Hebrews 3:1-6

David H. Linden, University Presbyterian Church, Las Cruces, NM  USA 

imputed@gmail.com   revised,  November, 2010 

 

Jesus has been introduced as a merciful and faithful high priest in 2:17.  In 3:1-6, His faithfulness is emphasized. This we must keep in mind or “consider”. The rest of chapter 3 will dwell on the danger of unfaithfulness in His people.  OT statements about a faithful priest to come and the Son of David as the builder of God’s house are combined.  This combination  presents Christ as a royal priest, a theme later in Hebrews related to Melchizedek, the king priest. 

 

Moses was the greatest man in the OT since he had an access to God above all others. More Scripture was written under Moses than any other man, “the five Books of Moses”. No prophet in Israel’s past was greater, yet in the last days God has spoken in His greatest revelation of all – His Son. Israel was baptized into Moses (1 Corinthians 10:2); he was their leader.  He brought the law down from Mount Sinai to the people and interceded for them when they broke it. The glory of this man Moses is what the Lord spoke of him:

 

"When a prophet of the LORD is among you, I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams. But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?"                                                                                             Numbers 12:6-8

 

In Chapter 1, the Son is greater that the angels. Now in chapter 3 Jesus is compared with “My servant Moses”. Of Jesus the Father said, “This is my Son,” (Luke 3:22).[1] The Jews never considered Jesus of Nazareth their leader, or a priest in any sense, nor the true son of David, or the promised prophet greater than Moses (Acts 3:17-23). It would be very difficult for most of them to imagine Jesus as greater than great Moses. After Moses no prophet appeared like him. Note the description in Deuteronomy 34:10-12. They would have to learn that Jesus is the Lord (Romans 10:9), the same Lord who spoke face to face with Moses.

 

If any do not see clearly that Christ is greater than Moses, then they do not know Him as the Apostle and High Priest whom we confess (3:1). To view Him as less than Moses is to think of Him as less than He is. Such a view of Christ is unbelief; it is rejection. Hebrews has the urgent task to make the Person and Work of Christ clear. These brothers have confessed Christ as the Apostle God sent and the High Priest who alone has turned the wrath of God away from His people. The professing brothers receiving this Hebrews letter must realize what they were confessing.

 

 

3:1   The word in 2:1 was “we must”. Here in v.1 when it commands “Fix your thoughts on Jesus,” it is a  stronger exhortation. In saying “holy” it has reference to Jesus making men holy (2:11). In saying “brothers,” the writer continues the family language of chapter 2, where Jesus speaks of His own as “brothers” (2:11,12).  The writer speaks to his readers the same way. We naturally and properly assume that others of the same confession of Christ are believers, yet Hebrews raises the sober reality (as in 3:6,12,14 & later) that perhaps not each one who has made such a confession is a genuine brother. The Bible speaks to the corporate group as brothers; this is not a declaration that each individual who is part of the church is a true believer. (Note Romans 9:6.)

 

Jesus is bringing many sons to glory (2:10), so they share a heavenly calling. This implies that sinners are made presentable to be in the presence of the Lord (John 17:24, Colossians 1:12). This heavenly calling includes current access to God in prayer through Christ (4:16). The heavenly Jerusalem is the assured possession to which all in Christ have come (12:22-29), even before we arrive. 

 

Only here in the New Testament is Christ called an Apostle, One sent from God. Jesus was made lower than the angels by the Father (2:9), when He prepared a body for Christ (10:5). He appointed apostles and sent, just as Jesus is the One the Father sent (John 20:21). This truth is usually communicated by using verbs, as in John 8:26, “the One who sent me.” A concise, essential way to confess Christ as the One God sent is to say, “He has come in the flesh” (1 John 4:1-3). We confess Christ as the unique Apostle commissioned for His work as our Priest.  No one should be recognized as a professing Christian until that person has a basic confession of Jesus Christ in both His person and work. We are united in a variety of ways, and the most obvious is a common confession. For our confession to be rational and sincere, we must fix our thoughts on Jesus so we will know what we are confessing and Who is truly Lord to us (1 Corinthians 8:6). To ground our faith we must fix our thoughts on Christ, which leads to good doctrine. When we fix our thoughts on Christ, we renew our vows of Him as God’s Apostle to us, and the High Priest to God for us.  

 

3:2   To confess Christ as our high priest and the superior revelation of God (1:2) is to place Him above Moses.  It is essential that we do this even though the high praise of faithful Moses was spoken by God Himself!  (See Number 12:7 above.) 

 

In 2:17, Jesus is a faithful high priest. In the dark days of Eli and his wicked sons, the Lord promised, I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who will do according to what is in my heart and mind. I will firmly establish his house, and he will minister before my anointed one always” (1 Samuel 2:35). Samuel is not the fulfillment; his sons were corrupt (1 Samuel 8:1-5). Only the sinless Christ fulfills this promise completely. In Jeremiah’s day, priests were godless (Jeremiah 23:11). In Matthew 26 the high priest, a descendent of Aaron, was a leading conspirator in the murder of Jesus. Only Christ is the priest completely faithful to the One who appointed Him. Hebrews will later emphasize Jesus’ moral purity (4:15; 5:7-10; 7:26-28) as essential to fulfilling His priestly work.

 

Only Christ is the faithful Son of David:

 

I declare to you that the LORD will build a house for you:  When your days are over and you go to be with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever.  I will be his father, and he will be my son. I will never take my love away from him, as I took it away from your predecessor.  I will set him over my house and my kingdom forever; his throne will be established forever.

                                                                                               1 Chronicles 17:10-14

 

The sons of David were not faithful.  Solomon allowed the idols of his wives into Jerusalem (1 Kings 11). In Jeremiah 13 later kings in the line of David were extremely corrupt. In those days God’s prophets spoke of the faithful Son of David to come, the Lord Jesus Christ (Jeremiah 33; Ezekiel 34 & 37).

 

In the LXX of 1 Samuel 2:35, the words “I will set him over my house” are rendered, “I will make Him faithful in my house.” In their language, ‘to make faithful’ also means ‘to appoint’.[2]  The texts the writer has in mind are not obvious to us when we read Hebrews 3:1-6. 1 Samuel 2 and 1 Chronicles 17 combine to present Christ as both the faithful priest and as the royal Son of David who would build a house for the Lord. He is the One appointed and faithful over God’s house. There is no doubt that Christ is the Son of David over God’s kingdom with His throne established forever. These OT affirmations go far beyond what was ever said of Moses.  

 

Jesus is the royal priest. Moses is not the Son of David, nor could he be the faithful priest that 1 Samuel referred to, because Moses died years before both predictions. After Moses they were still waiting in faith for the promised Person to fulfill these predictions, the One Who would be over the house of God.    

 

3:2,5,6   Son vs. Servant   Moses was faithful in God’s house according to Numbers 12, but Jesus was faithful as the Son over God’s house according to 1 Chronicles 17.  As the Builder of the House, He must be over it.  The difference between Moses and Christ is clarified even more in the distinction between son and servant.  Numbers 12 spoke of Moses as a servant, and 1 Chronicles spoke of Jesus as God’s Son.  (See also 1:5). Thus our confession of Christ must include that He is a Person greater than Moses. In this text, believing comes from fixing our thoughts on Jesus. We fix our thoughts on Christ by paying attention to the Biblical witness to Him.

 

3:3,4   God’s House   Moses was a servant in and Jesus is a Son over God’s house. Both Numbers 12:7 and 1 Chronicles 17:14 mention God’s house. The house of David was a dynasty of kings. In Moses’ time “house” could refer to the building or the people.[3]  “House,” meaning people, is the meaning that fits this paragraph.   Jesus is “a great priest over the house of God” (10:21). The house Jesus is over cannot be the Temple in Jerusalem. He was not a priest from Levi, so He never entered the sanctuary of that Temple. The house Jesus would build (1 Chronicles 17:12) was not a physical building but His church (Matthew 16:18), the people of God. His church is His only temple on earth (Ephesians 2:21); His people are His house (3:6). 

 

3:3-5   The Builder’s Honor   Two aspects are argued here:  1) Christ is a Son over God’s house and 2) the builder has greater honor than the thing he has built.  The comparison in this paragraph is limited to Christ and Moses.[4]  So Christ is the One Who shall build a house for me (1 Chronicles 17:12), and Moses is part of the house being built. The ultimate proof of Christ being superior to Moses is that God [referring to Christ] is the builder of everything.” So Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. Jesus’ role as God the Creator, and thus Builder, was affirmed in 1:2. In Exodus 34 Moses had a temporarily radiant face from exposure to Christ. The Son is the unfading radiance of God. (See 2 Corinthians 3:7-18.)

 

3:5   Moses testified “to what would be said in the future”. Since Moses testified to what would be said after his time, it is clear that Moses is not the final word from God. V.5 does not speak of what will happen in the future, but what would be said in the future. When the Father sent Christ, that act was what God spoke (1:1,2) through all that Christ said and did (Acts 1:1). Jesus said of Moses’ testimony, “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?"  (John 5:46,47). When Moses testified,[5] he was referring to Christ as the One through whom God would speak. (Note John 12:49,50 & 17:8.) The way to take Moses seriously is to look for the One he wrote about, Jesus Christ. Even Moses looked forward to the day when God would speak in His Son.[6]

 

3:6   Now Hebrews 3 changes the subject from the faithfulness of Christ over God’s house to the faithful people who are that house. Christians may be defined by their status, i.e., they are justified and adopted. But Christians may also be defined by their lives: i.e., they are those who obey (5:9), those who wait (9:28), those who love God (Romans 8:28), those who have kept God’s word (John 17:6), those led by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9 & 14), helpers of the afflicted (Matthew 25:31-46), and those who overcome (Revelation 21:7). Yet no one is justified by rising to such descriptions as loving God, or by being led by the Spirit. The changed life is never a condition of justification; it is the result, but it is always the result. Those who hold their confession of Christ are God’s house, and those who do not, never were. is house. [See Appendix C, The Two “If’s” of Hebrews 3  in 3:7-19]

 

3:6   Confidence as Assurance of Salvation   Christ is the One Sent and the Priest who has offered. He is all we need to approach God, because He has already approached God for us. He removed all that is a barrier to God accepting us (2 Corinthians 5:18-20). Our confidence is not presumptuous; it is not a confidence in ourselves. It is a settled conviction that Christ is God’s provision, so God cannot reject the Priest He provided for us. Jesus’ intercession and advocacy for us is effective; we need no more than Christ to approach the throne of our holy God. This theme of access to God will be enlarged as the sermon continues (4:16). Confidence is never based on how we are doing, or in our faithfulness. That would be pride, not saving faith. Confidence is based in the One whose life and ministry has pleased God so much He has become the author of eternal salvation for all who obey Him (5:9). Holding on to our courage is not maintaining a state of pumped up feeling but having confidence in Christ. (In Isaiah 30:15 faith is presented as a resting quietness.) The gospel is not given to tease us, or to increase futile aspirations that things might go well for us. It is given to assure.

 

A Wider Hope   Hope has another sense. We live in a world, but one in which we have no stable and lasting city (13:14). Our hope is to be part of one with real foundations, whose builder and maker is God! (11:10). Our hope is for a better country, and He has prepared for us a city (11:16), the city of the living God, the new Jerusalem (12:22). Our external hope is tied to things we do not see yet. Our citizenship in that city is already a fact (Philippians 3:20). For man made from the soil of the earth, it is important to be certain of a place in this physical creation. The New Jerusalem will come down from God out of heaven [7] (Revelation 21:1-6). We have in Christ a hope of something external to us we shall yet see. We have internal hope that what we hope to see with our eyes will surely come. We see from afar (11:13), so we make public confession and boast about all God has promised will be, because it is based on the faithfulness of Christ.  

 

 

We are the point in Hebrews where a confident hope, public confession, and persevering faith are inseparable to the reality of having Christ as the Apostle and High Priest we confess. This will now clash with the reality of mere confession and counterfeit faith. With unbelief the horror of disobedience to departure from the living God wells up in the soul. This will bring on divine wrath and denial of divine blessing. The text has moved from the faithful Christ to the unfaithful “Christian”.



[1]  In Luke 9:28-36, the Father also affirmed that Jesus is His Son during the transfiguration when Moses appeared with Elijah on the mountain of transfiguration in the presence of Jesus.  There Moses, Elijah and the three disciples saw the glory of Jesus the Son of God.  Moses (who was also a priest according to Psalm 99:6) spoke of Jesus’ priestly work that He would soon accomplish in Jerusalem.  In making that offering, Jesus is the priest greater than Moses.

[2]  When the verb is active voice, it means to make faithful or “to appoint.”  I will set him over my house in 1 Chronicles 17 is a prediction not merely of Christ having a position, but that He will function faithfully in it.   Thus faithful to the One who appointed Him,” is a play on words, an example of using both ideas faithful and appointed at once.   Thus establishes = made faithful.  That is probably why the NT (under the influence of the OT) will use language such as establish in Romans 16:25 to mean God making His own to be faithful. 

[3]  In Exodus 34:26 house means building. In Exodus 16:31 it means the people, In Exodus 40:38 house refers to the people in a verse that also mentions the tabernacle. There house does not refer to a building but to the people of God.   

 

[4]  That Moses was the builder of the tabernacle, something every Jew knew, as reported in Exodus 40 and Hebrews 8:5, is left out of the discussion in Hebrews 3. Moses and Jesus were builders of different houses. 

 

[5]  Examples of material about Christ reported in the five Books of Moses are: Deuteronomy 18:14-20; Genesis 3:15; 49:10, and Numbers 24:15-19. To these we should add references to Christ through types; for example, all the blood sacrifices. Jesus is the ultimate Passover Lamb Whose blood turns from us the avenging wrath of God. 

 

[6]  In a startling word about Moses and Christ, note what the Jewish leaders said of each in John 9:28,29,  “Then they hurled insults at him [the man born blind] and said, "You are this fellow's disciple! We are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow [Christ], we don't even know where he comes from." When they spoke that way, they were ignorant of Christ, God’s final Word to them. We can see here the reason the writer of Hebrews takes so seriously how people might compare Moses and Christ. To think of Christ as they did in John 9 would be a rejection of the real Lord God of Moses. 

 

[7]  This city is the bride of Christ (Revelation 21:2 & 9). This conveys that God’s dwelling is with redeemed mankind on earth (Revelation 21:3. The vision may give the impression that the city is like any other with physical dimensions. But this is apocalyptic literature; its visions were not given with the intention of teaching that the New Jerusalem shall be fulfilled with physical gates and foundations. They do have the names of tribes of Israel and apostles of the Lamb, because the city is composed of people. Yet this is a vision of a new earth (Revelation 21:1). The city comes down from heaven (Revelation 21:2 & 10). We combine these truths from different Scriptures, and affirm without hesitation the Biblical teaching of a redeemed people in a redeemed physical creation, according to Romans 8:19-24. A redeemed, repaired, saved, renewed creation is also an element in our hope, and we wait patiently for it.