As we walk through Hebrews in our reading plan, below are a few additional thoughts, questions, commentary, and quotes. These aren’t designed to substitute your personal study and reflectionon God’s Word, but they’re small supplements to your study. It’s always helpful to begin your study by reading the passage and making some basic observations. See the post “Making Observations” for basic questions to help you understand and apply what you’re reading.
Hear and Heed His Voice
As I’ve studied Hebrews this semester, one thing that’s stood out to me is the role of hearing and heeding the Word vs hardening your heart to the Word. This sermon appeals to the audience to draw near to God and endure so as not to drift away and fall. The book is known for its warnings against turning from Jesus and its encouragements for why Christ is Superior to any place they might turn. But throughout the book, a key aspect of our drawing near or drifting away is determined by the way we respond to God’s voice, or God’s Word. Will we listen and heed it or listen but ignore it? Will it cut to our heart and lead us to repentance or will we harden our heart?
Hebrews 3-4 draws on OT examples of how Israel rejected God by rejecting His voice. Where they should have listened to his voice and followed him in gratitude, they reject his voice and grumble against him. Rather than receiving blessing, they receive judgment. Rather than entering God’s rest, they lose it. Hebrews draws on these examples and tells us as readers to learn from them. Whether we will hold to Christ and endure or reject Christ will largely be based upon how we relate to God’s Word, either hearing and heeding it or hearing it but failing to apply it.
This should give all of us come caution. How do I respond to God’s Word, whether it’s in my personal Bible reading, sermons, when someone shares it with me, or some other form. Do I humble myself and submit to it? Do I apply and obey it? Do I seek it out and heed it? Or do I ignore it and relate to it apathetically and casually?
The Main Idea in Hebrews 3-4
I think the main idea (and the logical argument) is that Jesus is superior to Moses, and therefore, while Moses was faithful in leading Israel out of slavery but unable to guard many of them from unbelief, Jesus does guard all of his own and protect us from unbelief so that we (unlike Israel) do not fail to enter his rest. Jesus is more faithful than Moses because Jesus not only sets us free from captivity but he takes us all the way to the promised land (and not just some of his people but all of them). This is the better-ness of the New Covenant rooted in the superiority of Jesus as the perfect High Priest, mediator of the covenant, and founder of our salvation. We prove to be his people and experience his rest by heeding his Word and responding in obedience rather than hardening our hearts through unbelief.
See also the connection between Psalm 95:7-11 that Hebrews quotes in chapters 3-4, and how Psalm 95:7 describes God being our shepherd with us as his people, and how this then connects to John 10 with Jesus as the Good Shepherd who guards his sheep (John 10:25-30), who hear his voice and follow him. There’s the triple-connection between John 10 and Psalm 95:7-11 & Hebrews 3-4 of the idea of hearing Jesus’s voice and following him, as well as Jesus being the good shepherd who loses none of his sheep.
Just as Jesus told his audience that some of them do not hear (recognize and obey) his voice because they are not his sheep, so also in Hebrews those who don’t respond to Jesus’ voice are not his sheep, but his own will listen to his voice in faith. Both John (and 1 John) and Hebrews believe there are those of true faith and those of spurious faith, and it’s not that true believers fall away but that true believers are proven as they persevere and are preserved while “apostate believers” (unbelieving but professing people who renounce their faith) prove their unbelief by falling away. John and Hebrews emphasize the need to continue and obey—as well as the fact that Jesus keeps us and preserves us—while 1 John (see 2:19-20) emphasizes how those who walk away prove they were never truly part of us.
This is what they are to consider, that Jesus is the Apostle (the sent one, which again connects to a main Johannine theme) and High Priest, who has (1) made them holy brothers and sisters, (2) made them partakers in a heavenly hope, and (3) is fully faithful over God’s house in a way that supersedes Moses.
The argument throughout Hebrews includes both ideas, that Jesus is the High Priest who saves and keeps all his own perfectly (and unlike the old covenant), and therefore, don’t turn from but hold fast in faith until the end.
We should listen to our Shepherd’s voice—spoken in the written Word—as his grateful, trusting followers, and the true sheep are ultimately revealed by their hearing and heeding the Shepherd’s voice while the ones who are not Christ’s sheep are revealed by how they ultimately do not heed the Shepherd’s voice. There is both a call to action through heeding Christ’s voice as the means by which God preserves his people through our perseverance, but also the indication or revelation of who those people are through their receptive response to Christ’s voice.
Study, Reflection, and Discussion Questions
- Read Heb. 3:7, 13; 4:7; Ps. 95:7. Hebrews emphasizes not delaying our response, obedience, or heeding the Word but responding today (and exhorting one another today). Why is it important we respond to God now rather than putting it off?
- Have you ever put off or delayed obedience to God—whether it was turning from a sin, doing what you knew was right, making a change, engaging in his mission, seeking reconciliation with someone, or obeying His Word? How did delaying things work out you? What would you do different now?
- We need other believers to encourage and exhort us to consider and cling to Jesus. What are ways you can be this kind of person who encourages others? Who are people you ask to do this for you?
- There is a healthy fear that helps us be wise and cautious (such as wearing a seatbelt), and an unhealthy fear that drives us into worry or despair. Our section talks about being cautious about or fearing (3:12; 4:1) an unbelieving heart so we will hold to God’s Word. How might this healthy fear serve us well in our Christian life? What would be symptoms of unhealthy fear?
For Further Study
- Perseverance: John 8:31; 15:1-11; Heb. 3:14; Phil. 2:12-13; Col. 1:21-23; 1 Cor. 15:2; 1 John 2:19-20; 2 Peter 1:10.
- Preservation: John 6:37-40; 10:28-29; 17:12; 18:9; Phil. 1:6; Rom. 8:28-30, 38-39; 1 Peter 1:3-5; 2 Tim. 1:12; 4:18; Eph. 1:4; 4:30; Jude 24; 1 Thess. 5:23-24; (Rom. 11:29); Heb. 7:25; Jer. 31:31-34; 32:36-41; 1 John 5:4; Luke 22:32.
- Genuine vs False Faith: 1 Cor. 11:19; 1 John 2:19-20; Matt. 7:21-23; 15:8; John 2:23-25; 8:31; 2 John 9; Mark 4:5-6, 16-17.
- Warning Passages: “Warning Passages Ahead” by Collin Hansen at thegospelcoalition.org; “Calvinism and the Warning Passages: A Brief Reply to Scot McKnight” at credomag.com; 5-minute video by Tom Schreiner, “Can You Lose Your Salvation? What About the Warning Passages?” at youtube.com
- Perseverance & Preservation: “Does Hebrews 6 Teach You Can Lose Your Salvation?” by Ardel Caneday at thegospelcoalition.org; “Perseverance and Assurance: A Survey and A Proposal” by Tom Schreiner; “The Necessity of Perseverance in Faith and the Assurance of Salvation” and “Do Not Harden Your Heart in the Day of Trouble” by John Piper at desiringgod.org; Kept for Jesus by Sam Storms; Run to Win the Prize by Tom Schreiner.
- Fighting Sin: “How Dead People Do Battle with Sin,” and “What I Learned about My Sins at Sixty-Four” by John Piper at desiringgod.org; “5 Insights into Idolatry” and “Dismantling Your Heart Idols” by J.D. Greear at jdgreear.com; “5 Things that Cause us to Drift Spiritually,” by Chris Russell at biblestudytools.com; The Mortification of Sin by John Owen; Tempted and Triedby Russell Moore
Ideas for Response
- Spend time thinking about the biggest threats in your life that could lead to drifting or unbelief. Ask others if they see any concerning areas in your life, such as taking sin casually, not repenting of a specific sin, or drifting from God’s Word. Spend time in confession of sin and praying for one another to consider Jesus and cling to him.
- 3:13 verse tells us to exhort one another. Is there someone you need to encourage, or exhort, today to encourage them to draw near to God rather than drifting?