The faithfulness of Jesus

by Scott Grant

Hebrews 3:1-6

Thirsty woman

The woman who met Jesus at the well of Sychar wasn't sure she could trust him. She was a woman; he was a man, and men didn't have much dealings with women. She was a Samaritan; he was a Jew, and Jews had no dealings with Samaritans. When Jesus spoke to her, she was surprised - and no doubt a little wary, holding back personal information as they talked. After all, she had already had five husbands, the whole lot of whom were likely unfaithful. As Jesus began to talk with her about the internal waters of her life, why should she trust him? But instead of running, she began asking questions. As she asked questions, she began understanding things about him, perceiving that he was a prophet. In the end, she was convinced that Jesus was trustworthy, and even speculated that he might be the promised Messiah. She took a good, hard look at Jesus and found him faithful (John 4:1-29).

Like the woman at the well, we too perhaps are wary. Perhaps we haven't had five unfaithful spouses, but our trust has been betrayed often enough that we wonder who we can trust. The writer of Hebrews tells us we can trust Jesus. How do we know we can trust him? There's only one way, really. Investigate. Like the woman at the well, check it out. Take a good, hard look at the faithfulness of Jesus.

In Hebrews 1, the writer emphasized the deity of Christ. In Hebrews 2, he emphasized the humanity of Christ, calling Jesus a "merciful and faithful high priest" (Hebrews 2:17). He then expounds on the mercy and faithfulness of Jesus. In Hebrews 4:14-5:10, he treats the mercy of Jesus. But first, in Hebrews 3:1-4:13, he treats the faithfulness of Jesus. In Hebrews 3:7-4:13 he postulates the appropriate response to the faithfulness of Jesus, while in Hebrews 3:1-6, the section that concerns us presently, he illustrates the faithfulness of Jesus by contrasting him with Moses.

Why we should consider Jesus (3:1)

Hebrews 3:1:

(1) Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession.

The new section begins with the word "therefore," offering a conclusion based on the previous unit that encompasses the first two chapters. Verse 1 draws on themes treated in the first two chapters. What did the first two chapters concern? The writer simply presented Jesus - in all his deity and all his humanity, with a concluding emphasis on what he did for us. The writer wants us to "consider" Jesus, then, based on who he is and what he's done for us.

The manner in which the writer addresses his readers recalls words and themes from Chapter 2. The words "holy," "brethren," "partakers," "heavenly" and "calling" are all evocative of Chapter 2. Each word also works together with the others to offer incentive for the writer's exhortation to "consider" Jesus.

First, the writer addresses his readers as "holy" brethren. Jesus is the one who "sanctifies," and we are the ones who are "sanctified" (Hebrews 2:11). The adjective "holy" (hagios) comes from the verb "to sanctify" (hagiazo). To be sanctified, then, is to be made holy, which means to be set apart for something. In the context of Chapter 2, Jesus set us apart for the purpose of reigning over the new creation.

In sanctifying us, Jesus removed our sin, making us holy. So often, it seems, we're trying to get to some "holy" state. We're trying to live well enough to be considered holy, beating ourselves up in the process. The truth of our present holiness means we can stop beating ourselves up, because Jesus was beaten up for us on the cross. He made us holy.

When we consider our holiness, we are given a whole different way of looking at ourselves, one that is aligned with the reality of our dignity, worth and beauty from God's perspective. More importantly, when we consider our holiness and what Jesus did to make us holy, we are given a whole different way of looking at Jesus - one that fills us with thankfulness.

We are not just holy, we are holy "brethren," or brothers. Jesus is not ashamed to call us "brothers" (Hebrews 2:11). Jesus, who is the Lord God Almighty himself, stoops down, takes on human flesh and publicly calls us brothers. It causes him no shame to do so; in fact, it gives him great pride to do so.

We are "partakers" of a heavenly calling. Jesus our brother "partook" of flesh and blood (Hebrews 2:14), which enables our "heavenly" participation. The words "heavenly" or "heaven" were not used in Chapters 2, but the theme of heaven is present. We will reign in "the world to come" (Hebrews 2:5). Because we have a heavenly calling, we have an eternal destiny. Because we have an eternal destiny, we are enabled to live at a higher level on earth, one that is not so consumed with earthly gain but is concerned with eternal treasures, namely, people. It is a "calling." Jesus "calls" us brothers (Hebrews 2:14). In verse 3, he calls his brothers to heaven. One day, we will join our Brother in the new creation.

Because Jesus has made us holy, because he calls us brothers, because he has enabled us to participate in a heavenly calling, we should consider him. What he has done for us merits consideration.

The writer identifies Jesus as "the apostle and high priest of our confession." Our "confession" is our belief in Jesus, a belief strong enough that it warrants the "boldness" and "boast" of being spoken about (Hebrews 3:6).

The identification of Jesus as "the apostle" of our confession is evocative of the description of Jesus in Chapter 1. An apostle was an envoy, one who conveyed a message. God's final, greatest word was spoken in Jesus (Hebrews 1:1-4). The identification of Jesus as the "high priest" of our confession stems from the writer's description of Jesus as a high priest in Chapter 2, particularly Hebrews 2:17. The high priest in Israel offered up sacrifices for the people's sins. As an apostle, Jesus came from God to man. As a high priest, he goes from man to God. In fulfilling both offices, Jesus effects our salvation, first communicating the gospel and then embodying it.
With just a few words, the writer speaks volumes about who Jesus is and what he has done for us, all the while motivating us to consider Jesus.

What does it mean to "consider" Jesus? The word (katanoeo) is an intensified version of the word noeo, which also means to consider. Thus, the word here means to strongly consider. Therefore, we are to strongly consider Jesus, to immerse ourselves in this effort, to investigate and observe carefully, and to reflect upon our observations.

How do we go about doing this? Here are some possibilities:

- Purposefully read the gospels with the intent to investigate Jesus.

- Simply think about Jesus.

- Walk and think about Jesus. Sometimes walking stimulates the thinking.

- Write down thoughts about Jesus. Writing, as opposed to just thinking, can help with focus.

- Talk to yourself. We are always doing this, anyway. In the background of our lives is a constant inner dialogue. Interject thoughts about Jesus in that inner dialogue. Talk to yourself about Jesus.

- Ask God to reveal to you truth about Jesus. He wants to do this (John 16:14, 2 Corinthians 4:6).

The writer has such confidence in the content of what he encourages us to consider that he simply says "consider." He is confident that if we truly consider Jesus, we will grasp his significance. When Philip told Nathaniel about Jesus, Nathaniel remarked, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" Philip simply responded, "Come and see." Apparently, Philip didn't think any salesmanship was necessary. He thought a simple invitation to investigate was enough, and he was right. Nathaniel, barely moments into his investigation, told Jesus, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel" (John 145-49). This, then, is not an invitation to a wild goose chase; rather, it is more akin to an invitation to a treasure hunt. There is something to be found that merits our investigation, and if we look for it, we will find it.

What does the writer expect us to find? He expects us to find Jesus faithful.

What we should consider (3:2-6)

Hebrews 3:2-6:

(2) He was faithful to him who appointed him, as Moses also was in all his house. (3) For he has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house. (4) For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. (5) Now Moses was faithful in all his house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later; (6) but Christ was faithful as a Son over his house whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.

Most translations begin a new sentence with verse 2, but is actually part of the sentence that began in verse 1, demonstrating definitively that the writer's point about the faithfulness of Jesus in verses 2 through 6 is connected with his exhortation to consider Jesus in verse 1. He wants his readers to consider the faithfulness of Jesus.

In the first two chapters, the writer used angels as a point of comparison with Jesus. Here, he uses Moses. They are not arbitrary selections. Both angels and Moses were associated with the Sinatic, or Mosaic, Covenant, and the readers of this letter were considering returning to it. Clearly Moses was an important person with an important message, but the readers had an inflated opinion of both Moses and the law. Perhaps they were even thinking, as they thought before they came to Christ, that Moses and his words were superior to Jesus and his words. Therefore, the writer compares Jesus with Moses to show the superiority of Jesus. In these verses, he wants to show his readers that Jesus was superior to Moses in faithfulness. We, then, benefit from observing the comparison by understanding the faithfulness of Jesus - first, his faithfulness to God, and second, his faithfulness to us.

The comparison breaks down this way:

 Moses  Jesus
 Worthy of glory (v. 3)  Worthy of more glory (v. 3)
 Part of house (v. 2, 3, 5)  Builder of house (v. 3, 4)
 Servant (v. 5)  Son (v. 6)
 Servant in house (v. 5)  Son over house (v. 6)
 Testimony for future (v. 5)  Fulfillment of testimony (implied)

The sphere of faithfulness for both Moses and Jesus is "his house" - that is, God's house (Hebrews 10:21). Clearly, this is not a literal house, but something more akin to a household, or family. Thus the writer continues the family theme that he began in Hebrews 2:11. The house is God's people - his family. When Moses served God's household, it was Israel, primarily descendants of Abraham. With the advent of Christ, God's household expanded significantly to fully embrace those who were spiritual descendants of Abraham (Galatians 3:29).

In verse 2, the writer alludes to Numbers 12:7, where the Lord himself distinguishes between Moses and other prophets and says, "He is faithful in all my household." The writer thus acknowledges the faithfulness of Moses and his words. He does so, however, to point out the faithfulness of Jesus and his words. If Jesus is even greater than one who stood out in such a way, he is great indeed!

The writer in verse 2 seemingly makes no distinction between Jesus and Moses. Jesus is faithful to God, just as Moses is faithful to God. The writer thus establishes the faithfulness of both in order to explain the difference. Verse 3 begins with the word "for," offering an explanation for verse 2. In verse 3 the writer explains the faithfulness of Jesus as being somehow superior to that of Moses. Jesus is worthy of "more glory" than Moses. Glory, in this case, is more like recognized glory, or, as the writer says, "honor." To illustrate the honor that Jesus is worthy of, the writer says that the builder of a house is deserving of significantly more honor than the house itself. We may cheer a play wildly, but at the end we cry "Author!" To the degree that the playwright is deserving of more honor than the play is the degree to which Jesus is worthy of more honor than Moses. Moses, in a sense, is part of the play, but Jesus wrote the script.

Verse 4 offers an explanation of verse 3, beginning with the word "for." How precisely it explains verse 3 is difficult to assess. The existence of every house implies a builder. The existence of "all things" implies a creator, identified by the writer as God. Perhaps the writer is saying that the degree to which Jesus is worthy of more honor than Moses is comparable to the degree to which God is worthy of more honor than his creation.

At any rate, the glory and honor that Jesus is worthy of, in this context, stem from his faithfulness. Verses 3 and 4 thus contribute to the writer's point by showing the significantly greater honor that Jesus is worthy of because of his significantly greater faithfulness. The writer distinguishes between the faithfulness of Moses and Jesus in verses 5 and 6. Moses was faithful "in" God's house "as a servant," whereas Jesus was faithful "over" God's house "as a Son." Moses was a servant among God's people; Jesus is in authority over God's people. Greater responsibility necessitates greater faithfulness. Moses certainly wasn't unfaithful as a servant, but neither was he given the responsibility of a son. Moses is like the butler; Jesus is like the owner. The butler doesn't have to worry about paying the bill; the owner does.

How specifically was Moses faithful as a servant? He offered "a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later." This is what he served up. The law that came through Moses spoke of things to come. What things? Things concerning the Son! The writer earlier said that God "spoke" long ago in the prophets, and the Lord, in Numbers 12:6-8, portrayed Moses as superior to any prophet. Later, though, he "spoke" in his Son, and it is treated as a significantly greater message (Hebrews 1:1-4). The former message was preparatory for the latter message. The law, then, with all its stipulations and ceremonies, was in a sense prophetic, designed by God to lead people to his Son. So Moses served God's house by pointing those in it to Jesus. When we read the writings of Moses today (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), they serve us in the same manner. From the perspective of the writer at this point, we are specifically served by understanding the faithfulness of Jesus.

Before we consider the faithfulness of Jesus, what are we to make of the conditional clause at the end of verse 6, which says that we are God's house "if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end." God's house "we are." The verb is in the present tense. We right now are God's house, or part of God's house. But if we don't continue to believe in Jesus, we are not God's house. If we are part of God's house, nothing can change that. But if we are part of God's house, it will be evident through perseverance. The "if" then is not conditional; it is evidencial. Perseverance in faith proves the validity of faith.

How is Jesus faithful? First, he's faithful "to" the one who appointed him, namely God (verse 2). Second, he's faithful "over" God's house, namely us (verse 6). The two aspects of this faithfulness are intertwined. God entrusted his house to Jesus. That was the task God gave him. So, being faithful to God means being faithful over God's house.

Both aspects of this faithfulness are understandable in the decision Jesus makes to go to the cross. It was the task God gave him to do, and Jesus was faithful to it (Mark 10:45). Therefore, he was faithful over God's house, rescuing it from sin and bondage and death and condemnation. His faithfulness to God was not strictly a vertical affair between him and God. It not only benefited us eternally, it was actually motivated by our need. When Jesus began to teach his disciples that he would be killed, Peter rebuked him, trying to persuade him that such talk was nonsense. Only after "turning around and seeing his disciples" did Jesus rebuke Peter (Mark 8:31-33). The temptation to avoid the cross was great, and Jesus was motivated to resist the temptation and move toward the cross by looking at his disciples and seeing their need for a savior. His faithfulness was motivated by his love for us. Jesus paid the bill!

This, of course, was the most terrifying thing anyone has ever had to do, yet Jesus was faithful to do it - faithful to God, faithful for us. God entrusted our eternal destiny to Jesus. God knew he was trustworthy, and he was. The cross, then, proves that Jesus can be trusted. More specifically, it proves that you can trust him. If you can trust him with your eternal destiny, you can trust him with this day. You can trust him with the next week and month and year. You can trust him with the dreams so sacred that you dare not tell anyone. If you can trust him with your heavenly future, you can trust him with your earthly future. You can trust him with areas of your heart so tender that they bleed when anyone even comes close. You can trust him when your life is falling apart. Others have betrayed your trust, but you can trust him. If you can trust him to go to the cross for you, you can trust him to be there for you. If you can trust him to die for you, you can trust him to live for you. If you can trust him with your soul, you can trust him with your life!

In the summer of 1985, I was at a crossroads. The future was a blank. Without a job, I took a six-week camping trip. One day I went for a cross-country hike in Yellowstone National Park in search of a river channel. I was looking for a river, but Jesus was looking for me. Scenes of my life passed before me - scenes that I understood as being authored by God. They were good scenes that caused my heart to well with thankfulness, but each of them passed, fading into the next. At the end of it all, I simply thought about Jesus. People had faded in and out of the scenes, but I understood that he was present for all of them. He was the one who was always there. I eventually found the river channel, but more importantly, Jesus found me. And I found him faithful. Again.

Check it out

Jesus is faithful, and the scriptures encourage us to see for ourselves. We are given plenty of incentive. We know enough about who he is and what he's done for us to look further, deeper and harder. Consider Jesus. Take a good, hard look at his faithfulness. As Philip told Nathaniel, "Come and see."

- SCG, 7-6-97