Hold Fast to the Word
The first literary section of the Letter to the Hebrews concludes with an exhortation and an ominous warning. Any believer who fails to heed the far “better word” that God is now speaking in His Son will suffer an even “sorer punishment” than the rebellious Israelites received when they disobeyed the Mosaic Law. At Mount Sinai, the Torah was mediated to Moses by angels. Nevertheless, it was God’s word – He was its source – and therefore lawbreakers were punished severely.
But in his “Son,” God speaks His word directly. It is not mediated by anyone or anything except Jesus himself. To neglect this “word” is to commit a trespass of the worst kind, and the severity of the resulting punishment is unimaginable.
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And therefore, the letter warns believers even to this day not to allow themselves to “drift away” from the definitive “word” that God has provided in His Son.
- “FOR THIS CAUSE, it behooveth us to more abundantly be giving heed to the things that have been heard, lest at any time we drift away. For if the word through angels spoken became firm and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense, how shall we escape if so great a salvation as this we have neglected, which, indeed, having received a beginning of being spoken through the Lord, by them who heard to us was confirmed, God jointly witnessing also both with signs and wonders and manifold mighty works, and with distributions of Holy Spirit, according to his own will?” - (Hebrews 2:1-4) – (The Emphasized Bible).
The Greek verb rendered “drift away” suggests a gradual process of departing from this sonly “word,” not a sudden decision to abandon Jesus and the faith - Perhaps the result of the “deceitfulness of sin.” It is a nautical term, and the image is that of a ship that begins to float away slowly after being loosed from its anchor.
Fortunately, the Letter tells us how to avoid this condition – by “more abundantly giving heed to the things that have been heard.” And here, the Greek verb translated as “giving heed” is in the present tense, which represents an action in progress. This is something that we as believers need to do constantly. It is a daily routine that we neglect at our own peril.
But what is this “word,” this “thing” that was first “heard”? In the larger context, it refers in the first place to the Letter’s opening passage – to the “word” spoken by God “in a son.”
But the immediate passage is more precise. We must hear and cling tightly to the word of “salvation” that was first “spoken” through Jesus, and then subsequently through “those who heard”; namely, THE APOSTLES. And God Himself attested to the validity of this “word” with “signs and wonders,” and the gifts of the Spirit.
The purpose of these supernatural acts was not to overawe the church or to become the foundation of its faith, but to “confirm” that the teachings of Jesus and his apostles represent the true words of God.
In short, the Author of Hebrews summons us to hear and heed daily the apostolic tradition that has been handed down to us.
AN ONGOING EXHORTATION
This same call occurs several times in the Letter. For example, believers should fear lest they fail to “enter into his rest.” And they have no excuse since they heard “the gospel preached to them.” Ancient Israel did fail because, though they heard the word, it did not “profit them since the things heard were not blended with faith” – (Hebrews 4:1-2).
We must be careful lest we “excuse ourselves from him that is speaking.” And here, “speaking” represents another Greek verb in the present tense, an action in progress. God has spoken this word “in a Son,” and He is STILL SPEAKING IT, at least, to those who will heed it.
If the ancient Israelites who heard the word mediated through angels “escaped not,” how will we avoid punishment if we “turn ourselves away from Him who is speaking from heaven” in His Son? Instead, let us be grateful and serve God “with reverence and awe”- (Hebrews 12:25-28).
The Apostle Paul made a similar declaration in his second Letter to the Thessalonians. After warning of the coming “apostasy” and the “Man of lawlessness,” he expressed his confidence that the Thessalonians would not be deceived by these coming events because they were “holding fast to the traditions you were taught, whether by word or by an epistle of ours” - (2 Thessalonians 2:15).
In summary, disciples persevere through trials and tribulations by cleaving to the apostolic tradition - It is the teachings of Jesus and his apostles that form the unshakable foundation on which the church will stand firm, even when God once again causes not only the “earth to tremble, but also the heaven. And this word signifies the removal of those things that can be shaken… so that only those things which are not shaken remain.”
That teaching tradition has been preserved in the pages of the New Testament. And this explains why very often false teachers and false prophets, deceptions, and even the latest fads in the church steer believers away from learning and relying on the scriptures for their daily sustenance and guidance.