The first century Jews who had been exposed to Christianity had a very tough decision to make. If they embraced this gospel being preached by the apostles, it could cost them their jobs, their families, even their lives. But Judaism was not a man-made religion (at least in its original form). Had not God revealed it to Moses at Sinai? Wasn’t it the religion of David and Isaiah and Daniel? And of Jesus, too! Why must one give up such a religious heritage, especially since it could be so expensive to follow this new sect of the despised Nazarene?
The five warning passages in the Epistle to the Hebrews have been a matter of much discussion among believers through the years. I have found it helpful to remember the main objective of the book. It demonstrates, by comparing Christ to all that went before, how much better He is (the word occurs 12 times in the book). He is better than angels, Moses, Aaron, and the Jewish sacrificial system, etc. What, then, is the purpose of these warnings?
Let me suggest they are there to point out certain fatal flaws if one depends on Judaism for salvation. While Jewish worship forms were ordained by God, they were intended to be shadows of the substance to come (Heb 8:5; 10:1; Col 2:17). A person will die if he attempts to live on the mere shadow of bread; the shadow of water will do nothing to slake his thirst. Likewise, bull’s or goat’s blood could not take away sin (Heb 10:4). The law could not make a sinner righteous (Rom 8:3). And no earthly high priest would dare bring anyone inside the veil. But we know Who provided for all three!
You will find it helpful to have the warning passages open as you read the suggested meaning of the text and the purpose of each warning: seeking to persuade reluctant believers to wholly embrace the Christ of God.
1. A Warning about God’s WORD (Heb 2:1-4)
The first fatal flaw mentioned in Judaism was the incomplete nature of the Word revealed to them. No doubt “God…at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets” (Heb 1:1). But the Hebrew Scriptures were full of questions without answers, types without antitypes, shadows without substance, and prophecies without fulfillment.
Isaac’s question: “Where is the lamb…?” (Gen 22:7) found it’s ultimate answer when John the Baptizer pointed to the Lord Jesus and said, “Behold the Lamb…” (Jn 1:29). Isaiah’s Vineyard Song that asked, “What more could have been done to My vineyard that I have not done in it?” (Isa 5:4) is completed by the Vineyard Owner Himself: “What shall I do? I will send my beloved son: it may be they will reverence him…” (Lk 20:13).
In the New Testament we have the completion of the revelation of God’s heart when He fully and finally spoke to us “by His Son” (Heb 1:2). Returning to Judaism would leave the recipients of the Epistle to the Hebrews without the Fulfiller of the Law, without the Objective of the History books, without the Theme of the Poets, and without “the Spirit of Prophecy” (Rev 19:10). The written Word without the Incarnate Word is a Book without an Author, without a Final Purpose, without a Main Subject, and without a Conclusion.
A Jew may boast to his Gentile neighbors that God had sent angels to speak His Word to them, which word came exactly to pass, as in the case of the destruction of Sodom. How, then, could anyone expect to survive if willingly ignorant of the only way of escape from eternal fires, the way revealed by the Lord Jesus and confirmed by God Himself (Heb 2:3-4)? A return to Judaism required the rejection of the New Testament, and would leave the readers with only half a bridge across the gaping chasm between God and man.
How important, then, for us—to whom the full revelation of God’s truth has been entrusted—to profit from all the Scriptures (2 Tim 3:16). Peter tells us that the men who received the prophecies concerning us “inquired and searched carefully” into the rich truths of our salvation, and the angels of heaven were curious, too (1 Pet 1:10-12)! Wouldn’t it be a sad thing if, when we get to heaven, they know more about the blessings of the New Covenant than we do?