Next week, we will discuss what the writer of Hebrews had in mind when he used the word “salvation” (vv. 5-15). Today (vv. 1-4), I want us to think a little bit about the context in which that salvation occurs to us. I also want us to consider the evidence that is presented for the claim that salvation has come.
The Context of Salvation: Continuity with the Law
Because of the way that the Protestant church has historically read Paul, we are used to thinking about the old covenant in terms of its discontinuity with the new covenant that was inaugurated in Christ. But the writer of Hebrews emphasizes an important point of continuity between the two arrangements. It is this continuity that provides the context for this part of the author’s discussion of salvation.
Chapter two of Hebrews begins with an exhortation to its readers: Pay attention! The reasoning is relatively straightforward. If the law—which, according to some traditions at least, was delivered to humans by angels—is seen as binding upon those who receive it, and if it carried with it promise of punishment for those who did not obey, how much more will the message of genuine salvation result in disaster for those who do not hold fast to it. Of course, the logic of vv. 1-2 collapses unless one remembers what has already been said about Jesus in chapter one (namely, that he is greater than the angels in status, power, and relationship to God).
For the careful interpreter of Hebrews, the author’s point here goes well beyond a simple call to faithfulness. The author of Hebrews is reminding the document’s reader-hearers that the world is designed to work in a particular way. Obedience is blessed, and disobedience is cursed. The point here is not to explain all of those situations where this “reciprocity principle” (in the language of Old Testament scholar John Walton) does not seem to hold. It is not designed to wrestle with the question of whether God even works this way all the time (like Job does). Rather, it is simply offered to establish a mental starting-point for the gospel. It reminds those who read this book that they, too, have participated in the disobedience that so often characterized Israel’s history (to say nothing of the history of humanity), which, in turn, means that they already deserve punishment. This will be all the more true if they “neglect” the rescue from their predicament that Christ has provided (see next week’s blog)..
The Evidence that Salvation Has Come
It is no wonder that the writer of Hebrews describes the salvation available in Jesus as “great”. But what is the evidence supporting a claim that salvation is available in Jesus? This first piece of evidence is the announcement of the gospel itself. If we reflect again on the argument of chapter one, we can see why this is the case. It is not merely the content of the announcement that makes it so special, it is the one who announces it. Here, that herald is described as “Lord”, and he is ascribed both the title of “God” and “Son of God” in chapter one.
Beyond the announcement itself, additional proofs have been provided. These include the testimony of those who shared the message about Jesus with the reader-hearers of the book, the amazing feats performed in the name of Jesus, and the gifts given to those who trust in Jesus by the Holy Spirit. When taken together, these pieces of evidence form an air-tight case in favor of the author’s claims about Jesus. (Interestingly, they also function as evidence that a specific gathering of Christ-followers is in fact faithfully representing their Lord.)
Our Continuing Need
Do we still need to reflect upon the context in which we came to faith in Jesus? Do we still need to catalogue the evidence in favor of Christ’s claims? I think that we do. Just like the original reader-hearers of this sermon-letter, we get discouraged. We wonder if this Jesus thing is what it claims to be. More to the point, there are forces in our world that actively seek to encourage this kind of despair and thereby to undermine our faith in Christ.
We need to be reminded of all those times when Jesus has taken up our cause and acted upon our lives. We need to be reminded that we stand in a long line of people who have similar experiences. We need to be reminded that such experiences are not a figment of our imagination; they are the natural outworking of all that Jesus is and all that he did.
Like those who put their trust in the message of the gospel all those centuries ago, we would be foolish to give up on Jesus now. To do so would be to disregard the incredible suffering that Jesus experienced and the unbelievable sacrifice that he made on our behalf. It would also mean the abandonment of any and all hope. We will turn our attention to the content of that hope when the Lord allows us to gather again around Hebrews 2.