Life-Study of Hebrewsby Witness Lee
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
The book of Hebrews is a book of comparisons. It compares God’s economy in Christ with the Old Testament things. A good number of the Hebrew believers, to whom this book was written, appreciated faith in Christ and the salvation in Christ, but they also appreciated their old religious background, which was established by God according to the Old Testament. It was not heathen or pagan. It was not an invention of human imagination; it was established according to God’s oracles. God had told their forefathers to set up the temple rites and rituals and the Levitical service. Thus, it was commanded, established, and even blessed by God. The Hebrew believers came out of such a background. But since they had also seen something in Christ, they were troubled. We would feel the same way if we were in their situation. The Hebrew believers were bothered by these two ends—Christ and their old background. Both were of God and now they had to make a choice between them. The Hebrew believers were hesitating on the bridge. They had not left the other side, but rather were on the edge of the border. They were being called to go on, to cross the river, to pass over. They were not involved in idolatry, for the holy temple had been erected for the purpose of worshipping the God of their forefathers. In the Levitical service, the priests offered the sacrifices ordained by God and burned the incense as He had required. It was difficult for the Hebrew believers to completely give this up. They held these two ends with their two hands, holding Christ in the one hand and their forefathers’ religion in the other. This was the background of their situation.
In addition to this, they faced problems in their environment. A persecution was raised up against them. Although they loved their old religion, the high priest in that religion took the lead to persecute them, making their situation very clear. Perhaps he said to them, “If you want to be an Israelite, stay with us. Forget about Christ and the Christians. If you want to be with the Christians, you must leave us. Get out! We will not even allow you to have your living among us.” That was the situation of the Hebrew believers when the book of Hebrews was written to them.
In this letter we see the wisdom of the Lord’s Spirit. He did not rebuke them. There is no rebuking spirit, no rebuking word, and no rebuking tone. Rebuking does not work very well. The Lord the Spirit chose the best way to help them—the way of making a comparison. The best way to help our children is to give them a comparison. Let them compare white with black, Christ with religion, the church with the world, heaven with hell, and then let them make their choice. This was the way taken by the writer of this book. In a full way, he presents what is in God’s economy, showing the superiority of Christ as compared with their old religion. That religion served as a black background. Without a black background, the white will not appear to be so white. In order to show the whiteness of white you need a black background. Remember this principle: in the book of Hebrews there is always a comparison.
What are the main items in Judaism, the things that the Jewish forefathers held as treasures? In Judaism, the typical and genuine religion formed and established according to the Old Testament, the major item is God. God is their boast (Rom. 2:17). In no other religion do people have such a God. Buddhism, for example, is nonsense and should not even be called a religion. Religion helps people to worship God, to serve God, and to behave in a manner pleasing to God. There is no God in Buddhism, only a dumb Buddha. According to Buddhism, everyone can become a Buddha. Buddhism teaches that if you behave yourself, eventually you will become a Buddha. This is absolutely devilish.
Likewise, the teachings of Confucius should not be considered as a religion. Confucius never taught religion. His teachings are altogether ethical. In his teachings on ethics and morality, Confucius only mentioned God a few times. He simply advised people not to offend God, for, if they did, there was no way to be forgiven.
We may now consider Islam. The Koran, the sacred book of Islam, is a counterfeit of the Old Testament. It is subtle. It mentions God and contains the history of Genesis. But it is altogether a counterfeit.
The genuine and true God is with the Jewish religion, for it is the genuine and typical religion. In a sense, they have the real God. This God is their boast. Even today Judaism still boasts in its God.
Secondly, Judaism has angels. The heathen religions all have demons. There is no comparison between the angels and the demons. The Bible indicates that the angels are very close to God. When the Lord appeared to Abraham, He appeared with two angels (Gen. 18:1-2). They looked very much alike. By this we can see how high the angels are. Even the law was given through the mediation of angels (Acts 7:53; Gal. 3:19). So the Jewish religion boasts in them.
Thirdly, the Jewish religion boasted in Moses through whom God’s law was given. In nearly every race, especially in ancient times, there were outstanding leaders. But he was the foremost leader among all human leaders. No one’s writings can compare with his writings. There is no need to consider all of the books of the Pentateuch written by Moses; it is sufficient to present only one, Deuteronomy. This book is incomparable; it is in the third heavens. All other books outside the Bible are either on the surface of the earth or are in the lowest hell. The writings of Moses are high. I truly love all the books that he wrote, especially Deuteronomy which is so sweet and tender. What depths there are in the five books written by Moses! These books are gold mines. The more you dig in them, the more treasures you find. They are fathomless. So all Jewish people boast in Moses.
The fourth item is the priesthood with Aaron, the elder brother of Moses, as the head. Moses was not a priest; he was an Old Testament apostle. Aaron was a high priest. Moses was sent from God to the people, and Aaron went from the people back to God. Moses typified Christ coming from God to the people, and Aaron typified Christ going from the people to God. The Jews have such a priesthood which serves God and takes care of the peoples’ needs in the presence of God.
In a sense, the priests were not only ministers, but also attorneys of law in the heavenly court. How good it is to have an attorney to take care of your case continually. The Jewish people had their priestly attorneys. Today, if people do not have an attorney, they have no protection, but if they are under the care of a good attorney, they can be at peace. The heathen had no attorney before God to take care of them, but the Jews had priests before God as their attorneys. Those priests served God and took care of the cases of the children of Israel. Therefore, the Jews could boast in their priests.
The fifth and last main item of which Judaism could boast was the old covenant made by God with the Jewish people. The Jews are God’s people according to God’s covenant made according to God’s law. They are God’s covenanted people. No other people on the earth has such a divine covenant that they may be God’s people according to God’s desires and requirements. Only the Jews have such a divine covenant that makes them a particular people to God. So they hold it as a treasure and boast in it.
The intention of the book of Hebrews is to show the Hebrew believers the superiority of God’s economy over Judaism. In Judaism the boast was God, angels, Moses, Aaron the high priest, and the old covenant with its services. The writer uses these five items as the basis for making a comparison. He firstly points out that in God’s economy the first superior thing is not only God, but God expressed, that is, God the Son (1:2, 3, 5, 8-12). Then he goes on to unfold that Christ is superior to the angels (1:4—2:18), to Moses (3:1-6), to Aaron (4:14—7:28), and that the new covenant of life made by Him is superior to the old covenant of letters (8:1—10:18).
The first comparison that this book presents is the comparison between the God in His salvation and the God in the Jewish religion. The Jewish religion has the true God, but in Judaism He is the hidden God. In God’s salvation, on the contrary, God is expressed. This expressed God is God the Son. God the Son is the expression of God. When the apostle John was in the Jewish religion before he was saved, he could never say, “We beheld His glory.” But when he wrote his gospel, he said that in the beginning was the Word, the Word was God, the Word which was God became flesh, and we all have seen His glory. In John 1:18 John went on to say that no one has seen God, but “the only begotten Son has declared Him.” In his first Epistle John said that we have heard, seen, and touched this One who expresses God as our life (1 John 1:1). This is the God in His salvation. The God in Judaism is true but hidden. The God in His salvation is expressed.
In the Old Testament God spoke through the prophets but never had Himself expressed. In the New Testament, that is, in God’s salvation, God speaks in the Son who is God’s Word, God’s speaking, and even God Himself. He speaks God, declares God, and expresses God. In the old time God spoke through the prophets indirectly, but now He speaks in the Son directly.
When Peter was on the mount of transfiguration with the Lord and saw Moses and Elijah he still held the old concept and ranked Moses and Elijah with the Son of God (Matt. 17:1-8). He had to learn that the old way of God’s speaking was over. There is no more Moses and no more Elijah—only the Son of God. Peter needed to cross the river and hear the Son. The Son now is God’s unique Word, God’s unique speaking. He is God’s declaration and expression. He not only speaks for God—He speaks God. He is the effulgence of God’s glory and the impress of God’s substance. He is God expressed. The God in His salvation is much better than the God in the Jewish religion. There God is hidden; here God is expressed.
The Son in whom God speaks is the very One who created the heavens and the earth (1:10). He is nothing less than God the Creator. He is also the One who upholds the whole universe. He upholds all things by the word of His power (1:3). He is also the anointed One, the One who is appointed to inherit the entire created universe (1:2). This appointed Heir is God Himself (1:8). This God is nothing less than the Jewish God, but He is more than the Jewish God. No one has ever seen the Jewish God, but to us, the proper Hebrews, God is revealed, expressed, touched, received, possessed, and experienced day by day.
In the Lord’s recovery we have many Jewish brothers who have become Hebrews. Before they came into the Lord’s recovery they all knew about God, but they did not enjoy Him. In their religion, they only had God in terminology; they did not have God in their experience. Now they have Him in experience.
In opening his Epistle, the writer of Hebrews indicated that the God of the real Hebrews is much better than the God in the old Jewish religion. He is not only God the Father, but also God the Son. Both of these concepts are found in Isaiah 9:6. “Unto us a son is given...and his name shall be called...The everlasting Father.” A Son is given to us, yet His name is called the everlasting Father. The Father is now the Son given to us. The Father is for His being, and the Son is for His being given. In His being the very God, He is the Father, and in being given to us He is the Son. As Isaiah 9:6 clearly reveals, in being given He is the Son, yet He is called the everlasting Father. The Father is for His being, and the Son is for His being given to reach us, to be gained by us in our experience. If He were only the Father, we could never receive Him or enjoy Him. Praise Him that He is the Son given to us. God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son to us (John 3:16). The Son is a divine gift from the Father, and this divine gift is God Himself. God gave Himself to us as a divine gift in the Son.
Our God is the expressed God, the God who reaches us, who is received by us, who is experienced by us, and who becomes our enjoyment day by day. This is our God. Surely this God is better than the God of Judaism. This God is Jesus, the Son of God, God Himself. He is God’s expression, God reaching us, God being received, experienced, enjoyed, and possessed by us.
Now we need to see that the Son as the expressed God is much higher than the angels. He is superior to the angels. Not only is the God in salvation superior to the angels, but even the God in Judaism was much superior to them, for the angels were His servants. The angels are winds and flames of fire (1:7). Do not think so highly of the angels. Perhaps many of you desire to be an angel. We shall see that the angels are not only inferior to Christ; they are also inferior to us. Even in the Old Testament times, God was far superior to the angels. They simply served His purpose. Thus, it goes without saying that our Christ, the Son of God, is even more superior to the angels than was the God of Judaism. The angels, which are like winds and flames of fire, are simply the creatures, while the Son is the Creator. As creatures, the angels are much inferior to the Son, and as the Creator, the Son is much superior to the angels.
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