declared that His blood was poured out for His disciples (Luke 22:20), for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:28), and that eternal life comes from eating His flesh and drinking His blood, since He would give Himself for the life of the world, (John 6:51-59).   He would lay down His life for His sheep (John 10:14-18) and drink the cup the Father had given Him (John 18:11).  By being lifted up on the cross, He said He would draw all men to Himself (John 12:32).  All these things are from the lips of Jesus Himself before apostolic preaching of the cross even began.

 

 


Example of “those who heard Him” i.e., others who proclaimed the same salvation, are given in the Book of Acts.   They were not giving a new message; the gospel of Christ was confirmed as the genuine message by those who heard Him.   It was not a story being changed by repetition from one person to another.  The careful research to give an accurate record of Christ and His message is seen in the introduction to Luke, (Luke 1:1-4).  Thus the readers of Hebrews had received reliable reports, ones confirmed by those who personally heard the Lord.


 

 

Did the Apostle Paul write Hebrews?    The fact that the writer in v.3 apparently places himself as one who had received the news from others, rather than directly from Christ (Galatians 1:11,12), makes many scholars conclude that Paul did not write Hebrews.  I personally am not fully convinced of that conclusion, since writers sometimes speak of themselves as if in the situation of their hearers.  The style of arguing, and the emphasis on similar texts makes one wonder if this was not the hand of Paul.  To this we must add the way of ending his letter including the personal reference to Paul’s associate Timothy in 13:22-25.  Most scholars committed to Hebrews as God’s Word do not agree with this suggestion.  They have a strong argument in that the early church did not ascribe this epistle to one author.  There has been no consensus. My purpose is to deal with the message of Hebrews, rather than related things from outside the text. 

 

 


2:4  In these last days God has spoken in His Son, the big event of all history.  Any action that fails to have its intended result is not an act of God.  For our salvation, there must be the Priest Who will make purification for sin (1:3).   Then there must be an awareness that God has indeed acted.  In the past, at certain critical moments of history, such as the Exodus from Egypt, the Lord showed by visible signs, as well as words, that He was at work.  Miracles are not reported in Scripture as uniform occurrences.  The salvation first announced by Christ and repeated by those who heard Him was such a moment of time.  In support of this, God “testified” aggressively in addition to words by signs, wonders, miracles and gifts of the Spirit.  That God did this must have been common knowledge to the readers.  The supernatural activity of the Holy Spirit adds greatly to the appeal to pay attention.  It is as if He said to them, “You all know this, so pay attention.”  This is the opposite of telling people the news for the first time.  Hebrews is written to people who had confessed Christ, but were in danger of drifting from their earlier commitment.


 

 

Signs, Wonders, Miracles & Gifts of the Spirit:    Miracles and signs are not presented in v.4 as the central event.  Except for the Resurrection, which is much more than a sign, miracles are not the central thing.  Miracles pointed to and supported the message of salvation.  A road sign with an arrow “to Paris” makes no pretense that the sign is itself the real thing; it is not Paris but points to it.  It is the Word of God, the message itself, that continues in every generation until Christ returns, whether supported by other observable activity or not.  When Hebrews was written, this reference to signs and wonders in 2:4 was referring to something in the past.  This text is not saying signs and wonders are something God does whenever His message is proclaimed.  Some have this backwards – they emphasize miracles and slight the message.  Support for such a suggestion is not in this paragraph. 

 

Nor does this paragraph make any statement to confine God’s miraculous activity to the past.   The sovereign choice of God to act “according to His will” is God’s.  We, however, are to submit to His commanded means of service and evangelism, the proclamation of the Word.  Those who think God has given us weak weapons need to believe what God has said about His power, His Word, His Spirit and His determination to accomplish His will as He wishes.  Mighty Babylon was a broken hammer (Jeremiah 50:23), while the Word of the Lord in the mouth of His weak servant Jeremiah, was God’s real hammer to break the rock into pieces (Jeremiah 23:29).   God worked through His Word; Jeremiah had supernatural revelation of the Word, but beyond that performed no miracles.

 

With Daniel, who lived at the same time as Jeremiah, it was quite different. The Lord was determined in Daniel’s setting to show His control in the context of Gentile power.  He added signs and wonders to the ministry of Daniel. The Lord worked through the powerful preaching of John the Baptist, though John performed no miracles (John 10:41).   John’s ministry shook the nation and brought fear into the heart of Herod.  In our Lord’s ministry, God worked one miracle after another, not one of which by itself moved one sinner to repent unless He had been born from above by the Spirit!  (John 3:3; Matthew 11:20-24).  The power of the Word and miracles continued in the ministry of the apostles.  Thereby God showed that the same Jesus His enemies thought they were rid of was continuing to work in His apostles.  So Jesus’ activity was multiplied!  As the Book of Acts proceeds, it is the Word that prevails as the regular tool of evangelism.  All authority in heaven and on earth is Christ’s and He is with His servants in their ministry, He will never fail in His assigned task to save and thus not lose even one of those the Father has given to Him (John 6:39).  How God works is His prerogative.  How we work is settled for us by His instruction to us.

 

 


Anyone who has received the level of exposure to the message of salvation, referred to in 2:1-4, and then by careless neglect allows himself to wander away from it, is in a very serious situation.  This kind of warning is part of the message and motive of Hebrews.  Later warnings will only intensify the issue.  Let us pay attention lest we drift from the only Savior.