J N Darby – French Letter No. 160 – Consideration of the Church in Hebrews 3

JohnNelsonDarbyPau – 5th April 1857

To Mr B R

Beloved Brother,

Your letter of 8th March has reached me at last. On the subject of Hebrews 3: 1, I understand you perfectly, at least I think I do. There is some truth in what you say[1], but I doubt whether you have taken into consideration all the points of view which the word furnishes to us on this subject.

Firstly, it seems to me that there are some expressions even in the chapter itself which show that the apostle was thinking of persons who, at least as far as their profession went, had accepted Jesus as Lord, acknowledging Him as Messiah and putting their trust in Him. I say this because the apostle speaks of the beginning of their faith, and of what they were to hold firm to the end; also of the fact that we are His house, if at least we hold fast the beginning of our faith and the boast of hope firm to the end[2].

When he makes the comparison with Israel, it is with Israel redeemed, who had entered into the wilderness. See also: chapter 6: 9-10; 4: 14; 6: 18; 10: 22 and the verses following, then verse 34; 13: 8-9, and many other passages, which imply that the position of those whom he was addressing was that of Christians.

Now here, as it seems to me, are the important points of the epistle, which are peculiar to it, and must be taken into account. Christ died for the nation, to sanctify the people by His own blood. Thus all those who recognised Jesus as Messiah were supposed to be sanctified, and supposed at the same time to form part of the people still. On the other hand, being written shortly before the destruction of Jerusalem and the cessation of all relationship between God and the people, the epistle invites the Jews to go forth outside the camp (not forth from the world, but forth from the camp of Israel), and to acknowledge the Christ as rejected by Israel and ascended into heaven, outside of the people. But the fact that he thus invites them to go forth outside the camp, is a proof, is it not, that he is concerned with the remnant, as distinct from the mass, although this remnant had up till then been in relationship with the unbelieving mass and forming part of it?

It seems to me that the epistle to the Hebrews is fundamentally a development of the heavenly character of Christianity (not of the church, which properly speaking we find only in chapter 12), intended, on one hand, to prevent the believing Jews from slipping back again into the old order, and, on the other hand, to prepare the way for this exhortation, so terrible for a Jew, and only found right at the end: that is, to leave the Jewish system and camp. This exhortation is founded on the fact that Christ (according to the type of the perfect sacrifice for sin) had suffered outside the camp as far as the world is concerned, and that His blood had been carried into the sanctuary; that it was necessary to be in heaven, as regards His true position before God, and outside the earthly system down here.

But the fact that the church does not come into the reckoning, except where the whole scene of millennial glory is presented, gives rise to another peculiarity of this epistle: namely, that in the hopes it presents to us and in the prospect of rest and glory which it opens up to us, even while using expressions applicable to heavenly blessedness, it does not go beyond what can be applied to earthly rest. It leaves room for this application of its expressions: ”There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God”. Where?[3] This partly comes back to your way of viewing it. But then suppose in time to come an Israelite should use this epistle in view of that rest of the people of God – an Israelite still attached to his nation after the rapture of the church – he will have to understand that it was only a remnant; that there had been a heavenly hope in which he had no part; that in order to enjoy it definitively, they had had to go outside the camp of Israel, which he himself had not done. That is to say, he will have to be aware that although God has reserved a rest on earth for the remnant of His people (and thus for His people, Romans 9: 7, 27; 11: 26), there had been another rest into which those who had gone outside the camp had entered, which he himself had not done. Now even though it allows a glimpse of an earthly rest for the people, the objective of the epistle is to lay it on the believing Jews, as partakers of the heavenly calling, not to attach themselves to this earthly rest, but to look higher, that is, look to Jesus who has entered in as Forerunner within the veil. The remnant was still in relation with the people, it formed part of them – always a dangerous position, and more than dangerous at the moment when the epistle was written. It acknowledges the fact of what belongs to the people, but it is addressed to the believing part of it, so that this part should no longer form part of the people but should cling to what is its own – the hope that enters within the veil where Jesus has gone in. The sitting of Jesus at the right hand of God was the condemnation of the Jews (compare Acts 7, where He has not yet sat down), and the right to enter the heavenly sanctuary was assured to the sinner as his present and eternal portion.

It is nonetheless true that this position of Jesus is the foundation of all hope for the Jew in the last day, and the apostle leaves this hope subsisting. But it is the hope of the remnant, and he invites this remnant – [which was] at that time in the bosom of the nation – to come out from the midst of it, in virtue of its heavenly calling founded on the fact that Jesus is sitting within, in heaven.

The reasonings on the sacrifices confirm these views, it seems to me. Christ died for the nation, and thus each one of those who acknowledged Him was deemed to have part in Christian privileges without leaving the nation. But in this epistle, though taking this ground, the apostle, it seems to me, addresses those who had acknowledged Him, to invite them to separate themselves from the nation; showing that, whether as regards the sacrifices or as regards the priesthood, another system superior to the old was destined to replace it. I do not say that the replacement of the system is the setting aside of the nation, for Christ died for that nation; but that in fact (the great subject being the replacement of the system) the principle of the new system was a Christ crowned with glory and honour in heaven, and that only those who had attached themselves to Him by faith are found included in the category to which the apostle is speaking. Compare particularly chapter 6 already quoted. This requires patient attention to the contents of the epistle, not in order to profit by the rich resources that it includes, but to do justice to the work for the nation [of Israel], at the same time distinguishing it from the relation formed by faith with Him who, having accomplished this work, had ascended again into heaven. In a word, we must distinguish between what was valid for that nation and the relationship formed by faith. The work and the position are valid for the remnant in the last days, in order that it should enjoy earthly blessings; but the apostle is addressing those who were partakers of the gifts by faith. I do not know if I am making myself understood. I have written this letter in several instalments.

Except for a part of the Revelation, left incomplete last year, our translation[4] will be finished tomorrow, by God’s help, but we shall re-read it.

[1] According to a footnote in the original, Mr B R had stated that Heb 3: 1, and indeed all the epistle, was not addressed only to those of the Hebrews who had faith in Christ, but to the whole body of the people that was then in Judæa.

[2] Heb 3: 14 and 3: 6

[3] ie ‘The question is, Where [will this rest be found]?’

[4] the German translation of the New Testament


Note:  This letter was originally published in ‘Baskets of Fragments’

A Brief Outline of the Books of the Bible – Hebrews

Hebrews is founded on the person of Christ in His divine and human natures. (I am not sure whether JND would have used this expression later). Human sympathies are exercised through Christ’s priesthood on high, connecting the saints on earth with heaven. Although the saints are not seen as constituting the body united with Christ, all ancient Judaism is set aside. They are seen as answering to a present heavenly call, laying the ground for the introduction of Israel by the new covenant. With the use of comparisons and analogies, Christianity is contrasted with what had gone before.

Outline of Bible coverHebrews is founded on the person of Christ in His divine and human natures. (I am not sure whether JND would have used this expression later). Human sympathies are exercised through Christ’s priesthood on high, connecting the saints on earth with heaven. Although the saints are not seen as constituting the body united with Christ, all ancient Judaism is set aside. They are seen as answering to a present heavenly call, laying the ground for the introduction of Israel by the new covenant. With the use of comparisons and analogies, Christianity is contrasted with what had gone before.

In chapter 1 we get the authority of the communicated word as to the divinity of Christ. This is continued in from ch. 3:1 to 4:13, where we have Christ’s authority as Son over His house (in contrast to Moses), and the promise of rest to the people of God. Chapter 2 lays the foundation of future dominion and present priesthood in the human nature of Christ. This is continued from chapter 4:14, the glory of it being expounded in chapter 5 as to the Person and office of Christ. It is impossible to return to the elements of Judaism. If heavenly Christian things are departed from, things cannot be brought back by another power. God encourages the heirs of promise by word and oath, declaring the immutability of His counsel, and strengthens them to look within the veil, Christ having entered as forerunner, a high priest after the order of Melchisedec (chapter 6).

Chapter 7: The Melchisedec priesthood sets aside of the whole system of the law, the priesthood itself being changed from that of dying men to that of the living Son. That priesthood suits us, for such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens (v. 26).

In chapter 8, because the High Priest is set on the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle, offerings are needed. However, before touching on the offerings, we have a change of the covenant on which this ministry is founded, for Christ is the mediator of it. Now, for a better and heavenly tabernacle, we must have better sacrifices.

Chapter 9: In the tabernacle itself there was a difference. The veil was unrent in the Jewish tabernacle; now the veil is rent. The Holy Spirit showed that, as long as that first tabernacle had any place, the way into the holiest could not be open. Note that in ch. 9:16-17, the Greek word διαθήκη (diathéké) has the sense of testament; elsewhere it should be covenant. The blood of Christ purges the conscience, not merely sins, and cleanses the whole scene of the creature’s relationship with God. The next contrast is that He had not to offer Himself often in order to enter into the heavenly tabernacle, otherwise He would have to have suffered often. He put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. The apostle contrasts the lot of man, subject to death and judgment, with Christ, who once offered Himself to bear the sins of many, and is now coming to those who look for Him for salvation, without any further question of sin

The writer then discusses in chapter 10 the whole bearing of this sacrifice, alleging that a person once cleansed by it has no more conscience of sins; whereas in the repeated sacrifices, there was a continual remembrance of sins. He then unfolds the origin of this sacrifice in God’s preparing Christ a body. He offers Himself to accomplish God’s will.  He does so willingly, and now sits for ever at the right hand of God. He does not stand like the old high priests who had to offer repeated sacrifices. By His one offering He has for ever perfected (i.e. made fit) those who are sanctified by it. The Holy Spirit bears divine testimony to this, declaring, ‘Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more’ (ch. 8:12). Thus we have the good will of God, the work of Christ, and the testimony of the Holy Spirit, to give us the divine security of unalterable peace. After that, he exhorts them to enter into the holiest, in the full assurance of faith through the new living way. The veil that had been rent, but then the writer warns them that if they abandoned one sacrifice be there would be no other. They are told to be patient: Christ would soon come. Meanwhile they must live by faith.

To this end, the writer shows, in chapter 11, that all the saints who were highly esteemed amongst them had obtained their good report by faith. He lays down four great principles:

  1. creation, known by faith,
  2. sacrifice, offered to obtain righteousness by faith,
  3. walking with God in the power of life by faith, and
  4. acting on the prophecy of coming events by faith.

We then get two great aspects of our trust in God: the patient expectancy of faith, and the active energy of faith. All those whose faith is described in detail are persons who lived before Israel went into the land. He then goes through a list of sufferings endured by the saints in faith, showing that the world was not worthy of them.   They died, not having received the promises, God having reserved a better thing for us.

Chapters 12 and 13 introduce Christ as the last great Witness. He overcame, and now, having obtained the glory, sits at the right hand of God. He shows them that suffering has the character of parental discipline: they are under grace, not law and terror. In doing this, he gives them the whole millennial result in heaven and earth – that is what they have come to in faith. Everything here will be shaken, but they are to leave the Jewish camp (religion and the world), and go to Jesus, He being the sin-offering. They must be either in heaven where the blood is, or outside the camp, or gate, where the sin-offering was burnt. He closes with a few exhortations.

Hebrews is of the called ‘book of the open heavens’ – Sosthenes


Originally by JND.   Lightly edited by Sosthenes,  September 2014

– Se A Brief Outline of the Books of the Bible  for the original