The usage of the term “better” designates a comparison. But why a comparison? Why not a contrast — as between Law and Grace, darkness and light, death and life? What we must recognize is that the kind of comparisons put forth in this letter would have captured the attention of those who were raised in view of the shadow reality of Christ — which was what they had lived according to under the Law. The letter of Hebrews was specifically written to those who had accepted Jesus Christ into their perceptions and into their worship and into their vocabulary — well, as a whole they had accommodated at least the form of Christ. If you’ll just consider the broad landscape of what passes for modern Christianity, you might get a little better picture of the dubious nature of those who call Jesus, Lord. Just remember that not all who call him Lord have entered the promised rest of God, which is found in Christ himself.
Now, Hebrews is not the only example of words that were addressed in a manner I’ll describe as a shotgun approach. What’s a shotgun approach, you might ask? LOL! People use shotguns because they know they can hit a target as long as they aim in its general direction. Consider how when the disciples asked Jesus why he spoke to the religious leaders in parables, he answered them: To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted (Matthew 13:11). Now, you can slice and dice this one every which way, but it’s just not going make for a satisfying answer to the religious mind of man. Simply stated, he aimed his real teaching toward those to whom it had been granted, and the words found their target.
However, there’s another aspect here that addresses what would seem counterproductive. Hasn’t this so-called answer ever made you wonder why he would have wasted his breath telling his stories to those who couldn’t understand them? Listen to more of his answer to his disciples question:
Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand (Matthew 11:13). You know what? This only made sense from the disciples’ point of view, and that was only after the Spirit came to them as Jesus had promised.
The impact this had upon the disciples was profoundly simple. For among men, they themselves were unqualified and uneducated commoners — and yet they had been given understanding into the very depths of God. In contrast, according to every human and/or religious expectation, those who should have been the ones to see and hear the truth of God were the ones who were shown to be blind and deaf through the exact same words Jesus had spoken. What it comes down to is that the whole working of God on their behalf left them with no illusions as to how they had come to understand the mysteries of Christ, I can guarantee you that. Because of that shotgun manner of addressing the crowd, Jesus had made it incredibly clear as to not only how they came to see and hear the truth of God, but also as to how they did not come to understand it. They understood what it meant to have no confidence in the flesh — regardless how convincing it may have seemed. They understood that it was far better to see the things of God through the eye-opening work of Christ’s Spirit than any wisdom that had been uncovered by Israel’s leaders through all their years of study.
In that same manner of a shotgun approach, consider how James addressed his letter:
James 1:1 James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings. See how he addressed his letter to the “twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad.” That would be the twelve tribes of Israel. He goes on to say… James 2:1 My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism.
Now, whatever you may have assumed about the letter of James, realize that it was written and sent out to circulate among gatherings of those from the twelve tribes of Israel who came together under the name of Jesus Christ. I’m not saying that we can’t get anything out of the letter of James without having been raised in the exact same manner as the Jews were, but there’s a doggoned good reason why so many believers struggle with it. Did you know that because of its seeming contradictions to grace through faith, Martin Luther dubbed James an epistle of straw? Christians take those scathing remarks to heart and try so hard to apply them to their own lives because they’ve been presented as practical Christianity. A question you might want to ponder regarding all this is, why is there such a thin line between practical Christianity and self-righteous hypocrisy? Ironically, we miss the sharp distinctions that would not have escaped the notice of those who intrinsically understood such things as the ancient designation, hearers of the word … nor the miraculousness of what it meant for the hearer to finally be made into an effectual doer. I say ironically because so many of those who talk about being doers of the word are only wannabes who honor God only with their lips … as did the Jews of old under the Law.
Adam: this rebuke from James was for the ‘12 Tribes” not the called out ones in the midst of the ones who learned to incorporate Jesus into their religion.
Oh yeah, those numerous rebukes found throughout the letter were presented in such a way that those who had ears to hear and eyes to see would clearly recognize that James was speaking to the spirit of the fleshly mind that persisted among them. There were definitely some among them who were posers. You see, in their assemblies (as in many of ours) the rich were easily esteemed as having been blessed by God, while the poor were considered as having been passed over by God’s blessings. It’s not that every rich person is a pretender and every poor person is true. No, that’s not the case at all. Rather, it’s the fact that gatherings create a breeding ground for appearance-based partiality. Realize that James’ harsh statements regarding the rich were not directed at rich believers, but to the attitude of the rich in general. Remember, Jesus told the disciples, it shall not be this way among you. And no, it’s not that they would work real hard to create programs or enforce principles in order to make it not happen that way, it was the mind of the Spirit within them that made such fleshly distinctions abhorrent. Adam, the modern church still seems to favor those who are well off, but we’ve got many more distinctions by which Christian become favored, don’t we?
[lets talk about how this is done TODAY too]
As with the letter to the Hebrews and the words of Jesus, the letter of James sits before us as a scrambled puzzle, and we keep trying to piece this jumbled mess together — without any idea as to how it’s supposed to look when it’s all finished. We find two or three pieces that seem to fit, and we get all excited because we think we really understand it, when all we’ve done is to collect random pieces and call them Christian Priciples. Somehow, most Christians seem to miss the simple distinction James made to his Hebrew audience. For to him, everything revolved around how much better the law of liberty is compared to the law they had been raised under for centuries, the law that could only judge them as transgressors. Adam, do you pick up on that sense of how the freedom of Christ is better than the judgment of the Law?
Let’s also discuss the difference as to why it would not be said that the preaching of Christ is better than the preaching of the Law.
Yes, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, is understood as being better in every way as compared to that which came in preparation of his coming.
Starting with Hebrews 1, he is said to be better than the angels. As a friend of mine commented that there is definitely an angel phenomenon happening in the world today where it seems that everyone has those angel figurines and a related story. However, the Son being better than these kinds of angels is not in view here. Rather, it is the word of God that came through the agency of angels — aka, ministers — that cannot hold a candle to the word of God that has been given in Christ. That which came through angels refers to everything God spoke before Christ, not specifically because of a timeline issue, but rather because God spoke to man through mediators. What does that mean? It means that something or somebody came between God and those who received the word of God.
Well, not an intercessor in the way that Christ has been made to us, for he does so by means of union. Any other mediator would create a barrier between God and ourselves.
Again, tying this back to Hebrews 2:1-4
For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.
How does the context of the letter give us a better insight into what the writer meant by the comparative sense of that “just penalty?” to those who neglect this great salvation? Consider another passage that has brought much fear into the Christian community:
For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY.” And again, “THE LORD WILL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE.” It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
“Okay, I’m trying to understand how you might be connecting this passage in here…” Setting aside the grace of God for their laws and rituals to perfect them, make them ‘clean’. But the rituals had strict consequences if they were ever broken such as: the fury of a fire”. Is this your intended point?
My intended point in bringing this passage into play here is to make a connection to some overlooked similarities that are threaded throughout Hebrews — and yes, one of the biggies has to do with the strict consequences for transgressions. However, I’d like to call your attention to something that is so easily overlooked: …there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment… And I emphasis the word “expectation” on purpose. Do you hear a distinction here? What if this whole matter revolves around whatever it is that causes one to live in the expectation of judgment? After all, the context clearly places the author’s whole point within a framework of what he called sinning willfully. And before we jump to conclusions, we must recognize that sinning willfully is hard-wired to a foregone conclusion. What is that conclusion? The willful sinner has run out of options, for there is no more sacrifice for sins. My friends, does that sound anything like the confidence we have been given in Christ?
The relation between how the writer refers to the “just penalty” as well as the “severer punishment” should be obvious. Now, many believers However, whose view does this describe? In other words, how much severer punishment does WHO think such a person will deserve? What mind, what logic or what rationale does this speak to and of other than that natural, fleshly wisdom of the religious mind?
Well I would think that mostly christians would assume this to be a believer and unbeliever.
You said: the ‘context’ of the letter gives us insight into the writer’s mention of ‘just penalty’. - I’m with you there but, you mentioned the word ‘comparative’. Are you maybe wanting to bring out that unknown mystery character the Law here perhaps?
And could it be anything else? LOL! After all, where there is no law there is no wrath. When I say comparative, I’m highlighting that sense of measurement in the word severer and in the phrase just penalty. The mentality of the law-minded always considers what is deserved, what is owed.