NOTES on Hebrews 4:12-17 (click here for study)

The author of Hebrews has just completed an explanation of why Israel did not enter God's rest, and why Today there remains "a Sabbath-rest for the people of God." (Heb. 4:9) He explains that God's work has been finished since the creation of the world, and we can enter that rest now.

In verse 12, the author juxtaposes God's promise that we can enter his rest with a declaration of the incisive action of God's word.

"For the word of God is living and active," he says. "Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart."

Jesus was the incarnate Word, the exact revelation of God and God's truth. (John 1:1, 14) Jesus was and is the Living Word. He is the Word that created life and creates new life in believers. But God's word is also spoken, and this passage refers to God's spoken (and subsequently written) word. In both the Old and the New Testaments God's word is a living, active force that accomplishes God's will and penetrates people's hearts and minds with judgment and truth.

The scope of the living power and activity of God's word is broad and eternal. "As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it." (Isaiah 55:10, 11, NIV)

In his letter to the Thessalonians Paul says, "When you received the word of Godyou accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe." (1 Thess. 2:13, NIV)

James wrote in his epistle, "He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of all he created." (James 1:18)

God's word is not a suggestion or a statement of God's wishes. God's word embodies the power of God and accomplishes God's will. God's word is alive with the Spirit of God, and it accomplishes the work of God in the universe and in human hearts.


Everything Visible to God

Verse 13 says, "Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account."

The context of this statement suggests that the word of God performs the same activity as God himself. It's not possible to separate the activity of God's word from God himself.

Peter proclaimed that "no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." (2 Peter 1:20)

Paul also says that scripture came by the inspiration of God. "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16, NIV)

He further says, "Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage" (2 Timothy 4:2), NIV)

Paul is saying, "Preach Christ-the Word." Jesus is the exact representation of his Father, and the word of God proclaims that truth.

God's word, the Scriptures, is not an instruction manual from God. If it were, even though the Author would surpass all authors, the book would still be simply a collection of good advice and factual information. If it were simply an instruction manual, people could claim that it was no different from other sacred writings emanating from spiritual leaders and prophets.

But God's word is alive. The Holy Spirit who inspired Bible writers to record God's words-not as word-for-word automatic writing but as inspired knowledge and ideas which they wrote "as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit"-empowers God's words.

To say God's word is living and active is not a metaphor-it's reality. God's word is alive with the Holy Spirit who inspired it, and it testifies to the eternal truth and power of the Lord Jesus.

The word of God is an instrument of judgment and a weapon of truth. Ephesians 6:17 says, "Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."

Revelation 1:16 describes Jesus as holding seven stars, "and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword."

God's word penetrates deception and evil, and it clearly exposes truth. The Holy Spirit who empowers the word reveals truth to us. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God's word convicts us of sin and salvation. It convicts us of our own hidden flaws, and it empowers us to stand for truth in the face of evil.


Jesus as High Priest

The author of Hebrews turns now to a discussion of Jesus' high-priestly status. He begins by comparing Jesus with the Israelite high priests.

In Israel, only the high priest could go into the presence of the Most Holy on the Day of Atonement and offer the blood offering for the forgiveness of sins. The other priests could perform sacrifices and mediate God to Israel, but only the high priest could present the sin offerings in the presence of God on the Day of Atonement.

On that day each year, the high priest passed through the outer court, the Holy Place, and entered the Most Holy place in the tabernacle. Only the high priest could enter the presence of God, and he could only go into God's presence bearing sacrificial blood.

Jesus, Hebrews points out, "has gone through the heavens." This going through the heavens is the ultimate reality the Israelite high priests acted out every Day of Atonement as they passed through the tabernacle to approach the presence of God. He entered the presence of God presenting himself as the final, perfect sacrifice for sins. Never again does anyone-animal, human, or God-have to shed blood for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus has made the eternal sacrifice for sins, and he has gone through the heavens and sat down at the right hand of God.

Jesus' humanity was a crucial part of Jesus' identity. The Jews believed that God was different from them; he was transcendent and substantively different. They could not relate to God personally, and God, they believed, did not relate to their foibles and temptations. The Greek Stoics believed their gods were without feelings. They were spiritual, not physical, and they were above and beyond the messiness of feelings. Greek Epicureans, on the other hand, believed their gods were detached from them, completely removed from earthly or physical concerns. They never deigned to enter the human realm.

Into this collection of cultural mindsets came Jesus, the God who was also a man, and he experienced human emotions, temptations, and sorrows. Jesus showed humanity that the true God could relate to their condition. He understood exactly what they suffered and endured because he also suffered and endured temptations, scorn, and persecution.

Never again can we be tempted to think that God is arbitrary or distant, ethereal or condescending. Jesus is God, but Jesus is also human. He can sympathize with our temptations and weaknesses because he has endured what every human endures.

We have a High Priest who is in the presence of God because he has made atonement for our sins. We can know that his atonement is made with deep love and mercy because he sacrificed himself as a human at the hands of evil, and he broke the power of evil by rising from death to eternal life. He saved us knowing completely and intimately our human condition and our suffering, yet he experienced humanity without sin in himself.

Jesus is not asking God to forgive us over and over, as the Old Testament high priests had to do. He does not have to repeat his sacrifice every year and beg for forgiveness for his people. Jesus offered himself once, and he has entered the presence of God for eternity.


Approach with Confidence

We can now approach God with confidence. We no longer have to go to an intermediary priest to ask God for forgiveness. Because Jesus defeated the power of sin and sits in the presence of God eternally, we are now able to approach God directly. When we accept the death and resurrection of Jesus, he seals us with his Holy Spirit and brings our souls to life. We become one with Him, and we can speak directly to God.

Jesus has opened the way to the Father, and we can trust Jesus' mercy and grace to give us the right to stand before God, perfect in his sight because we have been cleansed by Jesus' blood.

Jesus asks us to trust him to show us the truth about our own deceptions. He asks us to let his word nourish and teach us, and he asks us to respond to his Spirit as he gently shows us areas in our lives where he wants us to grow and submit to him.

God wants to integrate the pieces of our lives, our memories, and our forgotten shame. He want to heal the deep wounds from which we try to hide but which scar and twist our lives. He asks us to trust him as he brings those buried hurts into our consciousness. He asks us to be willing to face the long-buried pain instead of hiding from it, and he promises to heal those wounds as we risk letting him bring them to our attention.

He asks us to approach him boldly and confidently. He wants us to know we are his, to know we are saved, to know we are safe in his heart. He wants us to live as his family members, not as strangers begging for admittance. God wants us to know that he is our Father.

Jesus claims us as his brothers and sisters. He has eternally cast his lot with us. As God, he will eternally bear a human resurrection body. He wants us to accept his sacrifice for us, and he wants us to let him clothe us with his righteousness. He has given us his Holy Spirit to bring our souls to life, to live in us, to teach us, and to testify of him.

Because of Jesus, we can be born again. Because of Jesus, we can live with him in the presence of God. Because of Jesus, we are saints in God's eyes and already living in eternity.

Praise God for Jesus' sacrifice. Praise Jesus for eternal life. Praise the Holy Spirit for filling our hearts with Love that will never let us go.

All contents copyright (c) 1999-2000 Graphics Studio, Redlands, CA USA. All rights reserved. Revised November 26, 2000.
Send comments and questions to webmaster@formeradventist.com