The context of this section is the wilderness experience of the Israelites. The basic point is that the church is also in a wilderness experience. For this reason, there is still a Promised Land or Sabbath Rest for the church that still remains. In fact, according to the theology of Hebrews, even before the fall there was a final Sabbath rest for the people of God (Hebrews 4:4). In the light of this, it is possible for those in the church today to fall away along the way, through unbelief, like many of the Israelites. Therefore, what one needs is a faithful high priest that can sympathize, offer help, and give grace in the most trying of times. Jesus, according to Hebrews, is such a priest; in deed, he is the only priest who can do so. This seems to be the idea behind the statement that Jesus is a priest in the line of Melchizedek, a mysterious priest that antedates the priesthood of Israel.
b. Questions for Discussion
1. It might be a good idea to recount the basic summary of the wilderness experience of the Israelites in the OT. What prohibited the Israelites from entering into the Promised Land? What is the book of Hebrews’ take on the Old Testament wilderness experience?
2. One of the paradoxes of this passage is the coordination between rest and restlessness. What is the relationship? Should we be restless to obtain rest? Or do we rest in order to be restless? Or is there a different way of looking at this tension?
3. It seems Hebrews 4:12 is out of place. Why introduce the idea of a sword in this context? An examination of the Old Testament sheds light. At certain junctures of the Old Testament there is a sword right before a person enters into God’s promised rest or the representation of that rest. For instance, there is a sword that bars entry to the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:24). There is also an image of a sword that is embroidered on the curtains that separates the Most Holy Place in the tabernacle (Exodus 26:1), and even in the episode where Joshua is about to enter into the Promised Land he comes before a figure with a drawn sword (Joshua 5:13-15). The point seems to be that one cannot enter into rest apart from a sword. The problem, then, is that a person can only enter by way of death. This is why, according to Hebrews, we need a faithful high priest. Jesus is so faithful that he has “gone through the heavens” (Hebrews 4:14) for us through death. In other words, he has taken the sword for us, so that we might experience rest. What does this insight offer? Do verses 12 and 13 make more sense in the light of this? Is there greater comfort?
4. According to Hebrew 4:15, Jesus is sympathetic to our plight, because he was tempted in every way, yet without sin. Also bear in mind that Jesus was tempted for 40 days after his baptism to succeed where Israel had failed (Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:9-13, Luke 4:1-13). Why does Jesus need to be tempted in every way without sin to ultimately be sympathetic? How can we be more sympathetic to one another? Would a mature Christian be more or less sympathetic to people? Why? According to this theology, why are people not more sympathetic? Is it because they capitulate to sin too easily?
5. Also, the humanity is Jesus is underlined in Hebrews 5:7-10. This is an allusion to Jesus’ experience at the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42, Luke 22:39-46), where he was so filled with such fear that as he prayed his sweat was like drops of blood. What can one learn from this aspect of Jesus’ life? Did God answer his prayer? If so, how?
6. Finally, there is a clear injunction to pray, so that we might receive grace in our times of need. When Christians do not pray, may this be viewed as functional atheism? Explore the dynamics of this.
Tags: Bible study, christianity, Hebrews, Theology