Saturday, 15 September 2018
For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, Hebrews 3:14
The words here have a similar ring to the words of verse 3:6. Both are in the plural (we), both include the conditional “if,” and both speak of “the end.” Putting them side by side will show this –
3:6 – but Christ as a Son over His own house, whose house we are if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end.
3:14 – For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end,
Understanding this, we see that verse 3:14, like verse 3:6, is not a verse which speaks of an individual possessing and keeping his salvation. The words speak of the collective body being 1) Christ’s house, and 2) partakers of Christ.
“For we have become” are words directed to the Hebrew audience. “For” is given to explain what was just said about exhorting one another lest there be a hardening of one of the group. “We have become” asserts a fact. There was a point at which they had gone from one state to another. The tense is perfect, the mood is indicative, the voice is active – “We are become.” The audience has “become partakers of Christ.”
As the author is speaking to the Hebrews, he is making the statement that the Jewish people have become partakers with Christ. The word “partakers” signifies companionship and sharing in something. There is a partnership which has been enjoined through the union. It is the same word given in verse 3:1 which says, “partakers of the heavenly calling.”
They are included in all of the rights and benefits which are granted to the Messiah, which He bestows upon them as His people. This is the same as the group who were brought out of Egypt. They had become the people destined for entrance into Canaan. However, because of the failure of the people through unbelief, that right was taken from them and another generation took their place. The same is true with the Hebrew audience here. They had become partakers with Christ. Everything that was promised to them would be granted to them. However, there is a caveat. The author goes on to say, “if we hold the beginning of our confidence.”
Indeed, it is a conditional thought – “We have become… if.” This is speaking to the whole, just as it did of those who were in the wilderness. If there was not a collective positive response, there would not be a granting of the benefit. The Cambridge commentary notes that the word “beginning” here “does not here imply anything inchoate or imperfect, but is merely in contrast with ‘end.’” The Pulpit Commentary then explains the thought with, “Go on as you began.” The Hebrews had been selected, Messiah had come, they carried the ball from there. If this confidence continued, they would indeed be and remain “partakers of Christ.”
The Greek word translated as “confidence” here is not the same as in verse 3:6. There, it was a boldness; here, it is an assurance. It is that which gives substance to something, as if in a guarantee. Understanding this, the author finishes up his thought. The Hebrews were to hold fast to their confidence (their assurance) “steadfast to the end.” Like in verse 3:6, the word “end” here is telos. This is not speaking of the end of life, as if in a termination. It is “the point into which the whole life of faith finally gathers itself up” (Vincent’s Word Studies).
Thus, this is speaking not of an individual faith which must be maintained, but the collective faith being expressed by the audience. One cannot hold fast to something when he is dead; only the collective can. There is no “individual” reference being made here. Rather, it is the Hebrew people who are being addressed as a community who are being instructed on entering God’s rest. And his focal point for this state is the awesome day known as “Today.” Again, as after 3:6, the author will provide an example of the collective loss of a right when he speaks of the group of people who were denied entry into Canaan, meaning the “rest” which was promised to them.
As before, this is not speaking of individual salvation, but a state which belongs to the whole. The question is, did the Hebrew audience of this epistle hold fast to the confidence in a manner which was “steadfast to the end”? No! Israel as a whole failed to do so, and the church went from Jewish-led, to Gentile-led. They did not, as a group, remain partakers of Christ.
However, as has been noted before, the letter to the Hebrews is placed after the Gentile-led church-age epistles. It is a clue tied to the dispensational model. Israel was set aside, the Gentiles assumed control, but Israel will again be the focus of God’s attention. Because of this, there is yet hope for them! After the removal of the church, the attention will again be directed towards Israel. At that point, the words here will also again apply to them. If they meet the conditional “if” of these verses, they will enter their rest, meaning the millennium. The book is written, and it shows that they will, in fact, do so. Until then, there is individual salvation, but Israel as a whole is not yet again included in what is stated here concerning Today.
Life application: Though the doctrinal truths of the book of Hebrews apply to whoever is reading it, there is an intended audience to whom the author is specifically speaking – the Hebrew people. Ripping them out of the context, and then shoving the Gentile-led church into these verses, does a disservice to what is being said. It also leads to misdirected theology and people who believe they can lose their salvation. This is not the intent of what is being alluded to here.
Lord God, help us to keep our interpretation of biblical passages in their intended context. In doing so, we will be sound in our theology, able to answer questions properly, and we will certainly avoid perceived contradictions which otherwise arise. Above all, help us to not make the error that the church has replaced Israel. If we can get this one precept right, everything else rightly and logically finds its place. Help us to remember this! Amen.