The Continuity of the Church in Hebrews

Hebrews 3:1-6 provides one of the more clear texts that we can use to discuss the unity of the Church throughout history. It is primarily aimed at providing a comparison and a contrast between Jesus and Moses in order to convince the Hebrews of Jesus’ superiority, and in the course of doing that the author gives us a very simple understanding of what God’s household is: it is the people of God (v.6).

I want us to briefly look at the basic structure of these passages and make some biblical theological connections, and then later on this week Drew and I will jump on the microphones to discuss the details a little more thoroughly on the podcast.

“Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession,” Heb. 3:1.

In the previous section, the author has just argued that Jesus is indeed better than the angels, and he roots this superiority in the fact the Jesus is the Son of God (1:5ff). God has given his Son a throne of dominion and scepter of righteousness (1:8) and the angels are sent to be ministers of the salvation that the Son brings to mankind (1:14). The Hebrews, therefore, should not neglect this salvation that is brought by Jesus, who is their empathetic brother who delivers them from slavery to Satan. Jesus is not only their great Savior and sympathizing brother, he is their merciful and faithful high priest (2:17). Verse 17 marks a shift in the focus of the argument and begins to focus on Jesus’ role as the high priest on behalf of his people.

When we begin to read chapter 3, the ‘therefore’ helps us to recall all of the arguments and propositions that the author has made leading up to this point. The following words he uses to describe the Hebrews fits within the context of the last two chapters very appropriately when he addresses them as brothers who are holy because they have been consecrated by Jesus who is their high priest. In other words, the Hebrews are a part of the family of God because they have been called by God and that calling is one that consecrates them for God.

The author then exhorts the Hebrews to ‘consider Jesus’ who is the apostle and high priest of their confession. The term ‘consider’ means, “to give very careful consideration to some matter.”[1] In other words, the Hebrews are being exhorted to grab ahold of what they know about Jesus and think deeply about those things. And how is it that they are supposed to consider Jesus? As the apostle and high priest of their confession of faith. The author is continuing to unravel this motif about Jesus as high priest, but he adds a description of Jesus that he wants the Hebrews to think of also, which is as an apostle.

An apostle is simply defined as a messenger. It is one who is sent to deliver a message. Jesus talks about himself in terms of being sent by the Father in the gospel of John both in his High Priestly Prayer (John 17:18) and when sending out his apostles (John 20:21). Jesus, we can say, is the apostle par excellence. A comparison is coming of Moses and Jesus in the next verse, but here it is important to recognize that a similarity between Jesus and Moses is also due to them both being sent by God to a people for the purpose of deliverance. Whereas Moses was sent to Israel to deliver them from slavery in Egypt (Exo. 14), so too was Jesus sent to deliver God’s people from slavery to sin (Heb. 2:15; cf. Col. 1:13-14).

Jesus should also be considered in terms of being the high priest of the Hebrews confession. Jesus is the one who offered a sacrifice on behalf of the people of God in order to propitiate the wrath of God (Heb. 2:17) and provide forgiveness of sins. Unlike the blood of bulls and goats, his blood is effectual to save all of those whom it covers permanently, whereas the blood offered under the Mosaic economy provided a ceremonial and temporal cleansing (Heb. 9:13; 10:4). Therefore, Jesus is not only the apostle par excellence, he is also the high priest par excellence. Jesus is a greater apostle than Moses, but he is also a greater high priest than Aaron, Moses’ brother.

“…who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house. For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son.”

This is the meat of the section wherein the author first draws a comparison between Jesus and Moses and then draws a contrast between them proving that Jesus, along with the covenant that he represents, is better than Moses and the covenant that he represents.

The point of comparison between Jesus and Moses is their faithfulness in God’s house. The question naturally arises when studying the text as to what is being referred to when the author talks about Jesus’ faithfulness. Perhaps it is more natural for us to think about and affirm that Moses was faithful in God’s house since we have plenty of biblical evidence that proves all the works that he had done in Israel from their deliverance out of Egypt, to the reception of the Law, to erecting a structure of worship, but Jesus may cause us a tad more difficulty when talking about what it means that he is faithful to God.  But these difficulties evaporate when we have a proper understanding of God’s house. Whatever it is, at this point of the text, what is clear is that it is one house within which both Jesus and Moses were faithful. I think it becomes clearer when we realize that the author began to draw his comparison in the previous verse when using the two terms ‘apostle’ and ‘high priest’ in his exhortation to consider Jesus. That is to say that there is a direct link between what Moses had done and what Jesus came to do. This is the point of continuity: Moses gives us a blueprint, if you will, of what Jesus would come later to do. That’s the point that is made near the end of the section, but it is important to understand that amid the contrasts between the two, we find the unity as well. Both provided a message and act of deliverance for God’s people. So it becomes clear, then, what the house of God is, it is the people of God. It is not strictly Israel, since Jesus came and provided deliverance for Gentiles as well, it is all of those who have been called by heaven and united to Christ and the family of God throughout every age. Both Jesus and Moses were faithful in their duties to God by tending to his household as he had instructed them.

But Jesus is greater than Moses and is counted worthy of more glory than he. In order to drive the worthiness of Jesus’ glory home, the author gives us an illustration of the relationship between a builder and a house that he builds. Certainly one would affirm that the glory of a house is inferior to the one who had built it–it is not the architecture that receives the glory, it is the architect. But to push the illustration one step further, the Hebrews are told that every house has a builder, and the builder of all things is God. What he is illustrating is that Jesus is worth more glory in the same measure that God has more glory than the universe he has created. God created everything, and the Creator is worthy of more than his creation. The distance between the glory that the universe receives and the glory that God receives is the same distance that Jesus’ glory supersedes that of Moses’.

Another point of contrast that is made between Moses and Jesus is in terms of their roles. Moses was a servant, and Jesus was a Son. But what is probably the most telling evidence of Jesus’ superiority in verse 5 besides the servant/Son distinction, are the prepositions that are used. Moses was a servant in God’s house, Jesus is a Son over God’s house. Earlier in the book the author made it explicit that Jesus was the Son of God who was seated on the throne of David serving as King. That same motif is implied here when Jesus is referred to as a Son over the household of God. Unlike Moses who was a servant in the household of God, Jesus is the reigning Son over God’s people. There couldn’t be a sharper distinction being made. Jesus is the faithful and merciful high priest and king over the one household of God, and that includes all of those to whom Moses faithfully served and lead.

Another point of contrast is in terms of the function of Moses and how that relates to Jesus. Moses served as a testament, a shadow, a pointer, to the reality that was to come later, which was Jesus. All of the accomplishments and offices that were represented in Moses find their fulfillment in Jesus Christ. In one sense we can say that the entire Mosaic economy was instituted by God for the sole purpose of pointing to the Messiah. All of the sacrifices and ceremonies contained within them kernels of truth that testified to Jesus who would come and reveal the substance of what God’s elect people had been expectantly waiting for.

“And we are his house, if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.”

The second half of verse 6 explicitly tells the Hebrew Christians that they are the house of God. From Moses to Jesus and beyond, the Church–the people of God– is his house.

From our brief examination of Hebrews 3:1-6 we have come to understand that Jesus is superior to Moses because he rules over the household of God as his Son. The household of God is comprised of all of those who have been called by God into his family from those who lived during the time of Moses to those who lived during the time of Christ and beyond. The people of God have been united to Christ, our brother, and we are joined together as the one family of God. This should produce great rejoicing and thankfulness to God for giving us a King worthy of much more glory than the house he rules over.

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[1] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 349.

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