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This is a continuation of Applying Hebrews 12: Threats & Warnings.
As we begin the last chapter of Hebrews, the author of this letter (who we’re calling Rabbi) is going to fire off a lot of concluding thoughts. You might expect a wrap up speech to be pretty harmless, but with Rabbi you always have to keep your guard up. Some of the lines in this chapter have become widely circulated in the Church and they are currently fueling some very wrong ideas about how we Christians should operate in life.
Keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters. Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it! (Heb. 13:1-2)
Clearly loving each other is good, but this bit about angels calls for caution. God commands us to treat other humans as we want to be treated. So no, we shouldn’t be treating humans extra good in hopes that they might be angels in disguise. Our Gods are extremely jealous and the Church today is far too obsessed with admiring angels. We will not be answering to angels for what we did in this life. If God wants to send an angel to interact with you, that’s between Him and that angel. Your focus should be on God in life, and He will direct you as to how He wants you to treat whoever He sends across your path. When angels help us, we should be giving God the glory, not them. We should not be praying to angels, admiring them, or trying to contact them in any way. God is jealous.
Remember those in prison, as if you were there yourself. Remember also those being mistreated, as if you felt their pain in your own bodies. (Heb. 13:3)
This is one of those verses that gets widely circulated and it is terrible advice. We humans are selfish and we each want the world to revolve around us. If we’re in some nasty captive situation, naturally we want our misery to become everyone else’s primary concern. But no, you most certainly should not be sitting around wallowing in mental fantasies over how some Christian in the world today might be getting tortured. You should not be trying to share their pain, their grief, their doubts, or their anything else. Such a focus is going to make you utterly useless to God. Why should you entertain demons by working yourself into some depressed funk? You don’t have the grace to handle anyone else’s trials. If God has chosen to torture a particular Christian, He has a positive reason for doing so (see God’s Involvement in Christian Persecution). Each soul is on their own individual journey with God down here and God isn’t going to explain to you why He’s putting someone else through a bunch of misery. You need to stay focused on you and God. That’s what God tells you to do (see The Right Focus in Life According to Christ).
Give honor to marriage, and remain faithful to one another in marriage. Yahweh will surely judge people who are immoral and those who commit adultery. (Heb. 13:4)
God will judge everyone, but Rabbi likes to single out certain groups. Everyone is immoral, so the way Rabbi refers to “immoral people” like they’re a subset of humanity is utterly absurd.
Don’t love money; be satisfied with what you have. For Yahweh Himself has said: “I will never leave you. I will never forsake you.” [Josh. 1:5] (Heb. 13:5)
Rabbi is quoting from the book of Joshua, and Yahweh was talking only to Joshua when He said these words:
“No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Josh. 1:5)
Rabbi loves to trim just a few words off of a complete thought and then tell us that it’s some glorious promise from God to us. This is what all those Bible promise books do as well. It’s a scam that sells very well. But instead of trying to steal reassurances that God gave to someone else, you need to give God the chance to speak to you directly. Many of the reassurances you’re taught to stand on in the Church were never given to you, and if you try and build your faith on them, you’re going to end up in a mess.
So we can say with confidence: “Yahweh is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?” [Ps. 118:6] (Heb. 13:6)
Mere people can do a lot of very nasty things to you, but contemplating these possibilities won’t take you anywhere good. Trying to cling to the fantasy that God won’t ever let someone hurt you isn’t useful, either. Instead, we need to look to the Holy Spirit to help us develop confidence in the goodness of our Gods so that we can find peace in knowing that whatever trials They bring into our lives will be about drawing us closer to Them and helping us experience Their best in eternity.
Remember your leaders who taught you the word of Yahweh. Think of all the good that has come from their lives, and follow the example of their faith. (Heb. 13:7)
While it’s certainly inspirational to see other Christians standing strong, the admiration of leaders in the Church has gotten way out of control. When you sit around oozing praise over your leaders, you’re getting into idolatry, plus you are tempting them to get dragged down into arrogance (see Encouraging Christians in a Way that Honors God).
Every soul’s journey is unique and you should not be trying to pattern your life after anyone else’s. Instead, you should be looking to your Gods to lead you down the unique path that They have chosen for you. It’s when we are relying too much on our leaders for inspiration that we end up falling away the moment they stumble. Good shepherds turn bad. Not always, but it does happen more often than we’d like to admit. So you can’t afford to be resting your faith on anyone else. You need to be relying on your Gods alone.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. So do not be attracted by strange, new ideas. Your strength comes from God’s grace, not from rules about food, which don’t help those who follow them. (Heb. 13:8-9)
Jesus Christ is the same, but Rabbi has done a lousy job of presenting who He is in this letter. Happily as a Christian, you can pray to Jesus directly and ask Him to help you know Him better. This is far more productive than relying on other humans to tell you who Jesus is.
We shouldn’t write off a concept just because it’s strange and new. Many of the deeper mysteries about God are extremely strange. The idea of God dying on a cross for our sins was extremely strange and extremely new for Old Covenant Jews. We need to rely on the Holy Spirit to keep us aligned with His truth, and then we need to be open to His truth being something totally unexpected.
Under this New Covenant, Yahweh has done away with many of the legalistic rituals that He used to require—things like dietary laws and Sabbath days.
We have an altar from which the priests in the Tabernacle have no right to eat. Under the old system, the high priest brought the blood of animals into the Holy Place as a sacrifice for sin, and the bodies of the animals were burned outside the camp. So also Jesus suffered and died outside the city gates to make His people holy by means of His own blood. So let us go out to Him, outside the camp, and bear the disgrace He bore. For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come. (Heb. 13:10-14)
Here Rabbi is trying to encourage his audience to keep persevering through persecution by reminding them of the persecution Christ went through. To be driven “outside the camp” was bad news back in the days of Israel’s wilderness wanderings. In the books of Exodus through Deuteronomy, the Israelites were living in tents in the wilderness. By the time a million people set up tents, it makes for a very massive campground. When He was giving out His Laws, Yahweh outlined many incidents in which offenders had to be driven “outside the camp” or “cast out of the community”. It was a form of rejection. Rabbi now parallels that very familiar concept to the way Jesus was rejected by His fellow countrymen (the Jews), degraded, and nailed to a cross. When the world forces us to choose between aligning with our Lord’s enemies or aligning with Him, we need to choose Him, regardless of how much humiliation is involved.
Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to Yahweh, proclaiming our allegiance to His Name. And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please Yahweh. (Heb. 13:15-16)
Our allegiance needs to be to all three of our Creators: Yahweh, Jesus, and the magnificent Holy Spirit.
Obey your spiritual leaders, and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to Yahweh. Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit. (Heb. 13:17)
You shouldn’t obey your spiritual leaders unless God tells you to. You shouldn’t even allow other humans to have any spiritual authority in your life unless God prompts you to do so. Sometimes He does. In Moses’ day, Yahweh ordered everyone to listen to Moses. But let’s be very clear about this: it is God who tells you who you should be listening to in life, not humans. The Church today is crammed full of inflated egos who are all trying to claim authority over you. When someone knows they have God backing them up as one of His authorities on earth, they don’t try to insist that you listen to them. They don’t need to stand around telling you how anointed they are, or flash titles in your face or pontificate about all the revelations they receive from God (see Anointed: What it Does & Doesn’t Mean). They know that if God wants you to listen to them and respect them, He knows how to make you align with His program. So real leaders don’t need to tell you that they’re leaders: God tells you. You should only listen to who God tells you to listen to, and even then you need to be ready to stop listening when He tells you to stop. Don’t just latch onto some name and face and then blindly trust them forevermore. Good shepherds can go bad. Men and women who start off speaking for God can get caught up in arrogance and start speaking their own words instead. If you aren’t staying aligned with the Holy Spirit, how are you going to know when to stop listening? The Holy Spirit is your Shepherd in life, and you mustn’t let anyone come between you and Him.
Pray for us, for our conscience is clear and we want to live honorably in everything we do. And especially pray that I will be able to come back to you soon. (Heb. 13:18-19)
No, you should really not be praying for other Christians to live honorably. Good grief. If a man sins, that’s between him and God. You can’t do someone else’s repenting for them (see Confessing the Sins of Others). Just because Rabbi wants to come see these Jewish Christians doesn’t mean they should all gang up on God and start nagging Him to make Rabbi’s personal agenda happen.
Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal Covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing His will, and may Yahweh work in us what is pleasing to Him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Heb. 13:20-21)
Notice how Rabbi is constantly distinguishing between Yahweh and Jesus. This is good, but the problem is that Rabbi is elevating Yahweh as superior. It’s always Yahweh who is doing stuff, it’s Yahweh who we pray to, it’s Yahweh who is on the main throne, while Jesus is some kind of highly honored Assistant of Yahweh’s. This extra exaltation of Yahweh is due to Rabbi spending an entire life under the Old Covenant. He’s resisting the idea that Jesus is a second God who is totally equal to the magnificent Yahweh. You need to do better than the New Testament writers in this area. Our three Gods are equally magnificent, powerful, and glorious and They need to be treated with equal honor and respect. We shouldn’t be exalting One over the Others. We shouldn’t be minimizing any one of Them.
I urge you, dear brothers and sisters, to pay attention to what I have written in this brief exhortation. (Heb. 13:22)
Naturally Rabbi wants these Jews to hang on his every word. Plenty of Christian leaders and teachers today share the same attitude. They’re always telling you how inspired their writings and sermons are, and they want you to drink them all in. Well, no, you look to God. If He tells you that some teaching has merit, then you contemplate it. But until He points out something to you, you treat it as forgettable. Don’t let humans direct your spiritual focus or the course of your spiritual growth. That’s God’s job.
I want you to know that our brother Timothy has been released from jail. If he comes here soon, I will bring him with me to see you. Greet all your leaders and all the believers there. The believers from Italy send you their greetings. May Yahweh’s grace be with you all. (Heb. 13:23-25)
This could be the same Timothy who the apostle Paul is personally mentoring—the guy he writes the letters 1 & 2 Timothy to. This is the end of Hebrews 13, and the end of a letter that is filled with theological errors, and misapplications of the Old Testament.
Our purpose in scrutinizing this book in such detail was to show you how important it is to think and pray about what you read. The Bible is not a safe book that you can just blindly trust in. It is a collection of documents that were written by humans, and whenever humans get involved in something, flaws abound. If you’re not depending on the Holy Spirit to guide you in life, you’re going to go astray. If you are depending on Him, you’re going to end up drawing a lot of conclusions about the Bible that will make you very unpopular with other Christians. But are we here to please God or people? It is only God who we will answer to at the end of our lives, and it is God who we need to focus on while we are here. The Bible is filled with good and bad teaching, and the Holy Spirit will use it all to draw us closer to Him if we are serious about pleasing Him in life.