Hebrews 3


The Servant And The Son

The writer has spoken in fairly general terms, of the superiority of the Son over all previous messengers, the prophets, who brought only a partial revelation of the will and purpose of God. He has also shown the vast superiority of the Son over the angelic beings that God has used in His service.

Now he approaches what might be regarded as a rather sensitive stage in his presentation and argument, when he comes to deal with the superiority of the Son and the new dispensation, over the former dispensation and the one who introduced it, namely, the highly revered figure of Moses.

And highly revered is an accurate description of Moses, because among the Jews of the time of Jesus, especially the Hellenistic Jews, Acts 6:1, there was a tendency to regard Moses as an almost divine figure, certainly as more than a mere human being.

Both Josephus and Philo shared this attitude. Josephus on the death of Moses, Vol. 1 Book 4 ch.8; states; “Moses exceeded all who ever existed in understanding. He is such command of his passions as if he hardly had any in his soul and only knew them by their names, as rather perceived them in men other than himself. He was such a prophet as was never known and this, to such a degree, that whatever he pronounced you would think that you heard the voice of God Himself.”

Deuteronomy 34:10 expresses how the Israelites, and, later, the Jews, thought about Moses. “There has not arisen a prophet since, in Israel, like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. None like him for all the signs and wonders which the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt.”

Numbers 12:3 states, “Moses was very meek, more than all men that were on the Face of the earth.”

Indeed, the older Jewish teachers claimed that “There are 50 gates to Wisdom, and Moses held the key to all but one.”

Psalm 103:7 makes a significant statement. “God made known His ways to Moses; His acts to the Children of Israel.”

We also should be careful never to lose respect for Moses, although we sometimes appear to be doing precisely that when we quote John 1:17 “For the Law was given through Moses; Grace and Truth came through Jesus Christ.”

We should always remember that we do not elevate the Lord Jesus by denigrating Moses.

Nothing would irritate Jewish listeners quicker than a criticism, of Moses.

On one occasion, Jewish leaders told a man whom the Lord had just healed, John 9:28. Jesus Himself endorsed the authority which Moses possessed when He spoke to the Jews of “Moses on whom you set your hope.” John 5:45

The standing and authority of Moses were unquestioned and the appeal to what Moses said was the accepted way of settling any question because the word of Moses was regarded as final, Mark 10:3.

Jesus even told his own followers, “The Scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat: so practice and observe what they tell you.” Matthew 23:2

Clearly, then, Moses occupied a unique place in the life and religion of the Jews when this letter to the Hebrews was written, and the inspired writer is well aware of the delicate problem with which he had to contend, and we see how diplomatically and gently he handles the matter.

There is no doubt that there are words and phrases which we like to hear. There are expressions, which make us feel good. And that is what the writer is about to make use of.

First, he uses the word “holy brethren”. Hebrews 3:1. He very skilfully establishes a link between these readers and their past, Jewish Christians, who, you will remember, feel that they have lost their connection with the history of their nation.

“Holy brethren”! Not, as you might have thought, a common expression. This is the only time it occurs in the entire New Testament.

I know that we use it quite often, as we speak to each other because the New Testament teaches us that we are holy brethren, saints, sanctified ones. But the use of that phrase in this passage is based on the Old Testament Scriptures rather than the New Testament.

What the writer is doing is simply this, he is using the familiar phrases and terms of the Old Testament Scriptures, as he suggests to his readers that they are still in a relationship with these great men of God whom they suppose, they have now lost in becoming Christians.

Later, he will marvellously develop this thought in Hebrews 11, in the well-known roll-call of faith, when he shows his readers that all the patriarchs of the Old Testament were men who lived by faith, just like Moses, and just like themselves. If you read Acts 2:29, you see that Peter also used this respectful manner of approach, when, standing before the Jews on the Day of Pentecost, he said, “Men and brethren”.

And even in classical literature, we have the example of Mark Anthony when he presents the body of the murdered Julius Caesar to the Roman crowd. He establishes solidarity with them, when he said, “Friends, Romans, countrymen.”

Well then, all the Jews would be familiar with that expression ‘Holy Brethren’, because it actually referred to their relationship with Abraham, and, more than that, it reminded them that in Exodus 19:6, God Himself had called them a “holy nation”.

The Greek word “Hagios”, in Hebrews 3:1 means separated, not merely separated from other nations, not merely taken out of other nations, but separated from sin.

So, they are holy, because they have been separated and brethren because of their relationship with Abraham.

And so, he is creating a comforting and familiar atmosphere so that when he comes to point out that, great as Moses was, Jesus, the Son of God, is Greater.

The writer does not treat Moses like Mormons treat the Bible. He does not try to discredit Moses, in order to create a place for Jesus in the way that Mormons attempt to undermine the authority of the Bible so that they may introduce the Book of Mormon.

The writer of this letter doesn’t do it, because not only would that approach be wrong, but also considering the standing of Moses, it would be counter-productive and produce nothing but resentment and hatred in his readers.

Therefore, he concedes the greatness of Moses and then argues for the greatness of Jesus. It is also important to notice that the writer does not suggest that Moses and the Law which he delivered to the people failed whilst Jesus succeeded.

On the contrary, he states in Hebrews 3:2 that Moses was faithful. But Hebrews 3:3 says he was faithful in his role as a servant, whilst Jesus was faithful as the Son. That is the great distinction between Moses and Jesus. The one was a servant whilst the other was God’s own Son. Hebrews 3:1-6.

But, notice this, even when he speaks of Moses the servant, he is taking their minds back to something with which they were familiar in the Old Testament Scriptures.

Speaking to Joshua, God said, in Joshua 1:2 “Moses my servant is dead”. So, there could be no objection to his calling Moses a servant because that is what God called him. And there is something more that I would like you to notice. I want you to think about the word ‘servant’ which we find in this passage.

Can you think of the various Greek words, which are used in the New Testament for the word servant? Doulos, bondservant. Diakonos, one who runs errands. Oiketes, a house servant. Pais, the word for boy is also used for a houseboy.

But the writer does not use any of these words in describing Moses the servant. He uses a word, which invests the service of Moses with the greatest possible dignity and honour. He uses the word ‘thereupon’.

A therapon was one who rendered voluntary service. Not as a slave nor under compulsion but as a willing, volunteer.

Thayer expresses it perfectly when he says that, ‘it is altogether a more beautiful and tender word than doulos’. So, yet again, we see the writer approaching a discussion of the role of Moses in an extremely sensitive and respectful manner.

Greater contrasts between Moses and Jesus

1. Moses as a servant. Hebrews 3:5. Jesus as the Son. Hebrews 3:6.

2. Moses laboured in a house he did not build. Hebrews 3:3-4. Jesus as Son in His own house. Hebrews 3:6.

3. Moses had a preliminary mission. Exodus 3:10. Jesus had a final mission. John 19:30.

4. Moses brought a partial revelation. Hebrews 1:1. Jesus the complete revelation. Hebrews 1:2.

5. Moses was delivered from physical bondage. Exodus 3:10. Jesus delivers from the bondage of sin. John 8:36.

6. Moses brought the pattern of things in the heavenlies. Hebrews 8:1-5. Jesus the realities. Hebrews 8:5.

7. Those who ate the bread Moses gave died. Exodus 16:4 / John 6:31-31. Those who eat the bread that Jesus provides will live forever. John 6:33.

8. The deliverance which Moses brought was a national deliverance. Exodus 20:2. Jesus makes universal salvation possible. Romans 5:6-11.

9. Moses brought law. Jesus brought grace. John 1:17.

Incidentally, I think it is worth commenting that we should never overlook the fact that the law which Moses brought was not without grace and the grace which Jesus brought was not without law.

10. Moses himself never entered the Promised Land. Numbers 20:8-12. So far as Jesus is concerned He is our forerunner, within the veil, He has entered heaven, there to appear before the face of God for us. Hebrews 6:20.

11. The day, the Mosaic age began, 3000 died. Exodus 32:28. The day the Christian age began 3000 were saved. Acts 2:41.

12. Moses a Jew was born when Egyptians (Gentiles) ruled the people of Israel, Exodus 1:8-10. Jesus a Jew was born when Romans (Gentiles) ruled the people of Israel, Luke 2:1-5.

13. Pharaoh, an evil ruler, decreed that all male Hebrew babies should be killed by casting them into the river, Exodus 1:23. Herod, an evil ruler, decreed that all male Hebrew babies should be put to death, Matthew 2:16.

14. Moses was hidden in Egypt for 3 months to keep him alive Exodus 2:2. Jesus was also hidden in Egypt to keep him alive, Matthew 2:13.

15. Moses’ mother put him in the river in a basket, Exodus 2:3. Jesus’ mother put him in a manger (feeding trough), Luke 2:7.

16. The name Moses means drawn out of the water, Exodus 2:10. Drawing out of water is a picture of salvation, Isaiah 12:3. Moses was Israel’s way of salvation. Jesus’ name in Hebrew is Yeshua which means salvation.

17. The favour of God was upon Moses, even as an infant. Pharaoh’s daughter took him out of the river and he became a prince of Egypt. Exodus 2:5. The favour of God was upon Jesus. Wise men worshipped Him and presented gifts to Him. Matthew 2:11.

18. Moses was brought up by a man who was not his natural father. Exodus 2:9-10. Jesus was brought up by a man who was his stepfather, Joseph, Luke 2:33.

19. Moses, when grown, saw the burdens of his brethren and had compassion on them, Exodus 2:11. Jesus saw His people as sheep without a shepherd and had compassion for them, Mark 6:34.

20. Moses at a well, was kind to the daughters of the priest of Midian and watered their flock (not the usual custom), Exodus 2:17. Jesus at a well was kind to a Samaritan woman and offered her water (not the usual custom). John 4:911.

21. Moses was in exile in a foreign land until the king of Egypt died. Exodus 2:23. Jesus was in exile in a foreign land until King Herod died, Matthew 2:19-20. While Hebrews 2:17-18 contains the concluding remarks to the argument concerning Jesus and His superiority because of his humanity, it also is the connector into this next topic about Jesus and His superiority over Moses.

The second chapter of Hebrews ends with the description of Jesus as our merciful and faithful High Priest who is a propitiation for our sins and shares in our sufferings. Now, let us move to Hebrews 3.

“Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest. He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house.” Hebrews 3:1-2

Notice again the concept that we are joined with Jesus. We are brothers and sisters with Jesus and we are sharing in the heavenly calling as the family of God. The author wants us to stop for a moment and truly consider Jesus. Think carefully about this Jesus. He is the Apostle and High Priest of our confession.

Initially, calling Jesus “the apostle” seems strange. But the word “apostle” simply means “one sent with authority.” Jesus is sent with authority from God the Father. Further, Jesus acts as High Priest on our behalf, as the writer argued in chapter 2.

We see a beautiful picture of Jesus that we are to understand. Jesus was sent from the Father to us (apostle) and now atones for the sins of the people to bring the people to God, (High Priest).

Apostle High Priest Jesus was sent down from the Father (apostle) to us to act on our behalf, reconciling us back to the Father (High Priest). This is the essence of our confession. Jesus was sent from the Father with His authority as the Son to atone for our sins, bringing us back into a relationship with the Father.

Jesus was faithful to the Father who appointed Him, just as Moses was also faithful in all God’s house. Hebrews 3:2 places Jesus and Moses on equal footing in terms of faithfulness. So the writer is telling us to compare Jesus and Moses. Consider Jesus and look at Him in terms of Moses. Both are faithful. This reference to Moses is to remind us of how special Moses was. This is a quotation from Numbers 12:6-7.

The writer of Hebrews is reminding us about how important and special Moses was. God did not speak to Moses as He spoke to the other prophets. God used dreams and visions, speaking vaguely to the prophets. But Moses was faithful in God’s house and therefore God spoke to Moses clearly, face to face.

It is no small thing to say that Moses was faithful in all God’s house. The context of this passage concerns the time when Aaron and Miriam spoke against Moses for marrying a Cushite woman.

God was saying that Aaron and Miriam should have been afraid to speak against Moses because of his faithfulness and the special relationship God had with Moses. This leads us to the next verse and the contrast between Jesus and Moses.

“Jesus has been found worthy of greater honour than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honour than the house itself.” Hebrews 3:3

For all the glory and honour that Moses deserved because of his faithfulness, Jesus is counted worthy of greater glory than Moses. Why has Jesus been counted worthy of more glory than Moses? The reason is given because the Builder of the house has more honour and receives more glory than the house itself.

Moses is simply part of the building. Jesus is the builder. It is an interesting, yet simple, illustration. People may admire the building, but the glory and honour go to the person who erected the building.

“For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything.” Hebrews 3:4

Now here is a subtle point. Every house has a builder. Houses do not build themselves. God is the builder of everything. He is the one who is always in charge.

Now notice the simple argument that the writer just put together. Jesus is the builder of the house. God is the builder of all things. Therefore, Jesus is God. Simple, yet effective in argumentation. The writer of Hebrews has the tendency so far to prove that Jesus is God in fairly subtle ways.

Recall Hebrews 1:8 where the Son is explicitly described as God by quoting Psalm 45. So also here. Jesus is God because He is the builder of the household, the family of God. Now we can examine the writer’s concluding argument.

“Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house,” bearing witness to what would be spoken by God in the future. But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory.” Hebrews 3:5-6

So Moses was faithful in all God’s house. We already noted that this is a quotation from Numbers 12:6-7. But he was faithful in God’s house as a servant. This is not a put down in any way. This is just a statement of the reality that as great as Moses was, he was still a servant.

Further, Moses testified to things that were to be spoken later. Moses was not the “end all” of Israel. The Scriptures were not speaking about Moses’ coming. Moses himself testified to the things spoken later, Deuteronomy 18:15 / Deuteronomy 18:18.

Even Moses was looking for another to come. However, Christ is faithful over God’s house as a Son. If we place the two sentences next to each other, we can quickly see the comparison. Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant. Christ is faithful over God’s house as a Son.

There are two key differences (three, if one includes “was” and “is” as an intended contrast). Moses was a faithful servant. Jesus is the faithful Son. Moses was a servant in God’s house. Jesus is faithful over God’s house.

Jesus is superior to Moses just as a son is superior to a servant. The son has a privileged position in the house. He is not a servant. He is an heir. He is in charge. He is over the house. He has rule and authority. The servant does not. Moses was great, but Jesus deserves even greater glory and honour.

We also see an interesting progression in the title or name the author uses. In the first chapter, the writer exclusively uses the title “Son.”

In Hebrews 2:9 he says, “But we see Jesus.” Now the author uses His earthly Name. Now, for the first time, the author attaches the title “Christ.”


We are His house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.

We are His house if we do not give up. We must hold firmly to our confidence to be part of His house. Jesus is faithful to us, but will we be faithful to Him? Those who persevere in the faith have the assurance that they are part of God’s house. We are part of God’s family.

We are children of Abraham and heirs of the promise. We are part of God’s kingdom, reigning with Him if we do not give up. Don’t give up! You are part of God’s family!

The first six verses of Hebrews 3 make the point that Jesus is superior to Moses. Therefore we must not give up our confidence and hope because we have been made part of God’s house and family. But now the writer wants to issue a grave warning to his audience.

“So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested and tried me, though for forty years they saw what I did. That is why I was angry with that generation I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’” Hebrews 3:7-11

After encouraging the readers not to give up, the author gives a stern warning based on Israel’s history. He quotes Psalm 95 which scholars say was used by the Jews as a call to worship when they went to synagogue service.

As one reads Psalm 95 one can see that it is a psalm that is calling people to worship. Verse 2 reads, “Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving.” Verse 6 reads, “Oh come, let us worship and bow down.”

Amid this call to worship is the warning against hardening one’s heart. The psalmist refers to the times at Meribah and Massah. These are the places where the people complained about water and Moses provided water from the rock. The people had left Egyptian slavery, and crossed the Red Sea, but were now complaining about the water situation.

You will notice that Meribah and Massah mean “rebellion” and “testing,” which can be seen in the Hebrews quotation. ‘Worship God today and do not harden your heart’ is the call of the psalmist. Don’t forget what happened to those who heard the voice of the Lord but did harden their hearts. They saw the works of God for forty years.

But notice the condemnation, “They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.” For forty years the works of God had been seen yet the people went away from the Lord in hearts. They did not know the Lord though they had seen what God had done.

If they really knew the ways of God they would have walked in them. But they did not. Therefore, God swore in His wrath that they would not enter into His rest.

The parallel is striking. This is not written to unbelievers in the world. This is being written to Christians as a warning. You have been delivered from the slavery of sin as the Israelites had been delivered from Egyptian slavery.

You have been baptized and become part of Christ just as the Israelites were “baptized” in the Red Sea. 1 Corinthians 10:1.

Do not now harden your heart after all that you have experienced. You have seen the mighty works of God. Do not turn back.

Before we move forward I think it is important to highlight the change concerning the 40 years. The psalmist speaks about the 40 years a little differently, Psalm 95:9-10.

Notice how the writer of Hebrews moves the punctuation to make a slightly different point, Hebrews 3:9-10 “Where your ancestors tested and tried me, though for forty years they saw what I did. That is why I was angry with that generation I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.”

The writer of Hebrews says that the people saw the works for 40 years and yet rebelled. The psalmist says that God loathed that generation for 40 years. Why the difference? I think it is to press the point on the first-century audience. The message to the Hebrews was written around 68 A.D.

It has been 40 years since Jesus lived on the earth. He is telling the audience that they have seen the works of God through Jesus and the apostles for 40 years. Do not give up like Israel did 40 years after the Red Sea crossing.

“See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. As has just been saying: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.” Hebrews 3:12-15

Now the writer draws a couple of important lessons. First, ‘take care and be on your guard for an unbelieving heart’. Now I believe all of us would say that we do not have an unbelieving heart, so we are in the clear. But let us back up for a moment and examine what he means.

The reference is to those in Psalm 95 who put God to the test. They did not believe that God would provide for them and they, therefore, complained about water. They did not put their full trust in God concerning their lives. They did not believe God would provide. The writer will amplify this point more in just a moment.

The second lesson is the necessity to ‘encourage each other every day’. We need to be encouraged every day so that we are not hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Sin lies to us. Sin tells us that what we are doing is okay. It makes us put our trust in it rather than God. Sin deceives us into thinking that our hearts are not hardening against God by sinning.

Sin lies to us telling us that no one will know what we are doing. Sin lies to us making us think that no one will be affected by our sins. So we need to encourage or exhort each other every day. Every day is today.

When tomorrow comes, it will be today. This is a call for a deeper fellowship and a regular fellowship with one another to fight against the hardening of the heart.

This explains to us why meeting together is important. When we miss, our hearts grow hard. We must accept this truth. The longer I am disconnected from my family in Christ, the easier it is to stay away from God. Encourage each other every day!

This is the remedy against a hard heart. Isn’t it interesting that more praying or more Bible reading is not the answer here? Encourage each other every day to prevent the hard heart.

But there is another reason why this is so important, because ‘we have come to share in Christ’. We are companions and partners with Christ. We are sharing in Christ, as the writer argued in chapter 2. He is our brother. But we only remain in this family if we hold our original confidence to the end.

In Hebrews 3:15 the writer quotes Psalm 95 again to make the point emphatic. Hardening our hearts is to not hold on to the confidence that we had at the beginning of our journey with God. Now I think we can flip the language and understand our warning, if we do not hold on to our original confidence, then we do not share with Christ and not in God’s family.

“Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies perished in the wilderness? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.” Hebrews 3:16-19

Who were those who heard yet rebelled? The answer is all those who left Egypt under Moses’ leadership. They were chosen when they began the journey. But unbelief led to sin and disobedience. God swore in His wrath that they would not enter His rest and their bodies fell in the wilderness.

With whom was God provoked for forty years? The answer is those who sinned. No rest is the consequence of unbelief. To whom did God swear that they would not enter His rest? The answer is those who were disobedient.

Beware of a hardening heart

How do you know if you have a heart that is hardening? The writer uses a couple of key clues, not listening to God’s voice, sinning, and disobedience. All of these things are unbelief.

So we must ask ourselves if we are listening to God’s voice in the Scriptures, are we choosing to disobey God because of our own selfish desires? Are we showing our unbelief in God because we sin rather than trusting in God to provide for us?

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