The letter to the Hebrews was written to a group of Christians undergoing persecution. It was addressed mainly to the believers who came from a Jewish background because the Jews had a way of escape from suffering that was not open to the Gentile believers. Since Judaism was considered as a legal religion with synagogues officially registered, these particular believers only needed to publicly deny their faith in Jesus and return to their former faith in order to avoid persecution.
Recognising the gravity of the situation, efforts were made to stop this drift back to the synagogue (Heb.2:1). And through a letter, this unknown writer tried to use every means possible--appeals, encouragement, warnings, arguments--to urge people to stay true to Christ. He specifically emphasised that denying their faith in Christ would be equivalent to crucifying the Son of God afresh and trampling Him under their feet (Heb.6:6;10:29). The consequences would be disastrous and irrevocable--severe punishment from God. Living as we are in a world of severe opposition to the truth of the Gospel, it is vital that believers everywhere are established and equipped in the faith. And as the writer to the Hebrews pointed out, we must realise "how great our salvation is;" so that we remain rooted in it and do not neglect it!
What is it that makes our salvation truly great? What sets apart the Christian faith’s offer of salvation from all the others?
1. Our salvation is great because of ‘the Person’ (Heb.2:3; 5:9). The Christian offer of salvation is centred in a Person, Jesus Christ. He was the one who first ‘proclaimed’ it and He is the only one who can ‘provide’ it. Peter declared, "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we may be saved" (Acts.4:12).
The writer to the Hebrews tried to highlight the truth of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. He clarified that Jesus was far superior to the prophets, angels, Moses or anyone else the Jews highly revered because unlike anyone else, He was the very Son of God! (Heb.1,3). The prophets were merely men of God with an ‘incomplete/partial’ revelation of God. This is why we often find the prophetic books focussing on only one characteristic of God. For example, Isaiah stresses the ‘holiness’ of God, Hosea the ‘mercy’ of God, and Amos the ‘justice’ of God.
But in Jesus Christ, we have the ‘complete/perfect’ revelation of God. He is the "radiance of God’s glory" which means that the fullness of God’s attributes or qualities shines forth through Jesus. He is the "exact representation of God’s being" which refers to the fact that He is the exact image of God. In other words, in Jesus, we can see exactly what God is like. This is why John wrote, "No one has ever seen God, but the only Son, who is at the Father’s side, has made Him known" (Jn.1:18) and Jesus said, "He who has seen Me has seen the Father" (Jn.14:9).
Whereas when the prophets spoke, they could only say, "Thus says the Lord," when Jesus spoke, He could boldly declare, "Amen, Amen, I say unto you!" Furthermore, everything has been created by Jesus, everything is being controlled by Him, and everything will one day become completely His (Rev.11:15).
Jesus Christ is totally unique! Nobody was born like Him, nobody lived like Him, nobody ministered like Him, nobody died like Him, and nobody rose again like Him. There are four elements that man is afraid of: demons, sickness, nature and death. Jesus demonstrated His authority over all!
The whole point of the writer pointing out Jesus’ superiority and uniqueness was to show that if rejection of the Law, which came through Moses, brought death, there would be more dreadful punishment if a person rejected this salvation that was offered by the Son of God Himself (Heb.2:2-3;10:28-29).
2. Our salvation is great because of ‘the proofs’ (Heb.2:3-4). This salvation is no myth or fiction. It is not a product of one’s imagination. Rather, it is a dynamic encounter with the living God which results in a complete turnaround, because anyone who comes into contact with Jesus will be touched and transformed.
Jesus changes bad people into good people and wicked people into righteous people. While all other faiths require people to first become good in order to be accepted by God, the Christian faith tells everyone to first admit that they are evil so they can be accepted by God! While all other faiths tell their followers to change themselves, the Christian faith categorically declares that it is foolish to even try to do so, and that only God can change the hardened sinner into a tender-hearted saint.
The Kingdom of God is not a matter of talk, but of power (1Cor.4:20;1Thess.4:4-5). There are signs and wonders which accompany the message of salvation. This power of God to radically alter and change the lives of people shows forth how great our salvation is.
3. Our salvation is great because of ‘the privileges’ (Heb.8:8-13). Through Jesus Christ, a new covenant has been established between God and people. It is an experience of freedom from the penalty of sin (justification), the power of sin (sanctification), and the presence of sin (glorification).
Under the old covenant, the commandments of God were written on stone and the relationship was essentially with a nation. But now, commandments are written on hearts and the relationship is with an individual. All this means that there is now a ‘desire to obey,’ where before obedience was unnatural and difficult. Also, each individual can now experience a ‘direct relationship’ with God.
What’s especially noteworthy is the fact that we can now experience total freedom from guilt because our sins have not only been ‘forgiven,’ but ‘forgotten’ as well! Animal sacrifices used to be offered for the payment of sins, but none of these could take away sins or cleanse the conscience of the worshipper. The blood of animals could only provide outward cleansing and satisfy external regulations (Heb.9:9,13-14;10:2-4). But the blood of Jesus takes away sins completely and purifies the worshipper so thoroughly that he is totally cleansed from a guilty conscience (Heb.9:14).
Because Jesus has a permanent priesthood, He is able to complete the work of salvation that He has begun in us (Heb.7:25). He is the Author and Finisher of our faith (Heb.12:2). Our duty is to continually look to Him and completely trust in Him.
4. Our salvation is great because of ‘the presence’ (Heb.4:14-16;7:25). The presence of God is our greatest asset. This is what distinguishes us from all other groups of people for it is only in the Christian faith that God is so dynamically present and active in the lives of people (Exo.33:15-16;2Cor.6:16).
First of all, we have a merciful and sympathetic High Priest present in Heaven for us. He is one who understands and sympathises with our weaknesses and failures. We can therefore approach His throne with confidence and boldness to receive mercy and find grace to help us in any time of need (Heb.4:14-16).
When we are accused by the Enemy regarding our shortcomings and other faults, we have Jesus Christ present at the right hand of the Father to intercede for us and speak in our defence (1Jn.2:1).
And every day of our lives on earth, we are filled and surrounded by the presence of the Lord. We have the Holy Spirit living ‘within’ us (1Cor.6:19). Then we have the Lord watching ‘over’ us (Psa.1:6), going ‘before’ us (Jn.10:4,27), coming ‘behind’ us (Isa.52:12) and holding us from ‘beneath’ in His everlasting arms (Deut.33:27). Truly as the mountains surround Jerusalem, the Lord surrounds His people (Psa.125:2)! He will never leave nor forsake His own (Heb.13:5).
5. Our salvation is great because of ‘the promise’ (Heb.9:15;11:16;12:28). We have something exciting and wonderful to look forward to! Even while there is darkness and gloom all around, the believer can stand with his head held high. He sees present day developments not as an end of all good things, but as the beginning of much better things!
All that is happening around us was prophesied several thousand years beforehand. It is all there in the Bible. Wars and bloodshed, famines and earthquakes, sickness and death, plagues and epidemics, financial crises and moral chaos--all have been clearly foretold. The unfolding or manifestation of these signs can be seen in the form of worldwide terrorism and international conflicts, unstable stock markets and collapsing economies, soaring prices and shortage of basic necessities, rapid spread of diseases and untreatable sicknesses, breakdown in the institution of marriage and erosion of godly values, and so on.
Present day events are bad signs for the unbeliever because all his hope is centred in this world and if it crashes, he is forever ruined as well. But for us believers, these are positive signals because they tell us that our redemption is drawing near and that finally, with the end of this world, we will be able to inherit a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness (2Pet.3:13). That will be a glorious time in a marvellous place (Rev.21,22). We will be living with God forever in the city He is the architect and builder of the New Jerusalem, made in Heaven and established on the new Earth, will be the eternal divine and human place of residence. There we will see His face and hear His voice. We will commune with Him and enjoy wonderful fellowship with the redeemed, with believers from every tribe, tongue, and time. The old order of sin, evil, poverty, suffering, curse, and death will pass away and a new order of life in all its fullness and abundance, richness and variety will be experienced there!