Addressed as “holy brothers, sharers in a heavenly calling,” believers are asked to think carefully (katanoéo) about the “apostle and high priest of our confession, Jesus.” As “brothers,” believers are members of the family of God’s children, individually having an equal standing before him as his approved “sons.” Forgiven of their sins on the basis of Jesus’ sacrificial death, they are “holy,” clean, or pure. Theirs is a heavenly inheritance to be enjoyed in company with Christ. They responded to the invitation or call to be reconciled to God by accepting the atoning benefits of Christ’s sacrifice. So, individually, they are sharers in a heavenly calling. (3:1)
The Greek word noéo can denote to “perceive,” “understand,” “recognize,” “think through or about,” “imagine,” or “contemplate.” As an apparent intensified form of noéo, katanoéo (in this context) may be understood to mean “think carefully” or “consider closely.” (3:1)
The Father sent his Son to the earth. Therefore, as “one sent forth,” Jesus is an apostle. In carrying out sacred service for believers, he is the high priest, the one whom they confess or acknowledge as serving as such for them. (3:1)
Jesus Christ remained faithful to his Father, the One who had made him apostle and high priest, just as also Moses had been “in his [whole] house.” Moses faithfully discharged his responsibilities in God’s house, that is, in the household of God’s people or the nation of Israel. Jesus Christ flawlessly fulfilled his Father’s will when functioning as apostle and high priest. (3:2; see the Notes section.)
Although both Jesus and Moses were faithful, trustworthy, or dependable in their respective roles, Jesus is worthy of “more glory” than Moses, just as the builder of a house would be accorded more honor than would the house itself. The credit for a well-constructed house is given to the builder. No one would think of assigning credit to the house itself. (3:3; see the Notes section for a different meaning of “house.”)
Houses, of course, do not build themselves. So every house has a constructor, and God is the builder of all things. Through the Son, the Father created everything, and the Son is the heir of everything, making him far greater than Moses. (3:4; compare 1:2; John 1:3; Colossians 1:16.)
Apparently drawing on the words of Numbers 12:7 (LXX), the writer of Hebrews referred to Moses as having been “faithful” or trustworthy in God’s “whole house” (the household of God’s people Israel) as an “attendant” or servant. Continuing, the writer pointed to the purpose of the service as being “for a testimony of the [matters that] were going to be spoken [later].” This testimony related to the Messiah or Christ, for God would raise up a prophet like Moses and the various features of the law pointed forward to grander realities that would be fulfilled in Christ. (Compare Deuteronomy 18:18, 19; Colossians 2:16, 17; Hebrews 10:1.) These grander realities include a better covenant, a superior sacrifice, real forgiveness of sins resulting in a completely cleansed conscience, a greater high priest who does not die and so will never fail as an intercessor. (3:5)
Unlike Moses who was an attendant or servant in the “house,” Christ, as the Son, is over the house. Believers are (literally, “we are”) this “house,” for believers are the true Israel or the household of God’s people. To remain part of the house or household, however, they must maintain their “confidence [parresía] and pride [kaúchema] of hope.” According to the reading of other manuscripts, they needed to maintain their confidence and pride of hope “firm to the end.” (3:6)
The Greek term parresía conveys the thought of “boldness,” “outspokenness,” “fearlessness,” or “confidence.” Regardless of what they may have to face, believers need to remain unwavering in their faith in God and Christ and in the certainty of the fulfillment of their hope of being united with Christ as children of God in the sinless state. The hope itself is one in which they should take pride or, according to another significance of the Greek word kaúchema, in which they should boast or glory. (3:6) Translations vary in their renderings, depending on the specific sense of the Greek terms translators have chosen to convey. “And we are that household, if only we are fearless and keep our hope high.” (REB) “We are his house if we hold firm the confidence and the pride that belong to hope.” (NRSV) “And we are his household, as long as we fearlessly maintain the hope in which we glory.” (NJB) “And we are members of this household if we maintain our trust and joyful hope steadfast to the end.” (J. B. Phillips) “And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast.” (NIV)
The failure of the nation of Israel in remaining faithful to God serves as a warning to believers. Quoting the Greek text of Psalm 94:7-11 (95:7-11), the writer of Hebrews introduced the quotation with the words, “Therefore, as the holy spirit says.” The divine judgment against the faithless generation of Israelites was revealed through the operation of the holy spirit. So the poetic narration of that judgment (coupled with the warning to be heeded), found in Psalm 95(94), is appropriately attributed to the speaking of God’s spirit. The quotation reads, “Today, if you would hear his voice, you should not harden your hearts as in the embittering [provocation, rebellion; Hebrew, Meribah], like the day of the testing [test, trial; Hebrew, Massah] in the wilderness, where your fathers tested [me] in trying [me], and they saw my works [for] forty years. Therefore, I loathed that generation and said, ‘Always they stray in the heart, and they did not know my ways. As I swore in my wrath, If they shall enter into my rest.’” (3:7-11)
The time to “hear,” or to listen to, God’s voice is “today.” Obedient response to his words is not to be postponed. Israel’s past history demonstrated the need for prompt obedience. (3:7)
The Israelite forefathers hardened their hearts, showing themselves to be unresponsive to God’s words. At Rephidim, they murmured for water, complaining that Moses had brought them and their livestock into the wilderness to die of thirst. By their murmuring, they faithlessly tested God, acting in a way that suggested he could not provide for them. (Exodus 17:1-7) This testing occurred despite their having seen his activity, including his delivering them from Egypt and providing them with manna as their food. According to the extant Septuagint text, God is represented as loathing the faithless generation of Israelites for forty years. In the book of Hebrews, however, the quoted words relate to the forty years the Israelites saw God’s activity. This suggests that the murmuring about water was representative of the way in which the faithless generation responded during the forty years in the wilderness. (3:8-10)
On account of their faithlessness, God felt a loathing for that generation. In the “heart,” or in the inmost self of their being, they proved to be wayward. They did not “know” God’s ways, that is, they refused to recognize his ways, repeatedly disobeying his commands. For this reason, he swore in his anger that they would not enter into his rest. The Greek word for “if” (ei) in the phrase “if they shall enter” functions as an indicator of solemn assertion that the faithless Israelites definitely would not gain entrance. To Abraham, God had originally promised to give his descendants the land of Canaan. Liberated from enslavement in Egypt, the Israelites could have entered God’s rest, sharing in the blessed results from the completion of his creative work. They would have been able to take possession of the land that was part of God’s creation and then to enjoy its bounties. With the exception of Caleb, Joshua, and the Levites, the entire faithless generation died in the wilderness, losing out on the opportunity to enter God’s rest. (3:10, 11)
Entrance into God’s rest appears to relate to his purpose to have humans enjoy intimacy with him as his beloved children and all the blessings that he would grant them. According to the Genesis account, God pronounced all his creative work as “good,” and so his resting meant entering the joy of work completed. The rest of believers would involve sharing in that joy to the full, something that would only be possible in the sinless state. Israel’s taking possession of the Promised Land, under the leadership of Joshua, did not exhaust the full meaning of the promise about entering God’s rest. During the days of their earthly sojourn, believers look forward to the time they will be able to enter his rest as persons freed from their toil, pain, struggles, and sorrows. Any time remaining open for heeding God’s appeal to enter his rest would still be “today.”
In view of what happened in the case of the faithless Israelites, the writer of Hebrews admonished his “brothers” to watch that none among them would develop an “evil [and] unfaithful heart,” distancing themselves “from the living God.” In their inner selves, they were not to allow themselves to stray from God’s ways. They should make sure that their disposition, words, and actions would be in harmony with his will, and that they pursued a course that revealed full faith or trust in him and his promises. (3:12)
As long as the time still proved to be “today” (because the opportunity remained open for entering God’s rest), believers should strive each day to admonish or encourage one another to remain faithful, so that none among them might be hardened by “the deception of sin.” Deception is linked to sin, because sin seems to offer something that is desirable but which, in the end, results in loss, not gain. Once a course of sin is undertaken, a person can become hardened or inured, with the conscience being weakened in its prompting to conduct oneself aright. (3:13)
To become “partakers of the Christ” would mean for individuals to come to be at one with him as members of his body and to share in all the associated privileges and blessings. To share in everything that union with Christ signifies, believers need to maintain firm to the end the confidence they had at the beginning or at the time they first put faith in him. (3:14)
Reemphasizing the necessity of remaining faithful to the end, the writer of Hebrews repeated the quotation from Psalm 95(94):7, 8, “Today, if you would hear his voice, you should not harden your hearts as in the embittering.” In keeping with these words, believers should be responsive to God’s words, not allowing their hearts or inmost selves to become impervious to paying attention. They should not be like the Israelites whose murmuring in the wilderness showed a lack of faith in God’s ability to provide for them. (3:15)
The Israelites who had been delivered from Egypt “heard” God’s message conveyed through angels. (2:2) Yet, though they had “heard,” they caused embitterment or proved to be rebellious. With the exceptions having been few (Caleb, Joshua, and the Levites), the writer of Hebrews, by means of a question, indicated that all who left Egypt under Moses’ leadership rebelled. “And whom did God loathe [for] forty years? Was it not those who sinned, whose carcasses fell in the wilderness?” It was the disobedience of the Israelites that disgusted God, resulting in his judgment that the rebellious generation would die in the wilderness. (3:16, 17; see the Notes section.)
“And to whom did [God] swear that they would not enter his rest, if not to the disobedient ones?” When 10 spies brought back a bad report about the Promised Land, the Israelites lost faith in God’s ability to bring them into the land, complained against Moses and Aaron, maintaining that it would have been better for them to have died in Egypt or in the wilderness. They even wanted to appoint a leader to take them back to Egypt. Therefore, God decreed that none of the rebellious generation would enter the Promised Land, to enjoy the rest that he had purposed for his people. (3:18; Numbers 13:25-14:23)
Commenting on the reason the Israelites of the adult generation that left Egypt did not enter the Promised Land, the writer of Hebrews added, “And we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.” Their failure to continue having faith or trust in God and in the certain fulfillment of his promises resulted in their losing out on entering the Promised Land and enjoying the rest he had purposed for them. The experience of the Israelites reveals that spiritual blessings and privileges one may have enjoyed in the past do not guarantee one’s inheriting the promised spiritual blessings to come. What counts with God is continued faithfulness to him and his Son to the very end. (3:19)
In connection with “house” (verse 2), a number of ancient manuscripts do not include the word “whole” (hólo).
In verse 2, the Greek word oikós, based on the context, designates a household, not a house or home. There is a possibility that this is also the case in verse 3, which meaning is reflected in the rendering of verses 2 and 3 in The Revised English Bible. “He [Jesus] was faithful to God who appointed him, as Moses also was faithful in God’s household; but Jesus has been counted worthy of greater honour than Moses, as the founder of a house enjoys more honour than his household.” It may be noted, however, that the founder of a house or family does not always excel his household in honor or dignity. There often are times when members of the household distinguish themselves by greater accomplishments and a nobler life. In the case of a literal house, the greater honor is given to the builder and never to the house itself.
The reference to “forty years” (in verses 10 and 17) is not to be understood as meaning exactly forty years. It is a round number.