Lesson 5: "How Shall We Escape, If We Neglect. . ." (Hebrews 2:3)
The Book of Hebrews. Welcome to lesson # 5. In this lesson we would like to move into what is called chapter two, remembering of course these divisions were not put here at the time of writing; but, hundreds of year later. Up until now the Hebrew writer has focused on the fact that God hath spoken. In the O.T. economy this was accomplished by and through the prophets. In our era, (i.e. the Christian age), God's message to his creature (called mankind) was delivered by Jesus the Christ, once and for all time. The Christ has now gone back to heaven to be with the Heavenly Father and to sit on the throne of the universe. In the section we just completed, the writer (to stress his point) focused on the greatness of Jesus and the superiority of Christ over the old prophets and over even the angels. He is not to be compared to the prophets of old and Christ is not on a level with the angels. Did you notice in 1:8, Christ is called "God." The writer establishes this point in prophecy (by quoting from Psalm 45:6-7). Paul said to the Philippians that Jesus being in the form of God thought it not robbery to be equal with God (Phil. 2:6). Christ was God in the flesh (John 1:14 and I-Tim. 3:16).
Alright, now that the writer has made his point, beginning in ch. 2 he draws a practical conclusion from the point that he has just established. This conclusion is what we call the first four verses in chapter two. Of course, you must keep in mind (here) the context of the AD 60's and what was happening to the Jewish Christians back in the homeland at that time. And, of course, it is only when you and I digest this thought in that context that we can generalize and carry it over toward applying the point to ourselves, i.e. bringing it down home, so-to-speak. These four verses contain two sentences. The first sentence is the conclusion. The second sentence is a reflection and a general application of that conclusion. Let's read the first four verses of chapter two. Please read with me. Beginning in v.1 of ch. 2, let's read:
"Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?"
O.K., now notice, the second sentence (i.e. v.2-3-4) is interrogative, i.e. it is a question. It's a question you and I must answer. But, right now, let's get back to v.1 and the writer's conclusion. That big word "therefore" (at beginning of v.1) ties this back into the thought developed in chapter one, i.e. based upon the fact that God hath spoken and that not only has God spoken; God HAS by His dearest means and in the most authoritative way spoken unto us in this present age. This points up our responsibility to be attentive to what God has spoken. "We [therefore] ought to give the more earnest heed," i.e. our obligation is even greater than it was upon those of prior ages to be meticulous and thus self-discipline ourselves to pay close attention lest we drift into idle thinking and procrastinate our way into apostasy as it would appear was happening to those to whom this book was directed only a generation removed from the time that Jesus walked those dusty roads of that very place. It is so easy to let these things "slip" is the writer's point. Slip? That word means to err or blunder without recognition or without intention of doing so. This verse establishes that we definitely have a part in our salvation in the sense that we can accept it or we can let it slip. Salvation (now that word "salvation" is used here in v.3), salvation is a free gift (we learned this back in Eph. 2:8...do
you remember? "by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is a gift of God"). Salvation, i.e. to be saved from the horrors of hell, is dispensed not on the basis of your economic standing, not on the basis of your pedigree, (i.e. who you are related to), not on your education or any such thing. It does not have to do with things, it has to do with your attitude and your behavior. We can receive and accept God's gift or we can ignore it, not accept it or we can let it slip from us. This is plainly inferred in this passage. What do we do when we "give heed?" That simply means: pay attention. Now, pay attention to what? "the things we have heard" (middle of v.1). Now, what have we heard? Moved down to the middle of v.3, this salvation at the first "began to be spoken by the Lord." Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith (Heb. 12:2). It starts with Jesus and it ends with Jesus. Now, what have we heard from Jesus? We have some words directly from Jesus, recorded in this book we call the Bible. Jesus said: "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." (Mark 16:16). Another place Jesus said: "not everyone that saith unto me Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that..." WHAT? "he that DOETH the will of my Father which is in heaven." We must have faith, we must be baptized and we must DO SOMETHING. Did you get that? In the beginning it was spoken by Jesus. Then what happened? It was confirmed unto us by them that heard Jesus. Who heard Jesus? The apostles! They confirmed what Jesus said. How did they confirm what was said? Well, first of all it was miraculously confirmed by the apostles and their helpers. Jesus did miracles, he healed the sick, raised the dead and calmed the sea. This was done as a proof that Jesus was deity, Jesus was divine. Jesus was part of the Godhead. Jesus himself said: "If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true." (John 5:31) A prophet cannot come and just say: I'm a prophet... you must believe me. Jesus said: "If I bear witness of myself..." It's not true! i.e. this self witnessing business is not acceptable witnessing. These miracles were one proof that Jesus was genuine, not just a self proclaimed prophet. That's not all! Jesus fit into the scheme of prophecy. It was prophesied hundreds of years before the fact. Hundreds of prophesies focus on this...this is miraculous in itself. A man by the name of John the Baptist came miraculously, i.e. his birth was foretold, his work was foretold, his purpose was foretold. John came as a witness of Jesus the Christ (John 1:6-7-8). "There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness" to bear witness of Jesus. Jesus discussed this witness business in the last half of John chapter five. How can you test a prophecy? Even this test was given hundreds of years before, i.e. so that it could be applied to this. I speak of Deut. 18:20-21-22.
Now, get back to the middle of v.3 just a minute, this salvation "at the first began to be spoken by the Lord." We've covered this point. Then what happened? This "was confirmed unto us by them that heard him." Who heard Jesus? The apostles. How did the apostles confirm this to us? Hell, how is anything confirmed? by witness, by evidence, by facts of truth. Right? This is what is done and this is accepted in a court of law even today. O.K, God provided this. Look at v.4, "God also bearing THEM witness, [#1] both with signs and wonders, and [#2] with divers miracles, and [#3] gifts of the Holy Ghost." How? "According to [God's] own will," (end of v.4). Now, this is exactly what is said at the end of Mark chapter sixteen. I know our time is short; but, take just a minute here to turn back to Mark 16:19-20, the last two verses in the book of Mark. That passage says exactly what the Hebrew writer is saying here. The passage says: "So then, after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. And they went forth..." Who is THEY? The apostles. Now, make sure you verify the antecedent to "THEY" (in v.20). The denominational world has completely missed the boat on this point and the point has gone to seed with them. The antecedent to "they" (in Mark 16:20) is "Peter and the disciples" or we would say the apostles. It's back up in v.7 of Mark chapter sixteen. Everything following that is: they, they, they, them, and they. So, don't get tangled up in the pronouns. "They [the apostles] went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with THEM, and confirming..." What is confirming? Who confirmed this? The Lord did the confirming. Look at it close. How did the Lord confirm their preaching, their words? "by signs following." What were some of these signs? Back up to v.18, if "THEY shall take up serpents; and if THEY drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt THEM; THEY shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover." The apostle's work was confirmed by miracles. Now, my denominational friends claim this is said to them. They play with snakes and claim they are instructed to do so by these very verses. The Hebrews writer said (now get it straight, 2:3), it "was confirmed unto us by THEM that heard him [i.e. heard Jesus]" and that "THEM" (end of v.3) is not modern day snake handlers and other TV pseudo miracle workers. It was apostles and disciples that heard Jesus; those living at that time. This verse says that. Now, obviously (in v.3), where it says this salvation "was confirmed unto US by THEM." The word "US" included the Hebrews writer and those he was writing to, the people in and around Jerusalem in the AD 60's. Nevertheless, we are part of the Christian age in which this instruction of Jesus still applies.
Now, when it says this "great salvation...was confirmed unto US by them that heard him" (v.3); you might say: well I never met Peter, or Paul, or James, or John or any other apostle. They died hundreds of years ago. How is this confirmed (or certified, or proven, or established) unto ME? Well, my friend, you have been thoroughly furnished, that's what Paul told Timothy (II-Tim. 3:16). It's not written all over your face and arms by a birthmark. It was written down in the Scriptures for us. Who wrote it? The apostles and their helpers. It was confirmed to us by inspiration, i.e. in a miraculous way. The apostles and their helpers wrote this down for us (John 14:26) under the direction and influence of the Holy Spirit. Thus, those inspired men still speak through their writings. This was written to you, just as much as to those first century Christians. It's a personal message in this sense. This is not just some old stuff that laid around for centuries that molded and has been adjusted for and by each generation's translators as some would have you to believe. This N.T. is the words of Jesus, the words of the apostles and their helpers and was produced by spiritual gifts or inspiration. For example, in the book of Revelation (now this happened about 30 years after the time the book of HEBREWS was written), the apostle John, the fisherman, the son of Zebedee, in exile out on the isle of Patmos, was told by an angel (at the end of Rev. ch. 10): "Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings." Now here is an old man, well above 80 years old, probably much older, practically on his death bed, is told (by an angel): you are still going to prophesy John, i.e. teach miraculously...WHO? many people! nations of people! in different languages! John you will even teach kings and royalty, i.e. the leaders of nations, yet. Now, how in the world could that be? How could this old man, John, do that? How could that be true? I remember reading this and asking myself that question. The answer is simple! John did this and is still doing this through inspiration, through the Bible. You see, we get it directly from the apostles and it doesn't matter how many generations it passed over on its way down to us. This N.T. still comes from Jesus and the apostles, i.e. they confirm (or establish) these things for us and to us. Have you got it? God has spoken, "in these last days" (Heb. 1:2). Who did God speak to? "US!" Who did God speak by "in these last days?" Jesus (that's what 1:2 says).
Now, let's shore up a few more points here and we'll call it a lesson. Please take one more look at that big word "therefore" (at the beginning of Heb. ch. 2). That word means: now, here is my conclusion. Have you really got the writer's conclusion? Jesus was superior to the prophets of old. Jesus was/is superior to the angels. God has spoken to us through the Superior One, "in these last days." For that reason we should pay particular close attention to obey Jesus. The O.T. is our school master to bring us to Jesus. Back there in Exodus ch. 20, God told Moses: thou shalt do this and thou shalt not do that...it was spelled out in black and white. God told Moses, "Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way"...(etc). God told Moses "beware of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not..." (that's Exodus 23:21). Now, the Hebrews writer asked here (v.2), "if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward..." do you think things will be any less precise in our day (these last days) when God has spoken through His Son, Jesus the Christ? If God would not put up with any nonsense back there; how do you think it's going to be in this age in which you and I live? God has given us an even greater salvation. Now, if those people back there under the old system didn't get by in defying God; do you really think we can defy God and get by with it? Do you think we can ESCAPE, if we NEGLECT so great a salvation? These things written aforetime were written for our learning (Rom. 15:4). Those very people were a lesson unto us. The things they did were written down as a lesson for us. We, thus, have a corresponding advantage over them. We have an opportunity to learn from their mistakes. So, do you think God is going to be any more lenient with us than He was with them? The Hebrews writer's conclusion is: NO SIR! If they didn't escape God's wrath; then, who do you think you are? In your arrogance, your salvation can SLIP from you. Don't let it slip. Get the message, right up front. God would not put up with negligence and nonsense in the first century on the part of the Jews in the homeland. The time had come when they should be teachers (Heb. 5:12); but, in reality they needed to be taught again...i.e. they had forgotten even what they had learned at one time. OH! They knew it; but, they were not practicing it. The manner of some was to forsake the assembling of themselves together as they had been taught they should do (Heb. 10:25). Attendance and assembling is important. In our day, we sometimes say: that person is faithful on the basis of their attendance. Attendance is important, you better believe it. However, faithfulness is determined more by our teaching than by our mere attendance. Paul told Timothy: "commit thou [these things] to faithful men, who shall be able to teach other also." One is faithful when they not only live these things; but, when they teach these things. The question is: are you teaching these things or are you neglecting these things? You must answer for you; I must answer for me. Have a good day.