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10 September 2019

The Word of the Son Surpasses Moses

Jesus Teaches
The epistle to the Hebrews is a “word of exhortation” to a Christian congregation facing pressure from pagan neighbors (Hebrews 2:1510:32-3412:413:22); consequently, some members were considering withdrawal from the assembly. Certain remarks suggest this congregation included many Jewish Christians. If so, some likely contemplated a return to the synagogue to escape persecution (2:1610:25).
The focus of Hebrews is pastoral, not theological.  Its goal is to prevent members from apostatizing.  It urges them to faithfulness rather than relapse to non-Christian Judaism or other means of escape (Hebrews 2:1-33:612-144:111-136:1-1210:26-3110:35-3912:3-1713:9). Perseverance is the only proper response to persecution (Hebrews 12:22-29). The Author warns repeatedly of the dire consequences of faithlessness to Jesus (Hebrews 2:1-43:12-134:14:116:4-810:26-3012:25).
The Author employs a series of comparisons to demonstrate the superiority of one thing over another; they highlight the superiority of the Son, his word, ministry, priesthood, and sacrifice over their counterparts in the Mosaic legislation.
This includes the Son’s superiority to angels, Moses (3:1-6) and Aaron (5:1-10); the supremacy of Christ’s priesthood over the Levitical system  (Hebrews 1:5-14, 3:1-6, 5:1-10, 7:1-25), that of his “better” sacrifice over the repeated animal sacrifices of the Tabernacle (7:279:26), the New Covenant inaugurated by him over the old covenant (8:4-10:18), and surpassing glory of the New Zion, “Jerusalem which is above,” over the fearsome display of Yahweh’s power on Mount Sinai (12:18-29). 
The purpose is not to disparage God’s past revelation but to show HOW MUCH MORE the glory of the new one is. The Author intersperses dire warnings about failure to heed the Son between his several comparisons.
The paragraph recorded in Hebrews 3:1-6 emphasizes how the Divine Word spoken in the Son surpasses the earlier word given in Moses.
The opening paragraph presents the Author’s main proposition:  The word of God spoken in His Son is final and complete, surpassing all the previous revelations given to Israel by the prophets.  In the past, God spoke by means of the prophets, “in many parts and in many ways.” The earlier “word” was true but incomplete, promissory, and preparatory. 
God’s Son, after achieving the purification of sins, sat down at His right hand of God, having become superior to angels by inheriting a more excellent name; namely, that of “Son.” At no time did God ever call an angel “My Son.” The introduction of the Son’s more distinguished name prepares for the first comparison:  the Son is superior to the angels (Hebrews 1:5 – 2:4).
The demonstration of the Son’s superiority to the angels leads directly into the letter’s first warning (Hebrews 2:1-4). Two key themes are presented: the need to “heed” the Word spoken in the Son and the dire consequences of failure to do so.  Both themes are reiterated throughout the epistle (Hebrews 4:1-116:4-810:26-3112:25-26).
The first warning begins, “for this cause” (Hebrews 2:1-4). This connects it to the preceding discussion about the superiority of the Son over angels.  Because of the surpassing excellence of the Son’s word, believers must hold fast to it lest they drift away.
The word spoken through angels.” The reason the letter’s first comparison is to angels stems from the Jewish tradition that the Law or Torah was given to Moses by angels (Deuteronomy 33:2Acts 7:53Galatians 3:19).  That Law was also the word of God.  Regardless of the use of angelic intermediaries, the word “became firm and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense.”  Since terrible retribution fell on all who failed to heed this partial word, how shall Christians escape far greater punishment if they abandon the vastly superior Word spoken in the Son?
With the onset of the “last days” and the arrival of God’s final revelatory Word, returning even to the earlier but partial Word is not an option (Hebrews 1:2 – “upon these last days”).
The next section begins with a proposition:  God has not subjected the coming habitable world to angels but to man.  Though the Son is now highly exalted, the Author presents him as one who is fully human and participated in all the frailties of man’s mortality (Hebrews 2:5-18). 
This Son endured unjust suffering, just as the recipients of the epistle now face; though God’s consummated Kingdom lies in the future, suffering Christians in the interim see Jesus, who “was made some little less than angels, by reason of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that by the grace of God he might taste death in behalf of every one.”
Jesus now rules from God’s side, but his exaltation was the result of his suffering and humiliation.  Abasement was the necessary prelude to glory by which Jesus demonstrated his solidarity with humanity. In order to “bring many sons to glory,” he was “made complete through sufferings.”  This points to his death as necessary so that “he might paralyze the one who held the dominion of death, the Devil, and thereby release as many as by fear of death were all their lifetime liable to bondage.” 
In achieving salvation for humanity, Jesus did not “lay hold of angels” but of human beings (verse 16). To fulfill his mission, it was necessary for him “to be made like the brethren in every way.” Because the Son fully embraced the plight of mankind, he is now able “to give succor to those who are being tested.” In this context, “tested” has in view not temptation to commit sin but his suffering and persecution.
The Author lays out two more themes worked out in subsequent sections:  first, Jesus our “pioneer” who blazed our trail (Hebrews 2:1012:2) and, second, Christ our “faithful high priest” (e.g., Hebrews 2:173:1, 4:15-16).  The motif of Jesus as “high priest” becomes dominant in chapters 5-7.
(Hebrews 3:1-6) - “Wherefore, holy brethren, partners in a heavenly calling, attentively consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Jesus, as one faithful to him who made him: as Moses also in all his house. For of more glory than Moses has this one been counted worthy, by as much as more honor than the house has he that prepared it. For every house is prepared by someone, yet God prepared all things. Even Moses, indeed, was faithful in all his house as an attendant, for testimony of the things which would be spoken; but Christ as a Son over his house, whose house are we if the confidence and boast of the hope we hold fast throughout firm.”
The Author now compares Jesus to Moses, demonstrating the superiority of the former to the latter. Implicit is the superiority of the word of the Son to the Mosaic legislation. The comparison is appropriate.  In the letter’s opening paragraph, the Author compared the Word spoken in the Son to the earlier revelations given in the prophets of Israel. Although Moses was the chief representative of them, he was also more honored than all the other prophets; God spoke to him face-to-face, not through visions and riddles (Numbers 12:8). The greater rank of Moses emphasizes how vastly superior the Son is to all the men of God that preceded him.
As our “apostle,” Jesus is the one sent from God to deliver His final revelatory Word.  As our “high Priest,” Christ represents us to His Father and makes intercession on our behalf.
The description of Jesus as “one faithful,” along with the reference to Moses as “also in all his house,” alludes to Numbers 12:7 from the ancient Greek version of the Old Testament, the Septuagint (“My servant Moses is not so; he is faithful in all my house”). Moses was the only one in Israel to whom Yahweh spoke face-to-face and not via intermediaries.  Hence, initially Jesus is set on a par with Moses; God also spoke face-to-face with the Son.
In Jewish tradition, Numbers 12:7 demonstrated that Moses received greater honor and rank than even angels.  Since Hebrews 1:6-14 presents the Son as superior to the angels, and since Hebrews 2:1-4 warns that disobedience to the Word spoken by the Son requires a far greater degree of punishment, it is natural to show the superiority of the Son over Moses, the great Lawgiver.
The keywords “faithful,” “priest” and “house” allude to a prophecy from 1 Samuel 2:35 where God promised to one day “raise me up a faithful priest; according to that which is in my heart and in my soul will he do. Therefore, will I build for him an assured house.” Jesus is now presented as that promised “faithful priest” set over God’s “house” (cp. Hebrews 10:1-14).
But there is a difference.  Jesus has been found worthy of far more honor than Moses, just as the one who prepares a house is worthy of more honor than the house.  Jesus is closely associated with the builder or God. Christ has been set over God’s house, whereas, Moses was a servant in it.
The Greek verb kataskeuaz┼Ź in verse 3 more correctly reads “prepared” rather than “builder” (translated “builder” in the King JamesNew American and New International versions). This term was used for supplying vessels and furnishings to prepare a household for habitation.
In verse 5, Moses is said to have been an “attendant” in God’s house “for a testimony” of the word that “would be spoken.”  The Greek clause uses a future tense participle in the passive voice, one that is difficult to translate word-for-word into English, but the intended sense is clear.  As God’s faithful attendant, Moses served as witness or testimony to the word that would come later.  Put another way, this is another picture of the preparatory function of the Old Covenant revelation, including the Law issued at Sinai.  It was penultimate, not ultimate.
In this paragraph “house” refers not to God’s Tabernacle or Temple but, metaphorically, to the living community of God’s people, the church.  Jesus is “over His house whose house are we” (verse 6). Believers “are” (present tense) his household as long as they hold fast their “confidence and boast of hope.”  Repeated here is a key warning of the book of Hebrews (e.g., Hebrews 2:1-4):  the necessity to hold firmly to our confession and persevere to the end.
Nowhere in this paragraph does the Author denigrate Moses. He takes a view based on Salvation History, the historical progress of God’s Redemptive plan. As great as he was, Moses was part of an era now in the past, one that is eclipsed by the Son, Jesus Christ.
This comparison with Moses has prepared the reader for the next section that presents the example of the Wilderness generation of Israel that received God’s Word through Moses but, nonetheless, failed “to hold fast to their confidence and hope (Hebrews 3:7-4:13). While not intended to disparage Moses or the Torah, implicit in the logic of the comparisons of the Son with the word given through angels to Moses is that to abandon the final revelation “spoken” in Jesus for the older one is to exchange it for that which is incomplete and, therefore, inferior. And doing so comes with a terrible price.

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