THE PAROUSIA IN THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS.
It does not fall within the scope of this investigation to discuss the
question of the authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Even if it do not come
from the same pen which wrote the Epistle to the Romans, and few who are
familiar with the style of St. Paul will affirm that it does, yet its spirit and
teaching are essentially Pauline, and we may justly regard it as one of the most
precious legacies of the apostolic age. Its value as a key to the meaning of the
Levitical economy, and as a contribution to Christian doctrine and living, is
inestimable; and whether we ascribe its authorship to Barnabas or Apollos, or
any other fellow-labourer with St. Paul, we may unhesitatingly accept it, ‘not
as the word of man, but, as it is in truth, the word of God.’
We now enter still more deeply into the dark shadow of the predicted
apostasy. It was to combat this formidable antagonist of the Gospel that this
epistle was written; and the Judaic character of the anti-Christian
movement is apparent from the line of argument which the author adopts. We find
ourselves at once in ‘the last days.’
THE LAST DAYS ALREADY COME.
Heb. i. 1, 2.---‘God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time
past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by
The phrase ‘in these last days,’ or ‘in the end of these days,’ shows that
the writer regarded the time of Christ’s incarnation and ministry as the closing
period of a dispensation or aeon. We fin a somewhat similar expression in chap.
ix. 26, ‘Now, in the end of the ages’ where the reference is to the time of our
Saviour’s incarnation and atoning sacrifice. And old era, call it Mosaic,
Judaic, or Old Testament, was now running out; many things that had seemed
immovable and eternal were about to vanish away; and ‘the end of the age,’ or
‘the last times,’ had arrived.
THE AEONS, AGES, OR WORLD-PERIODS.
Heb. i. 2.---‘By whom also he made the worlds’ [aeons].
Much confusion has arisen from the indiscriminate use of the word ‘world’
as the translation of the different Greek words a i w n , k o z m o z , o i k o
u m e n h , and g h . The unlearned reader who meets with the phrase ‘the end of
the world,’ inevitably thinks of the destruction of the material globe, whereas
if he read ‘conclusion of the age, or aeon,’ he would as naturally think of the
close of a certain period of time---which is its proper meaning. We have already
had occasion to observe that a i w n is properly a designation of time,
an age; and it is doubtful whether it ever has any other signification in
the New Testament. Its equivalent in Latin is aevum, which is really the
Greek a i w n in a Latin dress. The proper word for the earth, or
world, is k o s m o z , which is used to designate both the material and the
moral world. O i k o u m e n h is properly the inhabited world, ‘the
habitable,’ and in the New Testament refers often to the Roman Empire,
sometimes to so small a portion of it as Palestine. G h , though it
sometimes signifies the earth generally, in the gospels more frequently refers
to the land of Israel. Much light is thrown upon many passages by a
proper understanding of these words.
It is certain that the Jews in our Saviour’s time were accustomed to make a
division of time into two great periods or aeons, the present aeon, and
the coming. The coming aeon was that of the Messiah, or ‘the kingdom of
God.’ The same division is recognised in the New Testament, and we have already
seen that, in the view of the writer of this epistle, the close of the present
aeon was approaching. (See Stuart’s Comm. on Heb. in loc.; Alford’s Greek
Testament; Wahl’s Lexicon, voc. a i w n ).
It may be said, however, that though the word does primarily signify an
age, yet in this instance the sense of the passage obviously requires us to
translate a i w n a z , worlds. It must be acknowledged that it seems
uncouth to our ears to say, ‘God made the ages by Jesus Christ,’ and very simple
and natural to say, ‘He made the world;’ yet when we consider that the writer of
this epistle had no conception of worlds in the sense in which we now use
that expression, it may perhaps modify our opinion. We are very apt to credit
the author with our astronomical ideas, and suppose that he is referring to the
sun, moon, and stars as so many worlds. But we have no reason to believe
that he had any such notion. The heavenly bodies were to him lights, but not
worlds. With aeons, however, the author of this epistle, as a man of letters,
must have been perfectly familiar. What, then, did he mean by God making the
aeons? These were the great eras, or epochs of time, which the Supreme Wisdom
had ordained and arranged; world-periods, as we may call them, which constituted
acts in the great drama of Providence. There seems to be an allusion to this
ordering of the ages, or world-periods, in Acts xvii. 26: ‘Having determined the
times before appointed’; as also in Ephes. i. 10: ‘The dispensation of the
fulness of the times.’ It is strongly in favour of this view that it is
substantially that which is adopted by the Greek Fathers.
THE WORLD TO COME, OR THE NEW ORDER.
Heb. ii. 5.---‘For unto the angels hath he not put in subjection the world to
come whereof we speak.’
This passage elucidates the subject still more. We have here one of the
aeons---the world to come---i.e. not a material world, but a system or
order of things analogous to the Mosaic dispensation. There is an evident
comparison or contrast between the Mosaic economy and the new, or Christian,
state. The former was placed under the administration of angels; it was ‘the
word spoken by angels;’ it was given by ‘the disposition of angels’ (Acts vii.
53); it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator (Gal. iii. 19). But the
new aeon, the kingdom of heaven, was administered by one greater than the
angels, the Son of God Himself; a proof of the superiority of the Christian over
the Jewish dispensation.
It is certainly somewhat singular that we should find the word o i k o u m e n h
here, where we should have expected to find a i w n a . Had it been o i k o n o
m i a n , as in Ephes. i. 10, it would have been more in accordance with our
ideas of the true purport; but there is no warrant for supposing that the one
word has been substituted for the other. That the allusion is to the system or
order of things inaugurated by Christ there can be no doubt, and the phrase is
equivalent to ‘the kingdom of heaven.’ It may be added that it is said to be
‘coming,’ m e l l o u s a , a word which implies nearness, like ‘the
coming wrath,’ ‘the coming glory,’ ‘the coming age.’
THE END, i.e. OF THE AGE, OR AEON.
Heb. iii. 6.---‘If we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope
firm unto the end.’
Heb. iii. 14.---‘If we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the
Heb. vi. 11.---‘The full assurance of hope unto the end.’
We have already had occasion to remark upon the significant phrase ‘the
end,’ as it is used in the New Testament. It does not mean to the last,
or to the end of life; but to the close of the aeon. Alford correctly
‘The end thought of, is not the death of each individual, but the coming of the
Lord, which is constantly called by this name.’
THE PROMISE OF THE REST OF GOD.
Heb. iv. 1-11.---‘Let us therefore fear, since a promise still remaineth of
entering into his rest, lest any of you should seem to come short of it. For
unto us good tidings have been brought as well as unto them, but the report
which they heard did not profit them, because it met with no belief in those
that heard it. For we that have believed are entering into the (promised) rest,
even as he hath said, So I sware in my wrath, they shall not enter into my rest.
(Although his works were finished ever since the foundation of the world. For he
hath spoken in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest
on the seventh day from all his works. And in this place again, They shall not
enter into my rest.) Since, therefore, it still remaineth that some must enter
therein, and they who first received the glad tidings entered not in because of
disobedience, he again limiteth a certain day, saying in David, After so long a
time, to-day; as it hath been said before, To-day, if ye hear his voice, harden
not your hearts. For if Joshua had given them rest, then God would not
afterwards speak of another day. There still remaineth a rest [sabbath keeping]
for the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, hath himself also
rested from his own works, as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter
into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of disobedience.’
This is an exceedingly important and interesting passage, not without its
obscurities and difficulties, which have occasioned much diversity of
interpretation. Some have found in it an argument for the perpetuity of the
Fourth Commandment, and the observance of the first day of the week as the
Christian sabbath. Others have interpreted the whole argument in an ethical and
subjective sense, as if the writer exhorted to the attainment of a certain state
of mind called the rest of faith: a ceasing from doubt and from
self-dependence, and obtaining perfect repose of mind by full trust in God. Such
interpretations, however, wholly miss the point of the argument, and are rather
ingenious glosses than legitimate deductions.
What is the drift of the argument? It is very evident that the object of the
writer is to warn Hebrew Christians against unbelief and disobedience by setting
before them, on the one hand, the reward of obedience, and, on the other, the
penalty of disobedience. There was ready to his hand a signal example, memorable
to all Israelites, viz. the forfeiture of the land Canaan by their fathers in
consequence of their unbelief. They had provoked the Lord to swear in His wrath,
‘They shall not enter into my rest.’
In the view of the writer there was a remarkable correspondence between the
situation of the Israelites approaching the land of promise and the situation of
Christians expecting the fulfilment of their hope, the promise of rest. To make
this correspondence more clear he shows that the rest promised to ancient
Israel, and that promised to the people of God now, were really one and the same
thing. The entrance into the land of Canaan was by no means the whole, nor even
the principal part, of the promised rest of God. This he proves by showing that
long after the settlement of the Israelites in Canaan, the Lord, by the mouth of
David, in Psalm xcv., virtually repeats the promise made to the Israelites in
the wilderness, and says to the people, ‘To-day, if ye will hear his
voice, harden not your hearts.’ The repetition of the command implies the
repetition of the promise, and also of the threatening; as if God were saying,
‘Believe, and ye shall enter into my rest. Disbelieve, and ye shall not enter
into my rest.’ Hence it follows that there is a rest besides and beyond
the rest of Canaan.
Then follows the explanation of the rest referred to, viz. the ‘rest of
God,’ that which He calls ‘My rest.’ Certainly that name was never given to the
land of Canaan, nor can it be applied to any other than that ‘rest’ of which we
read in the account of the creation, when God did rest from all ‘his work
which he had made’ (Gen. ii. 2, 3). This was God’s sabbath, the rest which He
hallowed and called His own. It must be to this rest therefore---the holy,
sabbatic, heavenly repose---that the promise chiefly refers. Of that rest of God
Canaan was no doubt the type, for that was the rest of the Israelites after the
perils and fatigues of the wilderness; but the possession of Canaan was far from
exhausting the full meaning of the promise, and therefore it still remained, and
was kept in reserve for the people of God. ‘There remaineth therefore a rest for
the people of God.’
The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews evidently regarded the ‘rest of God’ as
a consummation not far distant. He says of it, ‘We that have believed are
entering into that rest.’ This does not mean ‘going to heaven at death,’ but
the expectation of the speedily coming kingdom of God, the hope so strongly
cherished by the first Christians (Rom. viii. 18-25). To regard these
exhortations and appeals as the ordinary commonplaces of religious teaching, is
to rob them of half their significance. True, there is a sense in which they may
be applicable to all times, but they had a meaning and a force at that
particular juncture which it is difficult for us now to comprehend. The
Christians of that epoch stood, as it were, on the border-line between the old
and the new, between the aeon that was closing and that which was opening. They
believed that the day of the Lord was just at hand,---that Christ would soon
return, and that they would enter along with Him into the kingdom of heaven, the
rest of God. Hence the duty of ‘exhorting one another; and so much the more as
they saw the day approaching;’ of holding the beginning of their confidence
stedfast unto the end; of ‘striving to enter into that rest, lest any many
should fall,’ or ‘seem to come short of it.’
The writer of this epistle, in verses 9 and 10 of this chapter, shows the
propriety of calling this promised rest a ‘sabbatism,’ or sabbatic rest. ‘There
remaineth therefore a sabbatism for the people of God. For he that is entered
into his rest, he also hath rested from his own works, as God did from his.’
There is an ambiguity in this language both in the Greek and in the English. It
may mean that all the faithful departed have ceased from the toils of earth, and
now enjoy the repose and reward of heaven. This is the sense usually attached to
the words. (See Stuart’s Commentary on Hebrews, in loc.; Conybeare and
Howson, etc.) It must be confessed, however, that the relevance of this language
so interpreted, to the matter in hand, is not very apparent, and that the
grammatical construction will hardly warrant such an explanation. The argument
affirms, not that Christians have entered into that rest, but just the contrary.
The writer states, as Conybeare and Howson very properly show, ‘that God’s
people have never yet enjoyed that perfect rest, therefore its enjoyment is
still future.’ Who, then, is ‘he that entered in’? Evidently it is Christ,
the Forerunner, who entered on our behalf within the veil; our great High
Priest, who is passed into the heavens; the New Testament Joshua, the
Captain of our salvation, who ‘entered into his rest,’ ceasing from His
work of redemption, even as His Father did from His own work of creation. This
shows the fitness of heaven being called a ‘sabbatism,’ a ‘rest of God,’ for
there both the Father and the Son keep eternal sabbath. It may be added that
this interpretation relieves us from the sense of incongruity which is felt in
comparing a Christian’s ceasing from his labours to God’s ceasing from the work
of creation; it is also perfectly relevant to the argument in the context.
Not only will the words bear this sense, but they will not bear any other, as
Alford very well shows. (See Greek Testament, in loc.) We can now see the
force of the argument as a whole. The writer shows the fatal consequences of
unbelief and disobedience by the example of the ancient Israelites (chap. iii.
7-19). They had a great promise of entering into the rest of God, which they
forfeited by their unbelief (chap. iii. 7-19). But that promise of rest is still
offered, and my be still forfeited. It was offered to Israel again in the time
and by the mouth of David; it was therefore not exhausted by the entrance of the
Israelites into Canaan (chap. iv. 4-8). The promise, then had reference to the
heavenly state, the rest of God Himself, when He kept sabbath after the work of
creation (chap. iv. 3-5). But Christ also keeps His sabbath, having ceased from
the work of redemption, as His Father did from that of creation (chap. iv. 10).
There still remains therefore a sabbath, or heavenly rest for the people of God
(chap. iv. 9). Let us, therefore, strive to enter into that rest of Christ and
of God, warned against unbelief and disobedience by the example of ancient
Israel (chap. iv. 11).
We shall find in the sequel much light thrown upon this whole subject of
entrance into the heavenly state, and the relation in which the saints stood to
it both before and since the coming of Christ.
THE END OF THE AGES.
Heb. ix. 26.---‘For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the
world [k o s m o u ]: but now once, in the end of the world [a i w n w n ], hath
he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.’
In this verse we have a striking instance of the confusion arising from the
translation of the two different words kosmos and aion by the same word ‘world.’
The expression s u n t e l e i a t w n a i w n w n has precisely the same
meaning as s u n t e l e i a t o u a i w n o z , and refers to the Jewish age
which was about to close. Moses Stuart renders the passage thus: ‘But now, at
the close of the [Jewish] dispensation, He has once for all made His
appearance,’ etc. This is another decisive proof that ‘the end of the age’ was
regarded by the apostolic churches as at hand.
EXPECTATION OF THE PAROUSIA.
Heb. ix. 28.---‘And unto them that look for him shall he appear a second time,
without sin, unto salvation.’
The attitude of expectation maintained by the Christians of the apostolic age is
here incidentally shown. They waited in hope and confidence for the fulfillment
of the promise of His coming. To suppose that they thus waited for an event
which did not happen is to impute to them and to their teachers an amount of
ignorance and error incompatible with respect of their beliefs on any other
THE PAROUSIA APPROACHING.
Heb. x. 25.---‘Exhorting one another, and so much more as ye see the day
‘The day’ means, of course, ‘the day of the Lord,’ the time of His
appearing,---the Parousia. It was now at hand; they could see it
approaching. Doubtless the indications of its approach predicted by our Lord
were apparent, and His disciples recognised them, remembering His words, ‘When
ye shall see these things come to pass, know that it is nigh, even at the doors’
(Mark xiii. 29). It is not fair to palter with these words in a non-natural or
double sense, and say with Alford,---
‘That day, in its great and final sense, is always near, always ready to break
forth upon the church; but these Hebrews lived actually close upon one of those
great types and foretastes of it, the destruction of the Holy City.’
To the same effect is his note on Heb. ix. 26:---
‘The first Christians universally spoke of the second coming of the Lord as
close at hand, and indeed it ever was and is.’
The Hebrew Christians lived close upon the actual Parousia which our Lord
predicted, and His church expected before the passing away of that generation.
It is not true that the Parousia ‘is always near, and always ready to break
forth upon the church,’ any more than that the birth of Christ, His crucifixion,
or His resurrection, is always ready to break forth. The Parousia was as
distinctly a specific event, with its proper place in time, as the incarnation
or the crucifixion; and it is to evacuate the word of all meaning to make it a
phantom shape, appearing and disappearing, always coming and never come, distant
and near, past and future. We believe that Christ in his prophetic discourse had
a real event full in his view; an event with a place in history and chronology;
an event the period of which He Himself distinctly indicated,---not indeed the
hour, nor the day, nor even the precise year, yet within limits well
defined,---the period of the existing generation. Such was manifestly the belief
of the writer of this epistle. To him the Parousia was a very definite event,
and one the approach of which he could see; nor can any trace be detected in his
language, or in the language of any of the epistles, of a double sense, or of a
partial and preliminary Parousia and a great and final one.
The comment of Conybeare and Howson is far more satisfactory:
‘"The day" of Christ’s coming was seen approaching at this time by the
threatening prelude of the great Jewish war, wherein He came to judge that
THE PAROUSIA IMMINENT.
Heb. x. 37.---‘For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and
will not tarry.’
This statement looks in the same direction as the preceding. The phrase, ‘he
that shall come’ [o e r c o m e n o z ] is the customary designation of the
Messiah,---‘the coming One.’ That coming was now at hand. The language to this
effect is far more expressive of the nearness of the time in the Greek than in
English: ‘Yet a very, very little while;’ or, as Tregelles renders it, ‘A little
while, how little, how little!’ The reduplication of the thought in the close of
the verse,---‘will come, and will not tarry,’ is also indicative of the
certainty and speed of the approaching event. Moses Stuart’s comment on this
‘The Messiah will speedily come, and, by destroying the Jewish power, put an end
to the sufferings which your persecutors inflict upon you.’
This is only part of the truth; the Parousia brought much more than this to the
people of God, if we are to believe the assurances of the inspired apostles of
THE PAROUSIA AND THE OLD TESTAMENT SAINTS.
Heb. xi. 39, 40.---‘And these all, having obtained a good report through faith,
obtained not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that
they without us should not be made perfect.’
The argument which is here brought to a conclusion is one of great importance,
and deserves very careful consideration. It will be found to lend a powerful
indirect support to the views propounded in this investigation, which in fact
afford the true key to its explanation.
Having in this eleventh chapter illustrated his main position,---that faith in
God was the distinguishing characteristic of the worthies whose names adorn the
annals of the Old Testament, the writer draws attention to the fact that
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were never actually put in possession of the
inheritance which had been promised them. They did not obtain the land of
Canaan; they never saw the earthly Jerusalem: ‘These all died in faith, not
having received the promises’ (ver. 13). He then goes on to state that these
fathers of Israel were aware of a deeper significance in the promise of God than
a mere temporal and earthly inheritance. Abraham, while dwelling as a stranger
and sojourner in the land of promise, looked beyond to ‘the city which hath the
foundations, whose builder and maker is God’ (ver. 10). It is evident that this
cannot refer to the earthly Jerusalem, and yet the language seems to point to
some well-known city so described. But to what other city can the
allusion be than to the city described in the Apocalypse as ‘having twelve
foundations,’ ‘the city of the living God,’ the heavenly Jerusalem? The
correspondence cannot be accidental, and affords more than a presumption that
whoever wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews had read the description of the New
Jerusalem in the Apocalypse. It is not a city, but the city; not
which hath foundations, but ‘the foundations;’ a particular and
But to return. The confession of the fathers that they were strangers and
pilgrims in the land, was a declaration of their faith in the existence of a
‘better country,’ ‘for they that say such things declare plainly that they seek
a country,’ not indeed any earthly country, but ‘a better, that is, a
heavenly’ (vers. 14, 16). This faith in a future and heavenly inheritance,
which they saw only ‘afar off,’ was true not only of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,
but of the whole company of the ancient believers (ver. 39). Not one of them
received the fulfilment of that divine promise which their faith had embraced:
‘these all, being borne witness to through faith, received not the promise’
This is a fact worthy to be pondered. Up to that time, according to the author
of this epistle, the Old Testament saints had been kept waiting, and were
waiting still, for the fulfilment of the great promise of God made to Abraham
and his seed, and had not yet received the inheritance, nor entered into the
better country, nor seen the God-built city with the foundations. How was this?
What could be the cause of the long delay? What obstacle stood in the way of
their entrance upon the full enjoyment of the inheritance? The question has been
anticipated and answered. ‘The way into the holiest of all was not yet made
manifest,’ as was signified by the continued existence of the temple and its
services (chap. ix. 8). Access into the place of sanctity and privilege was not
permitted until the way had been opened by the atoning sacrifice of Christ, the
great High Priest, the Mediator of the new covenant; it could not give a perfect
title to its subjects by which they might be admitted to enter on the possession
of the inheritance (chap. ix. 9). Mere ritual could not remove the barriers
which sin had created between God and man; and therefore there was not admission
even for the faithful under the old covenant into the full privileges of
saintship and sonship. But this barrier was removed by the perfect sacrifice of
the great High Priest. ‘The Mediator of the new covenant,’ by the offering of
himself to God, redeemed the transgressions committed under the old covenant, or
Mosaic economy, thus freeing the subjects of that covenant from their
disabilities, and making it competent for the chosen ‘to receive the promise of
the eternal inheritance’ (chap. ix. 11-15).
The argument of the epistle, then, requires us to suppose that until the atoning
sacrifice of the cross was offered, the blessedness of the Old Testament saints
was incomplete. In this respect they were at a disadvantage as compared with
believers under the new covenant. The latter were at once put in possession of
that for which the former had to wait a long time. The superiority of believers
now, under the Christian dispensation, over believers under the former
dispensation, is a strong point in the argument. We, says the writer, have no
lengthened period of delay interposed between us and the promised
inheritance,---we are near it; ‘we are come unto it;’ ‘we are entering into it.’
‘God hath provided some better thing for us, that they without us
should not be made perfect’ (ver. 40). That is to say, the ancient believers had
not only no precedence in the enjoyment of the promised inheritance over
Christians, but had to wait long, until the fulness of the time should come
when, Christ having opened the way into the holiest of all, they might enter,
along with us, into the possession of the promised inheritance.
It is scarcely necessary to ask, What is this promised inheritance of
which so much is here spoken, and to which the Old Testament saints looked
forward in faith? Unquestionably it is that thing which God promised to Abraham,
Isaac, and Jacob (ver. 9); that which the patriarchs saw afar off (ver. 13);
that which their illustrious successors believed, but never obtained (ver. 19).
It is ‘the promise of eternal inheritance’ (chap. ix. 15); ‘the hope set before
us’ (chap. vi. 18); ‘the city which hath the foundations’ (chap. xi. 10); ‘a
better, even a heavenly country’ (chap. xi. 16); ‘a kingdom which cannot be
moved’ (chap. xii. 28). It is, in fact, the true Canaan; the promised land; the
‘rest of God;’ ‘the sabbath-keeping which remaineth for the people of God’
(chap. iv.9). It is one thing of which the writer speaks all the way through.
Let the reader carry his thoughts back to the fourth chapter, where the
discussion respecting the promised rest first begins. Evidently that ‘promised
rest’ is identical with the ‘promised land,’ and the ‘promised land’ is
identical with the ‘promised inheritance;’ and all these different
designations---city, country, kingdom, inheritance, promise,---all mean one and
the same thing. The earthly Canaan was not the whole, was not the reality, but
only the symbol of the inheritance which God gave by promise to Abraham and his
seed. That promise, far from having been exhaustively fulfilled by the
possession of the land under Joshua, was still kept in reserve for the people of
God. But now the time was come when the inheritance was about to be actually
entered and enjoyed, and the believers of the old covenant, with those of the
new, were to enter at once and together into the promised rest.
There is a remarkable correspondence between the argument contained in this
passage and the statements of St. Paul in his epistles to the Galatians and
Romans, serving not only to throw additional light upon the whole subject, but
also to prove how entirely Pauline is the argument in Hebrews. We select
a few of the leading thoughts in Gal. iii. by way of illustration:---
Ver. 16.---‘Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not,
And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.’
Ver. 18.---‘For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no more of promise: but
God gave it to Abraham by promise.’
Ver. 19.---‘Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of
transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made,’ etc.
Ver. 22.---‘Howbeit, the scripture shut up all under sin, that the promise by
faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.’
Ver. 23.---‘But before faith came, we were kept in ward, shut up under the law
unto the faith which was afterward to be revealed.’
Ver. 29.---‘And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs
according to the promise.’
Now, making allowance for the difference in the object which St. Paul has in
view in writing to the Galatians, it will be seen how remarkably his statements
support those in the Epistle of Hebrews.
In both we find the same subject,---the promised inheritance.
In both it is admitted that the inheritance was not actually possessed
and enjoyed by those to whom it was first promised.
In both it is shown that the fulfilment of the promise was suspended
until the coming of Christ.
In both it is shown that this event (the coming of Christ) produced a
change in the situation of those who expected this inheritance.
In both it is argued that faith is the condition of inheriting the
In both it is asserted that the time has at length arrived when the
actual possession of the inheritance is about to be realised.
Very similar is the scope of the argument in the Epistle to the Romans:---
Rom. iv. 13.---‘For the promise that he should be the heir of the world [land, k
o s m o z = g h ] was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but
through the righteousness of faith.’
Ver. 16.---‘For this cause it was of faith that it might be by grace; to the end
the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law,
but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all.’
Rom. v. 1.---‘Therefore being justified by faith we have peace with God through
our Lord Jesus Christ. By whom also we have access by faith into this grace
wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.’
In these verses we find,---
The same promised inheritance (ver. 13).
The same condition of its possession, viz. faith (ver. 2).
The suspension of the fulfilment of the promise during the period of the
law (vers. 14, 16).
The entrance of believers under the Christian dispensation into the state
of privilege and heirship (chap. v. 2).
The expectation of the full possession of the inheritance: ‘We rejoice in
hope of the glory of God’ (chap. v. 1).
Taking all these passages together, we may deduce from them the following
That the great object of faith and hope so constantly set forth in the
Scriptures as the consummation of the happiness of believers both under the Old
Testament and under the New, is one and the same; and, whether called by the
name of ‘the promised land,’ ‘the promised inheritance,’ ‘the kingdom of God,’
‘the glory to be revealed,’ ‘the rest of God,’ ‘the hope which is set before
us,’---they all mean the same thing, and point to a heavenly, and not an earthly
That this was the true meaning of the promise made to Abraham.
That the fulfilment of this promise could not take place until the true
‘seed’ of Abraham appeared and the sacrifice of the cross was offered.
That the Old Testament saints had to wait until then before they could
receive the promised inheritance,---that is, enter into the full possession and
enjoyment of the heavenly state.
That the New Testament saints had this advantage over their
predecessors,---that they had not to wait for the realisation of their hope.
That the Old Testament saints, and believers under the New Testament,
were to enter at the same period into the possession of the inheritance; not
‘they without us,’ nor ‘we without them,’ but simultaneously (Heb. xi. 40).
It is evident, however, that the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews did not
consider that as yet either the Old Testament or the New Testament saints had
actually entered upon the possession of the inheritance. The very purpose and
aim of all his exhortations and appeals to the Hebrew believers is to warn them
against the danger of forfeiting the inheritance by apostasy, and to encourage
them to stedfastness and perseverance, that they might receive the promise. ‘Let
us therefore fear lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any
of you should seem to come short of it’ (Heb. iv. 1); ‘Ye have need of patience
that ye may receive the promise’ (Heb. x. 36). It was not theirs as yet, then,
in actual possession; but the whole tenor of the argument implies that it was
very near, so near that it might almost be said to be within reach. ‘We which
believe are entering into the rest’ (Heb. iv. 3); ‘Yet a very, very
little while, and he that is coming shall come, and shall not tarry’ (chap. x.
37). This clearly indicates the period of the expected entrance on the
inheritance: it is the Parousia; ‘the coming of the Lord;’ the long looked-for
day; the fulness of the time, when the saints of the old covenant and those of
the new should enter simultaneously into the possession of the promised
inheritance; the land of rest; the city with the foundations; the better
country, that is, the heavenly; the kingdom which cannot be moved; ‘the
inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and unfading, ready to be revealed in the
But it may be objected, If the seed has come ‘to whom the promise was made; ‘if
the sacrifice of Calvary has been offered; if the great High Priest has rent the
veil and removed the barrier; if the way into the holiest has thus been opened
up,---does it not follow that the possession of the inheritance would be
immediately bestowed upon the Old Testament believers, and that they would at
once, along with the risen and triumphant Redeemer, enter into the promised
This is the view which many theologians have adopted, who fix the resurrection
of Christ as the period of advancement and glory for the Old Testament saints.
But it is clear that the apostolic doctrine fixes that period at the Parousia,
and that for the reason given in the Epistle to the Hebrews (chap. x. 12, 13).
Though the great High Priest had offered His one sacrifice for sin; though He
had sate down on the right hand of God; yet His triumph had not fully come. He
was ‘henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool.’ To the same
effect is the statement of St. Paul in 1 Cor. xv. 22. The consummation is
reached by successive steps; first, the resurrection of Christ; afterwards, they
that are Christ’s at His coming; then ‘then end.’ The edifice was not crowned
until the Parousia, when the Son of man came in His kingdom, and His enemies
were put under His feet. That was the consummation, the end, when the Messianic
delegated government was to cease; the ceremonial, local, and temporary to be
merged in the spiritual, universal, and everlasting; when God was to be revealed
as the Father not of a nation, but of man; when all sectional and national
distinctions were to be abolished, and ‘God to be All in all.’
Meantime, when this epistle was written, the Mosaic system seemed to be
unimpaired; ‘the outer tabernacle’ was still standing; Judaism, though a hollow
trunk, out of which the heart had utterly decayed, still had a semblance of
vigour; but the hour was at hand when the whole economy was to be swept away. A
deluge of wrath was about to burst on the land, and overwhelm the city, the
temple, and the nation; the judgment of the impenitent and the apostate people
would then take place, and the Old Testament saints, along with the believers in
Christ, would together ‘enter into rest,’ and ‘inherit the kingdom prepared for
them from the foundation of the world.’
When we remember that this epistle was written, according to some expositors, on
the verge of the great Jewish war which ended in the destruction of Jerusalem;
or, according to others, after its actual outbreak, we may conceive what an
intense expectancy such an approaching crisis must have produced in Christian
hearts. The long looked-for consummation was now not a question of years, but of
months or days.
Before quitting this very interesting passage it may be proper to advert to the
opinions of some of the most eminent expositors regarding it.
Professor Stuart wholly misses his way. He pronounces Heb. xi. 40 ‘an
exceedingly difficult verse, about the meaning of which there have been a
multitude of conjectures;’ and expresses his opinion that ‘the better thing’
reserved for Christians is not a reward in heaven; for such a reward was
proffered also to the ancient saints.
‘I must therefore,’ he adds, ‘adopt another exegesis of the whole passage, which
refers e p a g g e l i a n [the promise] to the promised blessing of the
Messiah. I construe the whole passage, then, in this manner:---The ancient
worthies persevered in their faith, although the Messiah was known to them only
by promise. We are under greater obligations than they to persevere; for
God has fulfilled His promise respecting the Messiah, and thus placed us in a
condition better adapted to perseverance than theirs. So much is our condition
preferable to theirs that we may even say, without the blessing which we enjoy
their happiness could not be completed. In other words, the coming of the
Messiah was essential to the consummation of their happiness in glory, i.e.
was necessary to their t e l e i o s i z .’
It will be seen that Stuart entirely mistakes the meaning of the writer. The e p
a g g e l i a is not the Messiah, but the inheritance, the promise of
entering into the rest. He fails also to apprehend the bearing of the subject on
the time then present, and that the whole force of the argument lies in the fact
that the moment was at hand when the great promise of God was to be fulfilled.
Dr. Alford apprehends the argument much more clearly, yet fails to grasp the
precise sense of the whole. How nearly he approaches the true solution of the
difficulty may be seen from the following note:---
‘The writer implies, as indeed chap. x. 14 seems to testify, that the advent and
work of Christ have changed the state of the Old Testament fathers and saints
into greater and more perfect bliss, an inference which is forced on us by many
other places in Scripture. So that their perfection was dependent on our
perfection: their and our perfection were all brought in at the same time, when
Christ "by one offering perfected for ever them that are sanctified." So that
the result with regard to them is, that their spirits, from the time when Christ
descended into Hades and ascended up into heaven, enjoy heavenly blessedness,
and are waiting, with all who have followed their glorified High Priest within
the veil, for the resurrection of their bodies, the regeneration, the renovation
of all things.’
This explanation, though in some respects not far from the truth, is
inconsistent with the statements in the epistle, for it supposes the Old
Testament saints to be still waiting for their complete felicity, and it
reduces even the New Testament believers to the same condition of waiting
for a consummation still future. What becomes, then, of the k r e i t t o n t i
, the ‘some better thing,’ which God (according to the writer) had provided for
Christians? The advantage of which he makes so much wholly disappears. And if
the Parousia never took place, the New Testament believers have no advantage
whatever over the ancient saints.
Dr. Tholuck has the following remarks on the state of the departed saints
previous to the advent of Christ:---
‘The Old Testament saints were gathered with the fathers, and perhaps partly
translated into a higher sphere of life; but as complete salvation is only to be
attained through union with Christ, the indwelling Spirit of whom shall also
quicken our newly glorified bodies, so the fathers gathered to God had to wait
for the advent of Christ, as He said of Abraham himself, that he rejoiced to see
It is curious to find very similar opinions expressed by Dr. Owen, in his
treatise on Hebrews (vol. v. p. 311):---
‘I think that the fathers who died under the Old Testament had a nearer
admission into the presence of God upon the ascension of Christ than they had
enjoyed before. They were in heaven before the sanctuary of God, but were not
admitted within the veil, into the most holy place, where all the counsels of
God are displayed and represented.’
Much that is true is here blended with something erroneous. All these opinions
agree in the conclusion that the redemptive work of Christ had a powerful
influence on the state of the Old Testament believers; but none of them
apprehend the fact, so legibly written on the face of this epistle, that until
the external fabric of Judaism had been swept away, and Christ had come in His
kingdom, the way to the promised inheritance was not open either to the Old or
the New Testament believers, and that the Parousia was the appointed time for
both to enter together into the possession of the ‘rest of God.’
THE GREAT CONSUMMATION NEAR.
Contrast between the Situation of the Hebrew Christians and that of the
Israelites at Sinai.
Heb. xii. 18-24.---‘For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched,
and that burned with fire. . . . But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the
city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of
angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born, which are written
in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made
perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of
sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.’
We have in this passage a powerful exhortation to stedfastness in the faith,
enforced by a vivid parallel, or rather contrast, between the situation of their
Hebrew ancestors as they stood quaking before Mount Sinai and the position
occupied by themselves standing, as it were, in full view of Mount Sion and all
the glories of the promised inheritance. There are, indeed, in this
representation both a parallel and a contrast. The resemblance lies in the
nearness of the object---the meeting with God. Like the Israelites at Mount
Sinai, the Hebrew Christians had drawn near [p r o s e l h l u q a t e ]
to the Mount Sion; like their fathers, they were come face to face with God. But
in other respects there was a striking contrast in their circumstances. At Mount
Sinai all was terrible and awful; at Mount Sion all was inviting and attractive.
And this was the prospect now full in their view. A few more steps and they
would be in the midst of these scenes of glory and joy, safe in the promised
land. There can be no question respecting the identity of the scene here
described: it is a near view of the ‘inheritance,’ ‘the rest of God,’ so
constantly set forth in this epistle as the ultimatum of the believer,---once
beheld, afar off, by patriarchs, prophets, and saints of olden time, but now
visible to all and within a few days’ march,---‘the city with the foundations,’
the ‘better country, that is the heavenly.’
Here an interesting question presents itself. From what source did the writer
draw this glowing description of the heavenly inheritance? It is of course easy
to say, It is an original and independent utterance of the Spirit which spake by
the prophets. But the author of the epistle evidently writes as if the Hebrew
Christians knew, and were familiar with, the things of which he speaks. The
picture of Mount Sinai and its attendant circumstances is evidently derived from
the book of Exodus; and if we find the materials for the picture of Mount Sion
ready to our hand in any particular book of the New Testament, if is not unfair
to presume that the description is borrowed from thence. Now we actually find
every element of this description in the Book of Revelation; and when the reader
compares every separate feature of the scene depicted in the epistle with its
counterpart in the Apocalypse, it will be easy for him to judge whether the
correspondence can be undesigned or not, and which is the original picture:---
Mount Sion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . Rev. xiv.1.
The city of the living God . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . Rev. iii. 12; xxi. 10.
The heavenly Jerusalem . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Rev. iii. 12, xxi. 10.
The innumerable company of angels . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Rev.
v. 11; vii. 11.
The general assembly and church of the first-born, etc. . . . . . Rev iii. 12;
vii. 4; xiv. 1-4.
God the Judge of all . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . Rev. xx. 11, 12.
The spirits of just men made perfect . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Rev. xiv. 5.
Jesus the mediator of the new covenant . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Rev. v.
The blood of sprinkling . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . Rev. v. 9.
Looking at the exact correspondence between the representations in the epistle
and those in the Apocalypse, it seems impossible to resist the conclusion that
the writer of this epistle had the descriptions of the Apocalypse in his mind;
and his language presupposes the knowledge of that book by the Hebrews
Christians. This conclusion involves the inference that the Apocalypse was
written before the Epistle to the Hebrews, and consequently before the
destruction of Jerusalem. The subject will come before us again when we enter
upon the consideration of the Book of Revelation; meantime, let it suffice to
observe that both in this epistle and in the Apocalypse the events spoken of are
regarded as so near as to be described as actually present; in the epistle the
church militant is viewed as already come to the inheritance, and in the
Apocalypse the things which are shortly to come to pass are viewed as
THE NEARNESS AND FINALITY OF THE CONSUMMATION.
Heb. xii. 25-29.---‘See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they
escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape,
if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven: whose voice then shook the
earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth
only, but also heaven. And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of
those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things
which cannot be shaken may remain. Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot
be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence
and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire.’
The parallel, or rather contrast, between the situation of the ancient
Israelites drawing near to God at Mount Sinai and that of the Hebrew Christians
expecting the Parousia is here further carried out, with the view of urging the
latter to endurance and perseverance. If it was perilous to disregard the words
spoken from Mount Sinai---the voice of God by the lips of Moses; how much more
perilous to turn away from Him who speaks from heaven---the voice of God by His
Son? That voice at Sinai shook the earth (Exod. Xix. 18; Ps. lxviii. 8); but a
more terrible convulsion was at hand, by which, not only earth, but also heaven,
were to be finally and fore ever removed.
But what is this impending and final ‘shaking and removing of earth and heaven’?
According to Alford,---
‘It is clearly wrong to understand, with some interpreters, by this shaking the
mere breaking down of Judaism before the Gospel, or of anything else which shall
be fulfilled during the Christian economy, short of its glorious end and
At the same time he admits that---
‘The period which shall elapse [before this shaking takes place] shall be but
one, not admitting of being broken into many; and that one but short.’
But if so, surely the catastrophe must have been an immediate one; for, on the
supposition that it belongs to the distant future, the interval must
necessarily be very long, and divisible into many periods, as years, decades,
centuries, and even millenniums.
Moses Stuart’s comment is far more to the point:---
‘That the passage has respect to the changes which would be introduced by the
coming of the Messiah, and the new dispensation which He would commence, is
evident from Haggai ii. 7-9. Such figurative language is frequent in the
Scriptures, and denotes great changes which are to take place. So the apostle
explains it here, in the very next verse. (Comp. Isa. xiii. 13; Haggai ii. 21,
22; Joel iii. 16; Matt. xxiv. 29-37.)’
The key to the interpretation of this passage is to be found in the prophecy of
Haggai. On comparing the prophetic symbols in that book it will be seen that
‘shaking heaven and earth’ is evidently emblematic of, and synonymous with,
‘overthrowing thrones, destroy kingdoms,’ and similar social and political
revolutions (Haggai ii. 21, 22). Such tropes and metaphors are the very elements
of prophetic description, and it would be absurd to insist upon the literal
fulfilment of such figures. Prodigies and convulsions in the natural world are
constantly used to express great social or moral revolutions. Let those who find
it difficult to believe that the abrogation of the Mosaic dispensation could be
shadowed forth in language of such awful sublimity consider the magnificence of
the language employed by prophets and psalmists in describing its inauguration.
(See Ps. lxviii. 7, 8, 16, 17; cxiv. 1-8; Habak. iii. 1-6).
What, then, is the great catastrophe symbolically represented as the shaking of
the earth and heavens? No doubt it is the overthrow and abolition of the Mosaic
dispensation, or old covenant; the destruction of the Jewish church and state,
together with all the institutions and ordinances connected therewith. There
were ‘heavenly things’ belonging to that dispensation: the laws, and statutes,
and ordinances, which were divine in their origin, and might be properly called
the ‘spiritualia’ of Judaism---these were the heavens, which were
to be shaken and removed. There were also ‘earthly things:’ the literal
Jerusalem, the material temple, the land of Canaan- these were the earth,
which was in like manner to be shaken and removed. The symbols are, in fact,
equivalent to those employed by our Lord when predicting the doom of Israel.
‘Immediately after the tribulation of those days [the horrors of the siege of
Jerusalem] shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and
the powers of the heavens shall be shaken’ (Matt. xxiv. 29). Both
passages refer to the same catastrophe and employ very similar figures; besides
which we have the authority of our Lord for fixing the event and the period of
which He speaks within the limits of the generation then in existence; that is
to say, the references can only be to the judgment of the Jewish nation and the
abrogation of the Mosaic economy at the Parousia.
That great event was to clear the way for a new and higher order of things. A
kingdom which cannot be moved was to supersede the material and mutable
institutions which were imperfect in their nature and temporary in their
duration; the material would give place to the spiritual; the temporary to the
eternal; and the earthly to the heavenly. This was by far the greatest
revolution the world had ever witnessed. It far transcended in importance and
grandeur even the giving of the law from Mount Sinai; and as that was
accompanied by fearful signs and wonders, physical convulsions, and portentous
phenomena, it was fitting that similar, and still more awful, prodigies should
attend its abrogation and the opening of a new era. That such portents did
actually precede the destruction of Jerusalem we have no difficulty in
believing, first, on the ground of analogy; secondly, from the testimony of
Josephus; and, above all, on the authority of our Lord’s prophetic discourse.
But it is not so much to any new era here upon the earth as to the glorious rest
and reward of the people of God in the heavenly state, that the author of the
epistle directs the hope of the Hebrew Christians. Into that eternal kingdom the
faithful servants of Christ believed they were just about to enter, and no
consideration was more calculated to strengthen the weak and confirm the
wavering. ‘Since therefore we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken,
let us be filled with thankfulness, whereby we may offer acceptable worship unto
God with reverent fear: for our God is a consuming fire.’
EXPECTATION OF THE PAROUSIA.
Heb. xiii. 14.---‘For here have we no continuing city, but we seek for that
which is coming.’
Alford well says:---
‘This verse comes with a solemn tone on the reader, considering how short a time
the m e n o u s a p o l i z [abiding city] did actually remain, and how soon the
destruction of Jerusalem put an end to the Jewish polity, which was supposed to
be so enduring.’
This is unexceptionable, and we may say, ‘O si sic omnia!’ The commentator sees
clearly in this instance the relation of the writer’s language to the actual
circumstances of the Hebrews. This principle would have been a safe guide in
other instances in which he seems to us to have entirely missed the point of the
argument. The Christians to whom the epistle was written were come to the
closing scene of the Jewish polity; the final catastrophe was just at hand. They
heard the call, ‘Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her
plagues.’ Jerusalem, the holy city, with her sacred temple, her towers and
palaces, her walls and bulwarks, was no longer ‘a continuing city;’ it was on
the eve of being ‘shaken and removed.’ But the Hebrew saint could see through
his tears another Jerusalem, the city of the living God; an enduring and
heavenly home, drawing very near, and ‘coming down,’ as it were ‘from heaven.’
This was the coming city [t h n m e l l o u s a n = the city soon to
come] to which the writer alludes, and which he believed they were just about to
receive. (Heb. xxi. 28.)
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