Many years ago some of us were facing a potentially negative situation in a small community; one in which we felt great evil could be let loose if there were not divine intervention. An elderly cousin of ours from the Isle of Skye was visiting us during that time; she was a minister’s widow and a woman of prevailing prayer. One rather discouraging day, when the autumn sky was overcast and cold rain was falling, as we sat in the car, I confided to her all my concerns, and concluded by saying: “Sometimes I wonder if the devil is going to win this one.” Immediately she replied: “O Douglas, you must never think like that! Every time this evil situation comes to mind, think of the purity of Christ!”
Wise advice! In due time, things worked out well by God’s grace, but above all else, on that day I was given a mighty spiritual weapon that has protected me through thick and thin during long years: “Think of the purity of Christ!” In many ways, that is exactly what is happening in this epistle to the Hebrews: “Look at how wonderful Christ is,” the inspired author seems to be saying, “no matter what your weakness and trouble, you will be sustained, delivered and made fruitful for God’s glory.”
It seems probable that this epistle was addressed to the worrying situation of Jewish converts to Christ sometime before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the Jewish state in AD 70. The impressive ritual of the ancient Levitical ceremonies carried on daily in the Temple, and Jewish Christian believers were no doubt marginalized and disadvantaged in their home society. Indeed, some of them had already faced persecution after their conversion (Heb. 10:32–38) and were now tempted to “shrink back” (Heb. 10:39). Some were tempted to severe discouragement because of the hard chastisements they had to endure in a religious culture hostile to the Messiah (Heb. 12:3–14). Rather than spiritual growth in Christ, some of them seemed to be slipping back into “kindergarten” immaturity (Heb. 5:11–14). More than once the author calls them to persevere — in order to win everything worth having, and warns them not to fall away — lest they lose it all (Heb. 2:1–3; 3:12–19; 6:4–12, etc.).
In every case, the divine remedy for fruitlessness, discouragement, immaturity and backsliding was in principle the same: “Look at Christ!” The first ten chapters of Hebrews show the glorious superiority of Christ even to the holy angelic servants of God and to the noble, divinely appointed details of the Aaronic priesthood and Mosaic Tabernacle. In fact, these lesser (though mighty) realities are ordained as signposts and servants to the highest reality of all — the eternal Son of God in the flesh: crucified, risen, ascended, reigning, and coming again! All of them say: Look at Him! Listen to Him!
In terms of today’s pluralistic culture, we must note from Hebrews 1:2 that Mohammed is not “the sealing prophet”; rather, Christ is the Father’s Last Word. Or, this text says to those otherwise sophisticated Westerners who go to fortune tellers or rely on horoscopes: to do such is to seek a final word beyond Jesus, and that is as spiritually disastrous as what happened to apostate King Saul.
Why does God Almighty place such infinite and eternal weight upon our hearing His Last Word in His Son? Why is that concentrated hearing the divine remedy for our own weaknesses, our deliverance from trial and temptation, and the hidden spring of all our fruitfulness as His people? It is because the Lord Jesus Christ is the very best God has to offer! The Old Testament prophets were honored to look forward to Him (Heb. 1:1). As Luther once said, “Israel was the womb in which the Son of God was prepared.” Now, the enthroned Christ (after He has purged our sins with his own blood, sitting “at the right hand of the Majesty on high,” Heb. 1:3) is the fullest fruit from the womb of truth. He is the fulfillment of every divine promise (2 Cor. 1:20). He is the fullest and final revelation of who the invisible God truly is, for John 1:18 says: “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (that is to say, Jesus “brought out” or “exegeted” in His own person exactly who God always is!) There is nothing beyond that — the final, divine Word, indeed!
H. R. MacKintosh of Edinburgh once said: “When I look into the face of Jesus Christ and see the face of God, I know that I have not seen that face elsewhere and could not see it elsewhere, for he and the Father are one … All creation in heaven and earth, all the divine ways of history, all time and eternity — they meet and converge in this one transcendent Figure.” Or, in other words, when, by the Holy Spirit’s help, we look at Christ as He is set before us in the Scriptures, we see the very heart of the Father! That, in a word, is eternal salvation (as Jesus Himself said in John 17:3). Therefore, all that really matters in getting us to the right place is hearing Him, seeing Him, contemplating Him.