So [there is every good reason why] we must [now set ourselves to] give increasing attention to what we have heard in case we [allow ourselves to] drift away [into unbelief]. For if, the spoken word [that has also come to us] via angelic messengers has proved reliable, with all violations and rebellion receiving their just desserts [as we well know], how shall we wriggle out [from such similarly deserved punishment] if now we pay no heed to such a great deliverance? After all, we, who first and foremost received what was announced by the Lord, [and it came to us] through those who initially heard Him, have now had the message confirmed to us by the signs and the wonders and various powerful deeds of God’s own testimony, distributed according to His direction by the Holy Spirit.
In the first chapter of the Pastoral Letter to the Hebrews we read an opening declaration of faith in Christ Jesus (verses 1-4), followed by an appeal to the teaching of the Old Testament scriptures (versus 5- 14). We note that our writer approaches his Subject somewhat differently from what is presented in this commentary. Here I give the scriptural passage first and then provide an explanation or elaboration. By contrast, the writer begins with a short declaration of the message “in a nutshell”, and then proceeds to expand upon it by appeal to what the scriptures teach.
Clearly, the writer of this letter believes the recipients stand in need of a fresh statement of what has been conveyed to their ancestors
in repeated episodes and with various styles, when God spoke through the prophets to our ancestors.
And in fact this refreshed statement has been given to them
in these latter days when God has spoken to us in a Son, whom He designated heir of all things, for it was indeed by this One that He made the whole lot.
In what we call verses 5 to 14 of that first chapter we read how the scriptures give prominence to the Son of God over against the Almighty’s angel-messengers. The Person by whom God has spoken to us in these latter days is no Angel. Rather, He is One of utmost importance among His fellows (1:9). The place for His enemies is also identified precisely – they have a fixed destination: “under His feet” (1:13). And He has been given to them because they stand in need of rightly appropriating the “old, old story” now that they are confronted by the fulfilment of God’s promises in the coming of His Son.
So, says the writer of the letter, you “you heirs to a deliverance” (1:14) should take note of the message angels delivered, since now you are fellows of the Lord’s Anointed. That has always been a central theme of God’s messengers. It was spoken unto your ancestors by the prophets, and carried by them as wind and fire (1:7). In serving you with the message they confirm you as “heirs of a great deliverance” (1:14).
Now you, the recipients of God’s gift to you in His Anointed, are now with Him, the fresh expression of His Love and Mercy for all the world.
This is breath-taking stuff. The Lord’s promise to them in times past, that He would redeem them, was sufficient for them at that time, provided they continued in this hope. Why? Because the redemption, as promised, would make Him their God and so they would indeed be His people. God’s promise to save and deliver us is as good as His word. He gives His word. His promise to be our God is sufficient for us. He is as good as His word.
So, “we” had better wise up to the words of the Lord Almighty. Those addressed cannot afford to be passive; their ears have to be strained, their brains alert, to the incredible truth. They can’t afford to let their attention be muffled by anything, and that includes by angels. Do they want to drift away? They know the old, old story. But consider the consequences if they were to allow themselves to drift? Now that the words of the Son of God Himself have been spoken in their ears, their place in God’s purposes for the inhabited earth (1:6) is abundantly clear. The Holy Spirit Himself has indeed actively distributed His gifts to “us” to confirm, once more, to the eye-witnesses of the Lord, that this message of deliverance is full of the Lord’s purposes for all of “us”! That’s why they can’t just “go with the flow”! The writer’s concern with his readers’ “drifting” is connected to their apparent skewed focus upon angels. And that is something that just has to change.
On reading this, we 21st-Century readers will apply its teaching to ourselves. But as we do so, and as we read along with its initial recipients, we will begin to detect that it was not, in the first instance, written to us, that is not in there first instance. It is indeed valid teaching for us as disciples of Jesus Christ, but in heeding its specific teaching we realize that it is addressed to “Hebrews”, those with the same family and ethnic background, drawing on the historical wardrobe, (see 1:11-12 from Psalm 102:25-28), with which the Son of God Himself was cloaked. Do we not need to deepen our awareness of this so that the Letter can now have its full impact upon ourselves?