The Great Danger of Neglect

The writer has just finished comparing the nature and work of Christ with that of the prophets and angels. The prophets were many and all were able only partially to bear the richness of divine revelation. Jesus bore the divine nature and the divine decree in Himself, finalizing the revealed purpose of God. Angles, though mightier in nature and in purity than prophets, still could not bear the burden of personifying the glory and the redemptive plan of God. Jesus is God; they are creatures. Jesus wrought salvation; they are servants of those that will inherit salvation. That which Jesus came to effect by the singularity of his person is of infinite value, both to God and to man. The entire issue of salvation must be judged in light of this striking description of Christ’s intrinsic glory, his having “made purification for sins,” his consequent session at the right of the Father, and his inheriting the name above all others.

I. Hebrews 2:1 – This issue calls for careful attention

A. On account of these things – the entire argument of the first chapter highlights the transcendent importance of the message they have heard, a message that the writer is going to explain in detail throughout this letter. One who grasps with head and heart the truly glorious nature of this message and can find nothing more lovely and can be enticed to forsake it by neither threat nor promise is the one that has the faith that is “the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen” (11:1).

B. The idea of necessity (“We must pay . . . attention”)

1. indicates a moral necessity. As will be explained throughout this letter, a failure to grasp the non-negotiable importance of the gospel could be eternally fatal. They have heard it, but whether or not they have had true faith will be demonstrated in the importance they continue to attach to the message that was preached to them. One might compare the words and ideas here with what Paul expressed in Galatians 1: “As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:9).

2.  The issues of the gospel are moral in an absolute sense. They are based on an understanding of the Law of God and how it is to be reflected undiminished and untarnished in the saving of sinners. Justification by faith, a key them of this book, and progressive sanctification, another key theme, both come at the issued of the divine character and law from different but complementary standpoints. We “must,” therefore, give the fitting attention to this issue.

C. This careful and continued engagement with the gospel is a mark of saving faith (“much closer attention”)

1. failure to give this sort of sustained emphasis results in a drifting away (See 3:6, 14) The writer gives several warnings against drifting away, this being the first, with the dire consequences associated with the drift (See 4:11; 5:11, 12; 6:4-8; 10:22, 23; 26, 27; 35, 36; 12:11) Among the deeply penetrating lessons of Hebrews is this, that the nature of real faith in the Lord Jesus consists in always preferring him and his righteousness to any present comfort, acceptance, or escape. That which appears to be faith but falters under either physical or doctrinal trial is shown to be no faith.

2. This same idea of conditionality is seen in Colossians 1:21-23, “in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I Paul, became a minister.” Paul is not saying that the one with true faith can at some time under certain conditions be moved away from it and become unreconciled to God. He is saying that the evidence of having heartily embraced Christ in his pardoning, reconciling death will be manifest by a refusal, under any circumstances, to surrender the hope that is found in Christ or place confidence in any scheme of salvation that does not focus on Christ’s completed work as the only means of acceptance with God.

3. “We” means that the writer of the letter also is involved in this intensity of circumspection and healthy introspection. He does it not only from the standpoint of a fellow pilgrim but as a teacher that must continually prompt such examination through teaching. While they all labor as aliens in this world, he also labors as one that must place before those for whom he is responsible the doctrinal truths adherence to which constitutes the objective and cognitive element of saving faith. Paul has this element of labor in his apostolic work: “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Col 1:28, 29).

II. Hebrews 2:2, 3a – The reason for such urgent importance

A. Under the Old Covenant, the messages that came through the mediatorship of an angel was always true. (Daniel 9:20-23; Galatians 3:19) When God sent angels, he sent them with messages to be delivered without alteration or ornamentation. Note the response of Gabriel to Zechariah in Luke 1:18-22. His message was clear, unadorned, and not to be doubted. Hesitation in accepting Gabriel’s words issued in an immediate punishment.

B. Note that the angels carried out the sentence against Sodom and Gomorrah, and the lingering spirit of Lot’s wife gained for her immediate death with the memorial of her likeness as a statue of salt. Also note that to the angels of various degrees of power and glory is given the announcing and carrying out of the plagues and punishments poured from the vial of divine wrath in Revelation [Revelation 5:2; 7:1-3; 8:6; 10:1-7; 14:6-11; 15:1; 22:6, 8, 9]

C. If the word mediated through angels has such exalted importance, and if they are delegated such dizzying degrees of authority, then how are we to regard the importance of this message of salvation that is centered on the very Son of God Himself? The writer, who has given an intense affirmation of the infinite worthiness of the finisher of salvation and has compared his merited as well as natural exaltation above even the most glorious of created things, now invites the reader to consider the comparison and its implications for the great salvation. A similar comparison is given in 10:28, 29 and 12:25.

D. The answer implied in the question after such a preparatory discussion is, “There is no escape for those that neglect this salvation, for there is no other.” We do not have an option to choose as to whether we are among those that need salvation; we can not be like the George Clooney character, Everett, in “O Brother, where art thou” who claimed to be unaffiliated in the matter of being saved or being sold to the devil. Such sobering phrases as “impossible to restore to repentance,” (6:4) and “there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins” (10:26) show the Bible’s clear assertion of the absolute necessity and utter uniqueness of this salvation.

III. Evidence that substantiates the greatness of this message.

A. Declared by the Lord – The writer knows the history of Christ’s work during the days of his incarnation and gives intense summaries of it in places (1:3b; 4:155:7, 8; 7:27; 9:28; 10:12; Hebrews 12:2; 13:12). He clearly was familiar with the preaching of the apostles, though he never claims to be among their specific number, and knew the message that Jesus had preached among the crowd and the claims he had made in teaching times with his apostles. He knew the message of Christ’s birth, his temptations, his sinless life, his claims to be the Son of God and his knowledge that the Father had given him a people for whom he would give his life and take it back again. He knew that Jesus had claimed to be the only way to the Father, and the only way of salvation, the great shepherd of the sheep, who would lay down his life for the sheep. He knew that these claims had an absoluteness to them that rendered purely fatal any attempt to disconnect oneself from the concerns of salvation as coming through Christ only.

B. Attested by the Apostles – The immediate witness of those that spent the days of Jesus’ ministry with him provided an unassailable evidentiary value to these claims. These issues that purport to be of ultimate importance do not present themselves as isolated individual revelations with no context of preparation or corroborative witnesses. A variety of persons, from many different intellectual and social backgrounds, observed the life and heard the words of Jesus and were present to give witness to this determinative event of history. One might point to the words of the apostle John in his testimony to this in 1 John1:1-4. The apostolic insistence on the importance of this kind of evidence sets apart the Christ event from the history of all other religions in the world.

C. Supernatural witness accompanied the events that constitute the gospel. – Not only were there eye- and ear-witnesses, but God himself testified from heaven in ways that were startling and undeniable. When Jesus was challenged as to his claims, he pointed to the works done (John 10:37, 38). Jesus healed the lame, raised the dead, gave sight to one blind from birth, healed leprosy and all of these were done with competent and even hostile witnesses present. Finally, his resurrection occurred and was proclaimed in the place where the greatest vested interest in disproving it was present. None came forth with any evidence that these claims, eminently disprovable if indeed false, were non-factual. Jesus Himself pointed to the sign of the resurrection as that which gave credibility to all his other claims (John 2:18-22).

D. Special gifting by the Spirit – This writer had seen the works done by the apostles as the Holy Spirit distributed to them special gifts that verified their standing as specially appointed to witness to the events as eye-witnesses and inspired interpreters. In addition, prophets were gifted in the churches (Ephesians 2:20; 3:5; 1 Corinthians 12:28; 14:37) to receive revelation for teaching the meaning of Christ and his work for the establishing of the new covenant community, the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. While prophets received revelatory and inspired messages, they were not historically qualified as apostles nor had they received that personal commission from Christ himself to be a witness in that capacity. I believe that this writer was a new covenant prophet and was given special revelation, a gift obviously needed for the task of writing this letter with such confidence in his interpretive correctness and in his vision of how Jesus has put to an end the entire system of ceremonial law, especially its centerpiece, the sacrificial system. This letter of Hebrews is the result of one the “gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.”

IV. Brief Personal Reflections

A. This message is timeless and will be relevant until Christ comes again. This kind of urgency, therefore, applies today, both to those that profess faith in Christ and to those that teach the “faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

B. We must consider and appreciate the abundance of evidence that accompanies the proclamation of this message and the universal calls to believe it for salvation.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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