(The Epistle to the Hebrews)
3. THE PATTERN SON
IN writing of the world to come (2:5), the writer quotes Psalm 8 to show how God plans to make His name most excellent in all the earth by putting everything into the charge of His royal race of men. This has not yet happened. It is an understatement to say that we do not yet see all things subjected to glorified humanity; indeed if we look at ourselves or at one another we might justifiably doubt whether such an ambitious purpose could ever be achieved. But we are told not to look at ourselves, nor even at saintly men and women of faith; we are to “look off to Jesus!” In Him we see God’s purposes being realised; “we see Jesus crowned with honour and glory” (2:9). God is not bringing His only Son to glory, for He has already done that. This Letter is full of allusions to that great fact. No, but what God is still in the process of doing is bringing many sons — redeemed sinners — to glory, and our sonship is wholly dependent on the sufficiency to be found in the Lord Jesus. He is the Unique Son. Let us make no mistake about that. But He is also the Pattern Son, and divine destiny is not only ultimately to be with Him, but also to be like Him. This is what seems to me to be the theme of this Epistle.
The one final and sufficient sacrifice of the Son of God upon the cross brings forgiven sinners into the family of the firstborn sons of God. As we have already seen, though, it is the Father’s purpose not only to have dear children but that those children should become mature sons and daughters. This can never be achieved by their own efforts, but the question is whether it will be achieved without their co-operation. That is the thrust of this document, and that is what makes it one of the most important of the inspired Scriptures.
The Lord Jesus is our great Substitute. But He is also our Pioneer, our Forerunner and the One who calls us His brothers (2:11). In this Letter we find much stress on the Lord’s divine nature as the eternal Son of God, but equally we are confronted by the evidences of His essential humanity. For a little while He was made lower than the angels (2:9), He suffered (2:10), He was tempted (2:18), He prayed and wept and feared (5:7) and He had to learn obedience in painful ways (5:8). He anticipated joy and He scorned shame (12:2) and He endured opposition from sinful men (12:3). In other words, the truly divine Son of God was also truly human. In His task as our Advocate He made no attempt to demand or claim a position for Himself, but waited to be called of God (5:4). In this way He provided for the Father a perfect Manhood, and that is why He Himself chose the title of Son of Man.
Twice over the Father voiced from heaven His complete satisfaction with this Son of His. On both occasions the cross was in view and doubtless formed the reason for the Father’s pleasure, but may I make another suggestion? It is that each phase of the life of Jesus was acclaimed as perfect. On the first occasion, that of the baptism, Jesus was moving out of the thirty hidden years into His public ministry. Those years had been perfect, so concerning them the Father gladly declared His satisfaction (Matthew 3:17). After the testings of ordinary life came the more gruelling tests of public ministry. If it is costly to live as a Christian, it can be even more costly to experience the prosperity and adversity of service in the gospel. The Lord Jesus had virtually completed this part of His testing when He stood on the Mount of Transfiguration, and once again the Father was glad to express His absolute satisfaction with this wonderful Son. Then came the cross, with the subsequent resurrection and ascension, themselves proofs of the Father’s satisfaction as shown by the words frequently repeated here, “Sit thou at my right hand.” All this He did for us, that ultimately the Father may have a whole family of sons to be fellow-heirs with Jesus Christ. [64/65]
We are not talking of some specialised form of sainthood when we deal with the matter of sonship, nor must we ever begin to think in terms of that which can be added to Christ’s work on the cross. There is a sense in which we might simplify this New Testament book by saying that the Father will bring us to the full glory of sonship if only we fully keep our eyes on His Redeemer Son.
The Son is frequently described as our High Priest, a title which has little connotation for us now. It is not used elsewhere in the New Testament, but is familiar enough to Old Testament students, be they Jews or Gentiles. For us it may seem remote, rather unreal and savouring of religious ceremonial. I wonder therefore whether is might be more helpful to describe Him as our Representative.
Of course He functions first of all as God’s Representative to us. This was the honour given to the high priest who mediated God’s Word and God’s blessings to His people, and our last article highlighted this characteristic of Christ’s ministry. We have only known God through Him — God has spoken to us in His Son. We can only be related to the Father through Him — He is the Mediator of a new covenant. We can only be preserved for God by Him — He is ‘the Great Shepherd’.
However the other side of His activities is that He is also our Representative before God: “Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to represent them in matters related to God” (5:1 N.I.V.). In this human area, as the firstborn Son, He leads the way for us who are called to sonship in Him, and He provides the spiritual strength for us to follow His lead. The Letter stresses what Christ has done for us as a Pioneer or Forerunner (2:10), leading us forward in the way that sons should proceed.
He learned obedience both instead of us who are naturally disobedient and also that we may learn to obey. He prayed — and still prays — that we may also persevere in prayer. He held on and endured in the face of opposition that we should follow His example and hold fast to the end. He went outside the camp in devotion to His Father’s will, not to excuse us from going but in order that we may associate ourselves with Him there.
As it was by suffering that the Lord Jesus learned obedience (5:8), we are called to learn our lessons in the same way, though in our case it may often be some weakness or fault which necessitates the suffering, and that was certainly not the case for our sinless Saviour. But the pathway to mature sonship must always be the way of discipline or child-training (12:5-11). This passage is devoted to the matter of growing up to be sons; it assures us that the Father’s objective in the disciplinary experiences which we suffer is to make us like Himself and His Son: “… that we may share in his holiness”. The readers of this Letter were chided because they had lost sight of this feature of growing in sonship, though they knew the Old Testament Scriptures well enough. Presumably they were feeling some sort of grievance or let-down due to harsh circumstances and puzzling trials. We are often guilty of similar forgetfulness and so are irked by our testing times instead of being encouraged to recognise the Father’s purpose of love in permitting them. God is dealing with us not only as saved sinners but as inheriting sons. That will explain a great deal.
This and other passages in the Proverbs suggest that the young Solomon had not been allowed to run wild like his half-brothers. King David had several older sons, certainly loved but not destined to inherit his throne, though they aspired to grab it. About one of them, Adonijah, the Scriptures record that “his father had never displeased him by asking, Why do you behave as you do?” (1 Kings 1:6). Similar things might have been said about the despicable Amnon and the treacherous Absalom. They may not have been base born, but they behaved as though they were. No throne for men like that!
If Solomon’s writings are anything to go by, he was treated quite differently and rather severely. His are the words quoted here: “The Lord disciplines those whom he loves, and punishes everyone he accepts as a son” (Hebrews 12:6). Solomon was destined for the throne from the very first. No doubt he sometimes felt self-pity as[65/66] he saw those brothers of his being treated indulgently and compared his own disciplined upbringing. But there was a reason. He was the heir. We too are heirs and must learn to bear the seemingly heavy hand of the Father of our spirits. He is reasonable as well as loving in His dealings with us. It all makes sense. If we can grasp this we will be encouraged not to lose heart (v.12) but rather to humble ourselves under that mighty and wise hand of His.
No, the way of sonship is not easy. That is made plain enough in this Letter. But the Letter also indicates the many aids — seen and unseen — which our Father provides for His true sons. One of the unseen realms of help is referred to in 1:14, where we are advised that angels occupy themselves in caring for those who are God’s heirs. In this also Christ is our true Forerunner for on two occasions of His earthly life we are told that He had help from angels (Mark 1:13 & Luke 22:43). Possibly He was conscious of them. We do not know. We normally are not so conscious of them, for that might be unhealthy for us, just as it is unhelpful for us to occupied with the matter of demons. The latter will attack us and the former will come to our aid, but our business is to direct all our attention to our great Representative and Forerunner.
He is seated on the throne. It is notable that in a thesis devoted to urging us to be active and energetic in our progress towards maturity, we are constantly reminded that our Pioneer has sat down. We are glad about that for His sake — He deserves it — but the stress seems to be on the significance of this fact to us. It is true that in a spiritual sense Paul reminds us that we are seated with Christ in the heavenlies, but the practical thrust of the message is for us to keep moving and to press on. In our last article we saw that the Unique Son is seated on high in order to minister the fullness of salvation to us. That is a glorious truth which we must never lose sight of. Is there a further fact of this truth which we should take note of? I think that there is.
If we are to grow up in all things in Christ, what is the objective of maturity towards which we are making progress? If we are designated as heirs, when and what do we inherit? If Christ is our Pioneer, to what is He leading us? This is not a matter of conjecture but of a divinely revealed destiny. It is indicated to us by the sight of the great Son of God, seated at the right hand of the Father. It is set out in an amazing seven-fold description of our salvation given in 12:22-24, and is condensed into one terse statement at the end of that chapter which tells us that we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken (v.28).
The great Son of God overcame and so sat down with His Father in His throne; His call to all God’s children is to follow Him, to overcome through His grace and to sit down with Him in His throne (Revelation 3:21). Our calling is to be heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ. There is a sense in which we may say that from His place of exaltation, the Lord Jesus beckons us on. For Him there was the prospect of supreme joy, and with that in view He was able to bear the cost and despise the shame, and is now seated in the throne (12:2). That prospect is now opened up to us. He is the Author of faith, the One who set us on the path of sonship; He is also the Perfecter of faith who plans to bring us to the maturity of likeness to Himself. With such a God-glorifying prospect before us, no wonder the divine urge is “Let us go on” (6:1) and “Let us enter in” (4:11).
A helpful comment on this matter of growing in sonship can be found in John’s First Letter, where he tells us that as Christ is (in heaven), so are we (here on the earth), a verse which Phillips renders: “We realise that our life in this world is actually His life lived in us” (1 John 4:17). Wrongly applied this can make us complacent and even presumptuous. Rightly understood, though, it will inspire us to devoted eagerness to bring pleasure to the heart of our Father God. And it is precisely this which the Father is seeking when now, in these last days, He speaks to us in His Son.
(To be continued) [66/67]