Chapter 1 began the first theological statement of the sermon of Hebrews. It established that Christ is superior to angels. Inserted into the theological statement is the first warning, contained in verses 1-4 of Chapter 2.
The warning is in verse 1. It starts with “therefore” in most versions and “for this reason” in the NASB. What is the reason? It is the truth established in the first chapter that Christ is superior to all and, particularly, Christ is superior to angels.
So verse 1 is saying, since Christ is superior to angels, we must pay closer attention to what we have heard lest we drift away from it. Remember that the sermon seems to be addressed to Hebrews that have heard the gospel and at least believed its truth even if they had not committed to follow Jesus. And now they are thinking about returning to the Jewish faith.
This is not too far from the situation in many evangelical churches where people intellectually believe the facts of the gospel, as they have heard it, but have not committed their lives to follow Christ. They drift off into fads and errors. Certainly we see some who appear to be converted but continually drift further away until they are completely gone. Others redefine the gospel or Christ himself to meet their desires.
Verses 2-4 show the seriousness of the matter. It says if the law in which you believe was true and violation of it brought punishment, how much greater punishment will you receive for rejecting God’s salvation in Christ.
When it says “the message declared by angels”, it means the law. We are still in the mode of showing that Christ and his word are superior to angels and their word, which was the law. So, first it says, if this message declared by angels was reliable or unchangeable. The implication is that it is reliable or unchangeable. The Jews based their lives on it for centuries. These Jewish church goers are thinking about returning to it, so they clearly believe the law is the word of God and is reliable, unchanging and steadfast..
Then it says, not only was the law reliable, but every act of disobedience had its own just retribution or punishment. The book of Leviticus sets out the sacrifices required for various sins and the punishment of others. In Leviticus 24:1, for example, it says “whoever takes a human life shall surely be put to death”. The law punished every sin. And that punishment was just. It was just because God is just.
Verse 3 then says if you were punished for disobeying the law, and the word of Christ for salvation is greater than the word of the law, how much greater is the punishment for disobedience? It says “how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” The implication is that we will not escape if we ignore it.
We know what the result is of rejecting Christ and his gospel. It is eternal punishment. Romans 9:22 speaks of these as vessels of wrath prepared for destruction. Jesus told many parables that included hell. The parable of Lazarus the poor man and the rich man shows the rich man dying and suffering torment in hell. (Luke 16:19)
Then, in the remainder of verse 4 and in verse 5, the writer tells us we should not reject the word of Christ for salvation because of the way it came to us. Here is the list of ways:
1. it was declared first by the Lord;
2. it was attested to us by the apostles, those who heard;
3. God bore witness
a. through signs,
b. wonders and miracles;
c. and through gifts of the Holy Spirit.
So, let’s look at these.
First Declared by the Lord
Jesus’ first message was to repent for the kingdom of heaven was at hand. (Matthew 4:17). He told them to repent and believe the gospel. Mark 1:15.
Attested to Us By Those Who Heard
The Gospels are written accounts of the life and words of Christ. Matthew and John were written by the apostles by those names who lived with Jesus during his ministry, saw him resurrected and watched him ascend. The gospel of John closes with these words: “This is the disciple who bears witness of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his witness is true”. (John 21:24 NASB) So, when someone says to you, we do not have any evidence that Jesus said or did what the church claims, you can say that is not true. We have eye witness testimony. You may reject it or refuse to follow Christ, but you cannot truthfully say there is no evidence.
Mark is believed to be the account of Peter. Luke’s account is a thoroughly researched history. Acts is a further history by Luke recording the words and actions of the apostles under the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15, recounts all those who saw Jesus after his resurrection.
God (the Father) attested to the truth of Christ
God attested to the word of Christ through signs, wonders and miracles. “Attest” means to “bear witness”. We read of Jesus healing the sick, raising the dead and casting out demons. We read of him walking on water, changing water to wine, and calming a storm. Why did he do those things? He did them, at the direction of the Father, to show his deity (that he was the Son of God) Jesus said “If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” (John 10:37-38)
Peter reiterated this truth in his Pentecost Sermon. He said “Men of Israel hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with might works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know…” (Acts 2:22)
The miracles were signs. They were signs that Jesus was the Son of God. God gave the signs to attest to the words of Jesus and show they were true so the Jews would believe him.
Lastly, God attested to the truth of the word of Christby the giving of gifts through the Holy Spirit to the Apostles. Ordinary men were transformed by the Holy Spirit into ministers empowered to accomplish great things for Jesus. Apostles who did not understand things Jesus repeatedly told them suddenly could preach great sermons. Peter and John healed. Paul healed. He cast out demons.
Acts 14:3 says this about Paul and Barnabas at Iconium: “So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.”
The point is the same for us today. God had these events and words preserved in the Bible for us to see what Jesus and the Apostles demonstrated about Jesus. All of this power was displayed so that we would believe Jesus is the Son of God and follow him. John in fact wrote “Many other signs therefore Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples which are not written in this book, but these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31)
Many people have rejected Jesus. They refused to believe him. They refused to follow him.
Many people have believed Jesus, received his salvation and followed him in obedience. These will have eternal life in Christ’s kingdom.
Many others believe the facts. But they do not follow Jesus. These Hebrew believers appear to be in this category. They want to go back to what they knew. They want to go back to what is physically safe.
Examine yourself today. You can believe the facts and not be saved. James 2:19 says even the demons believe. Satan believes Jesus is the Son of God. But he refused to acknowledge him as Lord.
I think there are many people in evangelical churches who are like these Hebrews in a sense. They believe the facts. They believe the facts. They have signed a card saying they believe those facts. They do not want to go to hell. They have prayed a prayer someone told them to pray. But, Jesus is not Lord to them. They live just like everyone else.
Believing Christ is not just believing facts about Christ. If Jesus is who he says he is, then we submit all of our lives to him and acknowledge his rule over us. That shows we believe in him.
The Apostle John said “He [Jesus] came to his own and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:11-13)
If you have not done so already, I pray you will receive Jesus as savior and lord today and become one of his children.