Hebrews – Lesson Seven

Discipline by Tribulations

My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline and do not lose heart when He rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those He loves, and He punishes everyone He accepts as a son.  Hebrews 12:5, 6

Lesson Aim:       To follow the writer’s style in chapters eleven and twelve of Hebrews in order to understand more about the spiritual condition of the recipients.  Also, to present a tentative hypothesis of their condition so we can attain the Holy Spirit’s divine solution to their spiritual degradation.


Let us consider what we know about the Hebrew Christians from the first ten chapters from our “specific list” of their problems.  One, they were slow to learn; therefore, they were not spiritually attuned to the order of Jesus’ priesthood.  See Lesson Two.  Next, they were not willing to suffer tribulation as they had done in the earlier days (10:32).  As we will see in 12:5, they had “forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons.”  The writer had stated, “You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised.” 10:36. See Lesson Three.

In order to evaluate the scope of these specific statements and understand other possible weaknesses, we developed a “suggestive list.”  These are problems the author spoke about at length but did not specifically attribute to the recipients.

Please note we are now beginning to make our own tentative hypothesis about the depth of their spiritual problem.  It will be tentative because it must stand the test of our future studies of Hebrews.  We must be able to validate our hypothesis from the letter from which we developed our hypothesis.

The author specifically said they were dull of hearing God’s word.  This could mean they did not study, or it could mean they had lost confidence in the promises of God.  A loss of confidence in a program generally causes a loss of interest, or dullness.  The author did say, “So do not throw away your confidence.”  10:35.  He followed with a discourse on “shrinking back.” They needed to get closer to God; in other words, they had a serious faith problem.

From other suggestive statements we can hypothesize they were adrift, that is, they were not setting spiritual goals for themselves (2:1).  Some members’ hearts had become, or were becoming, hard because of their own sins (3:12-14).  They were in danger of coming up short when Jesus comes again to give Christians our final test (4:1; 6:7, 8; 9:27).  The result was spiritual degradation; however, it was not complete.  Laziness, a human problem, was manifest but they were still helping God’s people – their church family (6:9-12).  Some members may have already crossed the non-repentant line (6:4-6; 10:26-31; 12:17).  The foregoing is the result of their diminishing faith.

Some questions we need to contemplate as we finish our exegesis of Hebrews:  Why did the author feel it necessary to re-teach these Christians about Jesus’ priesthood?  Please review our previous lesson.  As it was suggested at the close of that lesson they were fully enlightened and running the race well at one time (3:14; 10:32).  Were they really falling back to Judaism as many commentaries claim?

Attributing the main purpose of this lesson to solving a doctrinal problem will surely distance present day Christians from the recipient’s problem.  Unless we have a Jewish background we are not in danger of falling back to Judaism are we?  If we distance ourselves from their spiritual growth problem, assuming they had one, then we may miss the solutions the Holy Spirit teaches us about their spiritual problems – and our own.

Another question we may need to ask:  Why did the writer remind the Hebrew Christians that God had confirmed the promises He made to Abraham for the church with an oath?  See 6:13-20; 11:39, 40.  We will want to keep these thoughts in mind as we finish our exegetical approach to this letter (Learning what was going on where the letter was received).


What is our favourite chapter when we want to discuss love?

I Corinthians Thirteen!

What is our favourite chapter when we want to discuss faith?

Hebrews Eleven!

The content of these chapters is the solution to a problem the writers had taken up in the preceding chapter and had continued to “work out” in the following chapter of I Corinthians and Hebrews.  If we do not read these chapters in that manner, we may learn much about faith and love; however, we will surely miss the message the writer of the letter wanted the recipients to understand.

In order to read Hebrews, chapter eleven, in context let us review briefly what we understood from chapter ten.  Remember the author had finished a long discourse on the priesthood of Jesus Christ in 10:18.  The significant point about Jesus’ priesthood was that He was called to be a high priest on the order of Melchizedek and not on the Levitical order (4:14-10:18).  The recipients may have been losing sight of this great priesthood order.  It must be viewed by faith.  See the exhortation in 13:9-14.

Even though there is no indication these Hebrew Christians were falling back to Judaism, they did have a weak faith in the concept of the order of Jesus’ priesthood.  The order of the Levitical Priesthood could, for the most part, be viewed with the physical eye.  Not so with the order with which Jesus’ priesthood was ordered!  This could be the reason the author reiterated the point over and over that Jesus was called as high priest on the order of Melchizedek (5:6; 6:20; 7:1-21).  The writer did say, “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn.”  5:11.  Again, faith comes by hearing (Rom. 10:17).

After presenting his discourse about the glorious order of Jesus’ priesthood, the writer exhorted the Hebrew Christians to come boldly to the throne of God (10:19-23).  To live on earth in Adam and at the same time live in the presence of God in the “Most Holy Place” demands a strong faith.  See 6:19, 29; 10:19-22.

After his appeal to draw near to God, the author exhorted them to behave as children in the house of God (10:24, 25; 2:11-13).  Please note the emphasis he puts on how the church is the household of God and how we are heirs along with the descendants of Abraham (2:10-16; 3:6; 6:13; 12:4-6).  Legitimate children are the only persons who can inherit the promises of the Father.  We will want to keep this in mind as we move our study into chapter twelve.

Let us consider how Hebrews chapter eleven, the faith chapter, functions between the writer’s historical data and exhortations in chapter ten and his exhortations in chapter twelve.  Please read 10:35-39.  Note how the writer included in his exhortation a quote from Habakkuk 2:4; “The righteous will live by faith.”  The recipients had lived by faith in the “earlier days.”  Now they needed to persevere with God’s program to write His laws on their hearts and minds in order to develop as children of God.  They were in danger of throwing away their confidence and shrinking back into the world’s culture.

Please note how the author used his “three item” style:

Item one – What the recipients knew from their culture:  They knew about the “great cloud of witnesses” the author proclaimed in 11:1-38.  No doubt, the Hebrew Christians had heard about these peoples’ faith from childhood.  They also knew how they had developed their strong character because of God’s discipline by tribulations.  (Learning to deal with the pain of tribulations is the only way a human being can develop wisdom and courage.  Pain is painless, even joyful, when the fulfillment of our hope is perceived as “on the other side of our tribulation.”  Loving parents understand this type of discipline and that is why the author of Hebrews made use of our knowledge in chapter twelve).  The recipients may have remembered their earlier days as Christians when they walked as these great people of faith had lived out their lives on earth.  The Hebrew Christians knew about the people of faith in chapter eleven and they also knew they had had that level of faith at one time.

Item two – What the Hebrew Christians may have lost sight of was that their faith was shrinking and also:

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.  Heb. 11:39, 40

The people the author listed in chapter eleven had great faith; however, the “hope aspect” of their faith became a reality only along with the recipients of this letter and other Christians in the “last days.”  This is a very short statement; however, it is a powerful point.  It should have had a great impact on the Hebrew Christians.  Their faith heroes of the Old Testament had suffered many tribulations in order to develop their character as God’s people.  Yet the spiritual rewards God promised to people like Abraham were being fulfilled for them in the same priesthood order the Hebrew Christians had been enjoying by faith from the time of their new birth.

Although Jesus’ priesthood is on the same order as the Melchizedek Priesthood, it is of much greater service to those who accept God’s new covenant.  It is being mediated by His Son, Jesus Christ (4:14-16).  It is greater because of Jesus’ training on earth in preparation for His High Priest office (2:17, 18; 5:7-10).  It is greater because of the quality of His self-sacrifice at the cross (9:9-14).  It is better because Jesus, Himself, is the law of life in God’s covenant.  See I John 1:1-4; I Cor. 9:21; Col. 1:27.

At this point we want to be reminded of the rule of Biblical interpretation that states, “we need to know what the recipients knew.”  We will want to be sure we, individually, are aware of the gospel with which these Hebrew Christians were enlightened.  At one time they were willing to give up all physical things because of their faith in what they had been taught.  We need to make sure we know the same gospel they had been taught.

Some of us may, at times, tend to think Hebrews 10:32-34 is “not real” for Christians today.  Likewise, some of us may feel chapter eleven is a bit radical, even for their time – read again 11:36-38.  This is precisely why we may need to consider “This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord.”

The following ten paragraphs are some aspects of the gospel the recipients knew at the beginning of their Christian lives.  We, as readers, will need to know what they knew in order to fully appreciate the author’s point in 11:39, 40.  This letter was not written because the recipients had never been taught the theology, ethics and practices the writer is revealing.  It was written to remind them of the gospel they had been taught so they could rebuild their faith in what they knew.

Let us leave our exegetical work and review what they had been taught when they were first enlightened.

The Hebrew Christians had been taught the full gospel, “This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord.”  2:3.   They knew Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ for which their forefathers were waiting.  The difference between these Christians and the masses of the Jews was that what they heard had been combined with their faith in the earlier days (4:2).

They knew God’s program for mankind had always been to have children in His kingdom.  See Eph. 1:3-6.  They knew they and the Gentile Christians were a part of the consummation.  God was fulfilling His promises to Abraham that all Israel will be saved.  See I Cor. 10:11; Rom. 11:26, 27.  However, at the time they received this letter they had lost, at least partially, the concept of their identity as sons of God (12:5, 6).  A son of God was not their reality identity.  They did not face the world each day with a son of God identity.

Jesus is the deliverer that came from Zion for all people of faith.  See Hebrews 9:15.  The author established the kingship of Jesus in Hebrews, chapter one.  He presented His priesthood in the chapters following.  Jesus is both Prince and Savior (Acts 5:31). This is the kingdom of Christ and of God (Eph. 5:5).  We, and all faithful people of all times, have citizenship in this kingdom and if we are judged faithful we will inherit it as God’s children.  See Heb. 9:27, 28; 12:28; Matt. 8:11, 12; Rev. 21:7.

The present grace of God is that Christians can enter into the presence of God with a guilt free conscience.  These are two arrangements (parts) of the new covenant – I will be your God and you will be my people and I will remember your sins no more (8:10-12).  “It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things (The man-dimension of  God’s kingdom in physical Israel) to be purified with these sacrifices (bulls and goats), but the heavenly things themselves (Christians and the faithful before Christ, see 9:15) with better sacrifices than these.”  Hebrews 9:23.

These two graces based on the cross become realities for a sinner in the world when he or she develops faith, repents (confession is involved in faith and repentance) and when he or she is baptized into Christ.  Christians continue to live in fellowship with God (with access to the Most Holy Place).  Even though we struggle with our sin we maintain a clean conscience because we continue to live by faith in the doctrine of justification, that is, we are justified by faith.  We are counted as righteous (Rom. 3:21-25; II Cor. 5:21).  The result is that we have peace with God.  See Rom. 4:25 – 5:1.  Our hope to share in God’s glory follows our new found peace with God.

We rejoice in the hope of sharing in God’s glory (Rom. 5:2).  Each point of faith must have a designated hope.  See the definition of faith (11:1).  The priesthood of Jesus is working for Christians in verses one and two of Romans chapter five.  We also rejoice in our tribulations because this is God’s program for developing His sons and daughters.  Rom. 5:3-5; II Cor. 6:14-18.  We find a very similar spiritual growth exercise in Romans 5:3-5 and Hebrews 12:4-13.

Please note how Romans 5:1-5 can serve as an overview for our study of Hebrews 10:19 through 12:13.  In both blocks of Scripture Christians have peace with God in His spiritual family.  In all healthy physical families the parents have a spiritual growth program for their children.  This thought is fully developed in Hebrews, chapter twelve.  Please be aware of God’s claim on the children, we as parents, call our children.  Their spirits came from God.  He is the Father of our spirits.  Parents produce our children’s humanity.  Read carefully Hebrews 12:9.   We fathers are co-parents with God.  We are rearing His eternal children.  See Isaiah 43: 6, 7; Ezekiel 16:20.

Spiritual growth, or sanctification, is also another part of the new covenant.  It is where God impresses (writes) His laws on faithful Christians’ hearts and minds (8:10).  This is God’s program for mankind in Christ (Rom. 8:28-30).  God’s graces “in Christ” are necessary so His program for us can happen.  We need to maintain some distance between the program of God in His creation and the graces of God as we study God’s word.  Some of us appear to get so carried away with the graces of God that we forget His program.  Of course, the two work together “in Christ.”  God’s children enjoy a “discipline by tribulations” driven program “in Christ” where we have all spiritual blessings working for us (Eph. 1:3).  We cannot think about the graces of God without considering His purpose for giving us these graces.  His predestined program for those who love Him will be finished with Jesus bringing many sons to glory (2:10).

Please read Hebrews 11:39, 40 again to appreciate its function to drive the writer’s aim of exhortation in this document (13:22).  God wanted to add children to His kingdom and that is why He created this universe.  His program was conceived in His mind before the creation of the world.  It was His secret wisdom.  It is only for the mature people who love Him.  See I Cor. 2:6-9.  He worked with mankind in various ways before He sent The Christ.  Some were faithful to the instructions God gave them through prophets and angels (1:1; 2:2).  The people listed in chapter eleven are some of these people.

Adam and Eve were the first potential children for God’s eternal kingdom but they became covenant breakers; consequently, sin entered the world and death through sin (Rom. 5:12).  God made covenants with mankind in various ways until Abraham.  Abel, Enoch and Noah were some who knew why God created them and put their faith in His promises.  God made covenants with Abraham during the Melchizedek priesthood.  The spiritual promises in those covenants are still being worked out “in Christ.”  The writer wanted the recipients to understand the fulfillment of the ages has come (I Cor. 10:11).  The seed of God’s creation is being brought to fruition “in Christ.”  The Hebrew Christians were in on it.  Those people of faith the author named in chapter eleven could reap the promises of God through Christ, only.  They, the Hebrew Christians, and Christians today are in the same kingdom.  See Matt. 8:11.  We will inherit God’s kingdom and the life therein.  See Matt. 19:29; 25:34; Rev. 21:7.  It will happen to all faithful people who have lived when Jesus turns the kingdom back to God.  See I Cor. 15:24-28.

All of the foregoing program and graces come under the authors “item two.”  The Hebrew Christians knew about those people of faith in chapter 11 (item one).  They also knew, if they cared to remember, the gospel of their enlightenment and confidence in the earlier days (4:14; 10:32).  The writer reminded the recipients that, without what was happening “in Christ” for them (item two), the promises for previous people of faith were unfulfilled.

Item three – Exhortation.  One point the recipients needed to consider at the time they received this letter was that; “All these people (faithful forefathers) were still living by faith when they died.”  11:13.  The author wanted them to realize the “rest” is not now.  It is work now and rest after Jesus returns (4:9).  There is no retirement program for Christians.  The Hebrew Christians had walked by faith but now they were losing sight of what God had promised (10:36)

See exhortations in Heb. 12:1-28.  The author’s exhortation can be broken into three segments in chapter twelve.  We will consider the first segment in this lesson because it can best be understood in context with 10:32 through 11:40.

His first exhortation is found in 12:1-13.  He exhorted them to consider all of the faithful people mentioned in chapter eleven.  These people developed as God’s children according to the same program the Hebrew Christians had benefited by – in their earlier days.  God’s program for developing His children has always been “discipline by tribulations.”  The faithful people (chapter 11) had lived with enlightened faith, even though limited, in the promises of God.  They had understood that living a disciplined life by faith was the way to be awarded the promises of inheriting God’s kingdom as faithful children.

All the promises are by grace.  The priesthood of Jesus is grace; however, developing as a son of God is a spiritual growth program.  It is the Holy Spirit’s sanctification program in Christ.  See II Thess. 2:13-15; I Pet. 1:2; II Pet. 1:2-11.  The Holy Spirit will guide us and God will forgive us of our weaknesses and ignorances while we faithfully strive to overcome what is not according to the law of life, but Christians must “put to death the misdeeds of the (their own) body.”  Rom. 8:13.  The Holy Spirit will guide Christians but He will not take the daily test we face.  We need to examine our selves and determine to, “Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.”

The Hebrew Christians had grown weary and were losing heart.  They were exhorted to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”  12:1.  They needed to stop drifting aimlessly and “fix our (their) eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.”  12:2.  Until they made the decision to take these steps, they would not be willing to enter again into the tribulation program they were in at first.  The writer appealed to their former identification as sons of God to help turn them around (12:5-11).  Mankind generally behaves on the level we identify.  The Holy Spirit is willing to help us with our identification crisis.  See Gal. 4:4-7; Rom. 8:16; I John 3:24.

The author exhorted them and us, “If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.”  12:8.

We will finish our search of what was going on where this letter was received in our next lesson.

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