Christ is Superior to Moses
Moses is a dominant figure in Israel’s history. Of all the Old Testament leaders, there is none greater. He is described as “the man of God” and “the servant of the Lᴏʀᴅ” (Dt. 33:1; 34:5). Moses’ relationship with God was so intimate that “the Lᴏʀᴅ spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Ex. 33:11). Some Jewish rabbis even believe Moses was greater than angels because of his unusually close relationship with God.
Yet Moses understood the Lord would raise up a prophet from within Israel who would be much greater than he and who would speak God’s Word to Israel (Dt. 18:15–18). This prophet is clearly identified in the New Testament as Jesus the Messiah (Jn. 1:45). In Hebrews 3 the author shows how Christ is superior to Moses.
Afterward, he sternly warns Jewish believers that if they return to the Jewish religion, they will be in danger of forfeiting God’s rest.
Rest here does not mean salvation. No true believer can lose or forfeit his or her salvation. Jesus made it extremely clear that those to whom He gives eternal life will never perish or be snatched from His hand (Jn. 10:28–29). Christ will not lose one soul the Father has given Him (6:37, 39). Scripture teaches that lives of genuine believers are hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3). Therefore, by definition, someone who renounces Christ and returns to Judaism (or to any other religion, for that matter) is not a true believer in the Messiah. However, true believers can lose their “rest,” meaning the peace, joy, and assurance that come from a life of faith in Jesus.
Explanation of Faithfulness
The author addressed his readers as “holy brethren, partakers [partners] of the heavenly calling” (v. 1). That is, they were Jewish believers who made “confession” (v. 1) of Jesus Christ as their Savior. The word confession means to “say the same thing as another” or to agree with God on what He revealed about Jesus His Son.
Believers are to “consider the Apostle and High Priest of [their] confession, Christ Jesus” (v. 1). The word consider means to fix one’s eyes and mind attentively on Christ as Apostle and High Priest. Christ is called an Apostle because God the Father sent Him to provide for mankind’s salvation. As an Apostle, Christ represents God to man. He is called High Priest because He is the believer’s advocate in heaven, representing man to God before His throne. Thus, as God’s Son, Christ functions as Reconciler and Mediator before God and man.
Jewish believers highly esteem Moses as the greatest servant in Israel because of his position before God and his faithful leadership over the nation for 40 years. Moses was definitely great, but Christ is superior to Moses and to all things pertaining to Judaism. To prove this truth to Jewish believers, the author compared and contrasted the ministries of Christ and Moses.
First, both Christ and Moses were “appointed” by God the Father and faithfully carried out their ministries (v. 2; cf. Num. 12:7). Moses was appointed to deliver the Israelites from Egypt, give them the Law, and lead them to the Promised Land. But Christ was even more faithful because, unlike Moses, He did not falter or waver, even to His death on the cross.
Second, Moses was a human servant (v. 5); but Christ is a divine servant and, as the Son of God, is “worthy of more glory than Moses” (v. 3).
Third, Moses was a “faithful [servant] in all His [God’s] house” and should be granted all the honor, respect, and reward due him (v. 2; cf. Num. 12:7–8). But Christ built and oversees the house of Israel in which Moses served, making Christ more honorable: “For this One has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as He who built the house has more honor than the house” (v. 3).
Both Jesus and God are called the builder of the house (vv. 3–4). Since all things were created through Jesus Christ (1:2), these verses confirm His deity. If Jewish people returned to Judaism, they would be worshiping the house rather than the Creator or Builder, thus turning from the One who is God, namely, Jesus Christ.
Fourth, “Moses indeed was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which would be spoken afterward” (v. 5). Moses not only was faithful in his ministry but also faithfully witnessed and wrote about Christ (cf. Dt. 18:15, 18; cf. Jn. 5:46; Heb. 11:24–27).
Under Moses, house referred to the house of Israel. But in this age the reference is to Christ’s position over the church: “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” (v. 6)
Verse 6 expresses three thoughts: (1) Christ is superior to Moses because Moses is merely a servant; but Christ is the Son of God. (2) Within every household a son is always superior to a servant. A servant may have authority to oversee the house, but the son rules over the house and everything in it. (3) The phrase if we hold fast the confidence…firm to the end does not refer to how to become a believer or remain a believer. The author simply said that those who possess faith in Christ will remain faithful, thus giving evidence that they are members of Christ’s household. True believers will continue “rejoicing of the hope” in Christ’s redemption to the end of their lives. On the other hand, if someone professes faith in Christ but returns to Judaism, that person reveals that he or she is not a true believer in the Messiah.
Example of Failure
God, through the Holy Spirit, provides a quote from Psalm 95: 7–11 to warn those professing faith in Christ not to repeat the same sin of murmuring and rebelling that their forefathers committed in the wilderness, culminating in their refusal to take the Promised Land (Num. 13—14).
After 400 years in Egyptian captivity, Israel was miraculously delivered. Yet the Israelites continually complained about God and Moses on the way to possess the Promised Land. At one point, the Lord commanded Moses to send two representatives from each of the 12 tribes to search out the land of Canaan.
The spies returned with a mixed report. All agreed Canaan was a good and fruitful land, flowing with milk and honey. Nevertheless, its people were strong and lived in walled cities (Num. 13:27–29). Of the 12 spies, only Joshua and Caleb had faith to believe God would deliver the Canaanites into their hands. Israel’s refusal to take the land constituted rebellion against God, resulting in His displeasure and judgment of that generation of Israelites:
Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, in the day of trial in the wilderness, where your fathers tested Me, tried Me, and saw My works forty years. Therefore I was angry with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart, and they have not known My ways.’ So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest’” (Heb. 3:7–11).
The word today in verse 7, quoted from Psalm 95:7, is repeated twice more in this chapter (vv. 13, 15) and sends an urgent message to Jewish believers to heed God’s Word immediately and not make the same mistake as their forefathers.
Their forefathers disobeyed God in six ways. They (1) failed to “hear His [God’s] voice,” (2) hardened their hearts, (3) rebelled, (4) tested and tried Him, (5) always went astray in their hearts, and (6) never really knew Him.
In other words, they neglected to listen to, or chose to forget, what God told them through Moses. Failing to listen produced hard hearts (v. 8).
Hardness of heart resulted in rebellion against God (v. 8). During Israel’s 40 years of wandering, it witnessed many miracles but still “tested” and “tried” God by complaining and rebelling (v. 9). Instead of taking Him at His Word, Israel put Him to the test, making Him prove that He could do or would do all He had promised them.
Such distrust was gross sin and angered God. It also was inexcusable, since the Israelites had witnessed God’s miracles and provisions for 40 years. So God’s evaluation was that they erred habitually: “They always go astray in their heart” (v. 10; cf. Dt. 9:24).
Though the Israelites saw God’s mighty miracles, knew what He expected of them, and had His Law to lead them, God said of them, “They have not known My ways” (v. 10).
Israel’s unbelief and rebellion grieved God, and He became justly “angry with that generation” (v. 10). Consequently, Israel would suffer God’s wrath, or righteous indignation, as He destroyed that generation in the wilderness. Israel’s lack of faith resulted in the nation not entering God’s “rest” (v. 11); that is, that generation would not possess and occupy the Promised Land of Canaan.
Exhortation to Faithfulness
In Hebrews, Jewish people are strongly exhorted to avoid the defection of their forefathers who went off into unbelief:
Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin (vv. 12–13).
This is a command that believers take heed and keep a watchful eye over their lives. Drawing away from commitment to the Lord can result in apostasy.
The remainder of chapter 3 exposes the process of becoming an apostate. A person departs from God due to “an evil heart of unbelief” (v. 12). An evil heart allows the “deceitfulness of sin” to control the believer. Sin is described as being “deceitful,” or tricky, because it subtly seduces those whose spiritual guard is down; and they succumb to Satan’s attack. Sin that is not dealt with will produce an unexpected, gradual hardness of heart, making believers indifferent; cold; callous; and insensitive to God and spiritual things (v. 13).
Christians are to “exhort [encourage] one another daily” and stay focused on Christ because they are “partakers [partners] of Christ” (vv. 13–14). The real test of these professing believers is to “hold the beginning of [their] confidence [in Christ] steadfast to the end” (v. 14).
Again the author emphasized the word today, alerting Jewish believers that they, too, were in danger of developing the same hardness of heart and rebellious attitude toward God as their forefathers “who came out of Egypt” (vv. 15–16).
Though God was angry with those persistent sinners, He patiently showed them mercy for 40 years; but eventually they perished in the wilderness as punishment for their unbelief (v. 17). This was a direct fulfillment of God’s promise to unbelieving Israel. He preserved only Caleb and Joshua because they believed Canaan could be conquered (v. 18; Dt. 1:34–40).
Because of unbelief, these Israelites missed entering the Promised Land and the rest God had prepared for them (v. 19). “Trials, troubles, temptation, testing, travail, turmoil, and tempest was their lot in place of the tranquility they might have enjoyed” had they believed and obeyed God.1
The illustration, instruction, and invitation given in this chapter were not only for Jewish believers in the early church, but for us today. All who harden their hearts against God will forfeit His rest and suffer His discipline. This example sends a sobering message to all who profess faith in Christ. God will discipline believers who harden their hearts and rebel against Him.
- Hermon A. Hoyt, Christ—God’s Final Word to Man (Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1974), 24.