Hebrews 3:1-6 – Yeshua Has More Honor Than Moses

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POSTED 11 NOVEMBER, 2018

reproduced from Salvation on the Line, Volume II

“Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Yeshua, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession; He was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was in all His house. For He has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house. For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. Now Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later; but Messiah was faithful as a Son over His house—whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.”

Hebrews ch. 3 continues the montage of Yeshua being superior over all things, with the author now describing Yeshua’s superiority to Moses in Hebrews 3:1-6.[1] Too frequently among Christian examiners, these verses are usually construed to mean that our author is arguing the so-called superiority of “Christianity to Judaism.” Hagner summarizes this position well, remarking, “The superiority of Jesus to Moses, [is] obviously important for those tempted to abandon the Christian faith and return to Judaism.”[2] To an extent, this comment is accurate in that the author of Hebrews is urgently dissuading anyone considering an abandonment of faith in Yeshua. However, many have taken these verses to mean that our writer is disparaging Moses, when this is not the case at all. On the contrary, while holding Yeshua to be superior over all, our writer has a very high regard for the Teacher of Israel and the Torah. In his eloquent communication style, he is able to maintain the high regard that First Century Judaism had for Moses, while preserving the focus of Messiah Yeshua for an individual’s salvation. By comparing Moses to Yeshua, we see that the author of Hebrews holds Moses with the utmost respect—by comparing a mere human to God in the flesh.

The author begins his comments by reminding his audience that they are holy because of their faith in Yeshua: “Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Yeshua, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession” (Hebrews 3:1). This is the only place in the Apostolic Scriptures where the term adelphoi hagioi or “holy brothers” (NIV) is used, even though the concept of sanctification or holiness is affluent all throughout the Bible. We see a parallel to Hebrews 3:1 in 1 Corinthians 1:2, where the Apostle Paul writes, “To the [assembly] of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Messiah Yeshua, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, their Lord and ours.” The author of Hebrews, perhaps having been in the inner circle of Paul, adapts this terminology for his own unique purpose. “Holy brethren,” used only here in this form, speaks to the need for Believers to be holy to God and members of a true community of faith in union with Messiah Yeshua, “brothers in the family of God” (NEB).

Upon emphasizing the relationship that Believers are to be striving for with one another, members of God’s family and hopefully holding one another accountable for their spiritual behavior, the author asks his audience in Hebrews 3:1 to “consider,” “think about” (NLT), or “fix your thoughts on” (NIV) Yeshua. He uses a very specific Greek verb in this directive, katanoeō, meaning “to observe well, to understand” (LS).[3] This term invokes many specific actions in regard to pondering who Yeshua is, and what He has accomplished. TDNT remarks “it means ‘to immerse oneself in.’ This may be in the field of sensory perception, but critical examination is also denoted, and in literary Greek the idea is that of apprehension by pondering or studying.”[4]

As he explains Yeshua’s faithfulness to the Father in Hebrews ch. 3, our writer is urging His audience to consider the Messiah’s example so that His followers might emulate Him in the world. He writes in Hebrews 3:1 that those who know Yeshua “share in a heavenly call” (RSV). Guthrie notes that klēsis “is specially characteristic of the Apostle Paul who uses it nine times.”[5] This is additional evidence that our author is influenced by Paul, who himself says, “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29). If the author of Hebrews is writing to the same audience in Rome, as many expositors think, he is reemphasizing many concepts that they have already heard from Paul. If any of them were in the process of losing sight of Yeshua in their lives, then they would need to make the conscious effort of truly considering what He has done.

In Hebrews 3:1, Yeshua the Messiah is depicted as having two distinct roles in His relationship to humanity. The first role He is listed as having is that of Apostle or “emissary” (CJB, TLV). Apostolos simply means “a messenger, ambassador, envoy” (LS),[6] or one who is sent to do specific tasks by an authority. Yeshua the Messiah, being the One who has been sent, is seen throughout each of the four Gospels:

“He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me” (Matthew 10:40).

“Whoever receives one child like this in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me does not receive Me, but Him who sent Me” (Mark 9:37).

“[A]nd [He] said to them, ‘Whoever receives this child in My name receives Me, and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me; for the one who is least among all of you, this is the one who is great” (Luke 9:48).

“Yeshua said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work’” (John 4:34).[7]

The author of Hebrews is obviously relying on his audience’s knowledge of knowing that Yeshua was the One who was sent by His Father to do His work, principally the work of redemption. Another major element of Yeshua’s being sent by God was the prediction that Moses made of a Prophet coming who would be greater than he. The Apostle Peter identifies this Prophet as Yeshua in his message delivered at Shavuot/Pentecost: “Moses said, ‘THE LORD GOD WILL RAISE UP FOR YOU A PROPHET LIKE ME FROM YOUR BRETHREN; TO HIM YOU SHALL GIVE HEED to everything He says to you’” (Acts 3:22; cf. Deuteronomy 18:18-19). Yeshua has been sent as that Prophet from God, and to not heed His words brings great consequences—because they carry more weight than the words of Moses.

Yeshua is next identified as the “high priest whom we confess” (NIV). Yeshua, functioning in the role of High Priest, intercedes for humanity as the mediator for men and women before the Father. For the author of Hebrews, Yeshua functions in a very important dual role, as His Messiahship integrates the offices of Apostle and High Priest. A.M. Stibbs summarizes it well, “As God, He has been ‘sent forth’ to reveal God to men; as Man, He has become High Priest to reconcile men to God.”[8] Yeshua performs functions as the Sent One, the ultimate Apostle, and now as the High Priest who is uniquely able, as the Son of God, to continually intercede for people when they pray and petition the Lord for help. What is important to also consider is that not only does Yeshua function in a role that no human being, including Moses, could ever function, but as Bruce observes, He is “the one in whom God has revealed himself finally and completely, [and] also [is] the perfect embodiment of humanity’s obedient response to God.”[9]

The identification of Yeshua as High Priest should immediately connect readers to the events of Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement, where the high priest is a representative of God before the people, interceding for the people. The high priest would function as God’s shaliach, used in Rabbinical literature to denote a “deputy, agent” (Jastrow).[10] The following are a collection of references from the Talmud which detail the role of priests as God’s agents or messengers:

“If so, when R. Huna son of R. Joshua said: These priests are agents of the All-Merciful One, for should you think they are ours, is there aught which we ourselves may not do while they may do [it on our behalf]?—is there not?” (b.Kiddushin 23b).[11]

“The scholars propounded: Are the priests [in sacrificing] our agents or agents of the All-Merciful? What is the practical difference?—In respect of one who is forbidden to benefit [from a priest]: if you say that they are our agents, surely he [the priest] benefits him [by offering up his sacrifices]; hence it is prohibited. But if you say that they are the agents of the All-Merciful, it is permitted” (b.Nedarim 35b).[12]

“THEY SAID TO HIM: SIR HIGH PRIEST etc. Shall we say that this will be a refutation of R. Huna, the son of R. Joshua, for R. Huna, the son of R. Joshua said: These priests are messengers of the All Merciful God. For if you were to say they are our own messengers, is there anything that we ourselves are unable to perform and our messengers can perform?—Rather this is what they said to him: We adjure you according to our mind and in the mind of the Beth din” (b.Yoma 19a-b).[13]

The author of Hebrews likely has these sorts of ideas in mind in referring to Yeshua not only as High Priest, but also Apostle. The priest, being a shaliach of the Lord in the cultic worship and intercessor for the people in the Holy of Holies, is the role that Yeshua performs before the Father in Heaven. Lane confirms that “Jewish sources indicate that the high priest was regarded as the fully accredited representative of God before the people…The translation of [shaliach] into Greek would be [apostolos]. The coordinated phrase ‘the apostle and high priest’ in Heb. 3:1 reflects this traditional understanding.”[14] The “profession” (KJV) or confession may not only include the profession of people recognizing Yeshua the Sent One sacrificed for human transgressions—but may also be thought to include the incumbent praise and thanksgiving that are to naturally go along with recognizing the Messiah as Redeemer.

The author of Hebrews says that Yeshua was “stedfast to Him who did appoint him” (Hebrews 3:2, YLT). The Greek verb that he uses is poieō, generally meaning, “to make, produce, create” (LS).[15] Various persons throughout religious history have taken this to mean Yeshua was a created being, and was not Divine. However, the verb is often used in a variety of distinct connotations, much wider than just “make” or “create.” Mark 3:14, for example, speaks of Yeshua “making” His Apostles: “And He appointed [poieō] twelve, so that they would be with Him and that He could send them out to preach.” The KJV renders this as “ordained,” and Vine indicates that poieō can mean “to render or ‘make’ one or oneself anything, or cause a person or thing to become something.”[16] The author of Hebrews makes it clear from his opening words that Yeshua was not “created,” but He was certainly appointed or ordained by His Father, for the assignment of both Apostle and High Priest.

In describing the Father’s appointment of Yeshua as Apostle and High Priest, our author compares Him to Moses. He writes, “For he was faithful to God, who appointed him, just as Moses served faithfully and was entrusted with God’s entire house” (Hebrews 3:2, NLT). A likely allusion is made to Numbers 12:7: “with My servant Moses, He is faithful in all My household.” This is proof of how highly the author regards Moses. Ellingworth further indicates that “Nu. 12:7 is also quoted in 1 Clem. 17:5; 43:1, probably under the influence of Hebrews.”[17] Written in the late First Century, allusions to Hebrews in 1 Clement—connected to Numbers—indicate how important this text was for many Believers:

NUMBERS 12:7

1 CLEMENT

Not so, with My servant Moses, He is faithful in all My household;

 

Moses was called faithful in all God’s house; and through his instrumentality, God punished Egypt with plagues and tortures. Yet he, though thus greatly honored, did not adopt lofty language, but said, when the divine oracle came to him out of the bush, “Who am I, that Thou sendest me? I am a man of a feeble voice and a slow tongue.” And again he said, “I am but as the smoke of a pot” (17:5).[18]

And what wonder is it if those in Christ who were entrusted with such a duty by God, appointed those [ministers] before mentioned, when the blessed Moses also, “a faithful servant in all his house,” noted down in the sacred books all the injunctions which were given him, and when the other prophets also followed him, bearing witness with one consent to the ordinances which he had appointed? (43:1).[19]

HEBREWS 3:2

He was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was in all His house.

While some have preferred to adopt the view that by comparing Yeshua and Moses, the author of Hebrews is trying to denigrate Moses, no such thing is true. Morris validly states, “the writer makes no criticism of the man held in such honor by the Jews. He prefers to accept Moses as ‘faithful.’”[20] The very fact that Moses would be described as faithful, in spite of some isolated incidents where he deviated from God’s commands to him in the wilderness, demonstrates that while believing Yeshua to be superior, our writer still thought enough of him to give Moses high regard. Moses’ life prefigures many of the functions that Yeshua would perform in His ministry. Moses functioned as an apostle for Israel and as their representative before God. While his brother Aaron performed the role of high priest, it was Moses who had to intervene on Israel’s behalf. Moses was faithful in the message that God gave him to deliver, as Exodus 40:16 plainly tells us, “Thus Moses did; according to all that the LORD had commanded him, so he did.” Moses strived to obey God, even in times of extremity (Exodus 14), and remained on duty until he was relieved and Joshua could then lead the people into the Promised Land.

It is important to understand that in spite of the high opinion our author has for Moses, many in First Century Judaism gave Moses a higher position than they probably should have. This opinion is partially reflected in Sirach 45:1-3 in the Apocrypha, where Moses is attested to having been exalted to a position equal to that of the angels:

“From his descendants the Lord brought forth a man of mercy, who found favor in the sight of all flesh and was beloved by God and man, Moses, whose memory is blessed. He made him equal in glory to the holy ones, and made him great in the fears of his enemies. By his words he caused signs to cease; the Lord glorified him in the presence of kings. He gave him commands for his people, and showed him part of his glory.”

Josephus simply states, “They [the Israelites] were also in admiration how Moses was honored by God” (Antiquities of the Jews 3.38).[21] The philosopher Philo praises Moses, “And the most excellent of all, having taken the post of leader as if in a chorus, is piety and righteousness, which Moses, the interpreter of the will of God, possessed in a most eminent degree” (On Rewards and Punishments 53).[22] He also calls him “the chief priest Moses” (Who Is the Heir of Divine Things? 182).[23] And, an entire mini-treatise is given praising Moses by Philo in his work Life of Moses (2.66-186).[24] Without any doubt, many of these high acclamations are well-deserved of Moses, but they should not be given to subtract who God Himself is in the life of Israel. This is why Numbers 12:3 says, “Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.”[25]

Yeshua is appointed to His role as High Priest just like Aaron was appointed. In fact, the same verb, poieō, used by the author of Hebrews, is employed in the Septuagint rendering of 1 Samuel 12:6: “And Samuel spoke to the people, saying, The Lord who appointed [poieō] Moses and Aaron is witness, who brought our fathers up out of Egypt” (LXE). Our writer urges his audience to consider Yeshua not only as the Apostle and High Priest, but having a much higher and greater position than Moses. This comes after he emphasizes that Yeshua is greater than angels. The work of Moses and Aaron foreshadows the present work of Messiah Yeshua, intervening for people, and the author of Hebrews wants to glorify Yeshua for who He is, while still maintaining a high regard for Moses.

The author of Hebrews writes that “Yeshua deserves more honor than Moshe” (Hebrews 3:3, CJB/CJSB), indeed indicating that Moses is worthy of “honor.” Yeshua is worthy of this honor because “the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself” (Hebrews 3:3, NIV). But even though true, our writer is not at all denigrating Moses. Yeshua deserves greater honor because the role He has performed and the calling He has been given by the Father is higher than the role and calling Moses performed. Ellingworth writes, “Jesus’ faithfulness is more highly honoured than that of Moses, not because Moses’ faithfulness was in any way defective, but because that of Jesus was displayed in a higher office.”[26] Hegg makes the poignant remark that if Moses and his work is worthy of some glory—yet the Torah and its ordinances are “bad”—why would a comparison to Yeshua ever be made? He says,

“If, as some have argued, the administration of Moses was fraught with the negative burden of the Law, one would hardly make a comparison to Yeshua! Rather, the very comparison shows that the Law is considered good and holy, and to show Yeshua’s glory as surpassing that of Moses is only to show that Yeshua is the builder of the kingdom of which Moses was a building block.”[27]

Yeshua the Messiah, in no uncertain terms, is associated along with the Builder of the house—“by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house” (Hebrews 3:3b)—whereas Moses was just a part of the house. Moses was a critical part of the house, and indeed worthy of much honor and respect—but Moses was also a victim of his own humanity and did not lead the Israelites into the Promised Land (Numbers 20:11-12). Yeshua on the other hand, being associated with the Builder of the house, definitely sits on the Divine side of things. Our writer says, “Every house has its founder; and the founder of all is God” (Hebrews 3:4, REB). Yeshua, the One who would come to establish His assembly (Matthew 16:18), may be regarded, along with His Father, as the “builder”—being compared and contrasted to Moses—and is One who is truly worthy of greater glory than Moses.

But when the author of Hebrews says that God has built a house, what did He build, specifically? Ellingworth, interestingly enough, details how “There is no suggestion, as one might expect, of two separate communities, a house of Moses and a house of Jesus, Israel and the Church…On the contrary, both Moses and Jesus are related, though in different ways, to the one house or people of God.”[28] Those who partake of Yeshua’s completed work, are to be regarded as composing the “Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16).

Guthrie is keen to indicate, “There was certainly danger in some Jewish quarters of excessive respect for Moses at the expense of recognizing that God was the originator of the Law.”[29] Of course, Moses himself continually called the people of Israel to fear the Lord and obey Him. He exclaimed, “Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, when the LORD said to me, ‘Assemble the people to Me, that I may let them hear My words so they may learn to fear Me all the days they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children‘” (Deuteronomy 4:10). Moses was God’s messenger to Israel, but was in no way superior to God. Yeshua the Messiah was sent by His Father to provide the definitive revelation for people, not at all in contrast to Moses, but one which did bear a higher authority than Moses.

Our writer attests to the fact that “Moses, then, was faithful as a servitor in God’s whole household” (Hebrews 3:5, NEB). This is an affirmation of Numbers 12:7, where God attests “he is trusted throughout My household” (NJPS). But where Moses served in God’s house, Yeshua is over God’s house, as God’s Son (and by implication as the Eternal Son requires a plural Godhead). Coming to Earth in human form, Yeshua was faithful to His Father unto death. As the angel told Joseph, “She [Mary] will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Yeshua, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). While Moses was faithful in the unique work that God had for him, the work that the Father had for Yeshua was even more unique. The example of Moses’ life and actions were given “testifying to what would be said in the future” (NIV). Yeshua came and perfectly modeled many of the actions that Moses performed, and when we receive Him into our lives we can become members of God’s household (Ephesians 2:19; 1 Peter 2:5). Yeshua thus truly saves “His people.”

Our author’s opinion of Moses is very important to recognize, so readers do not fall into the trap of thinking that he is trying to demean him. He refers to Moses specifically as a therapōn. BDAG defines this as “one who renders devoted service, esp. as an attendant in a cultic setting, attendant, aide servant.”[30] LS further indicates that it means “a waiting-man, attendant,” and “a companion in arms, though inferior in rank.”[31] This position is more important than simply being a doulos, or your standard “servant” or “slave.” Moses is portrayed as being the high servant in God’s household, which Yeshua is supreme over. Moses prefigured many of the actions and functions of Yeshua, but Yeshua is still superior to Him. The problem that the author of Hebrews was trying to counter was that many First Century Jewish Believers likely viewed Yeshua and Moses as equals, and some perhaps viewed Yeshua as being less than Moses. Bruce remarks, “In some sections of Jewish Christianity Christ’s role was envisaged as primarily that of a second Moses; here he is presented as being much more than that.”[32] Yeshua has a higher position than Moses because He is His Father’s Son. deSilva elaborates on this further:

“If Moses knew God face-to-face and had access to the very presence of God such that he could see God, he still enjoyed the access of a servant. The access enjoyed by the Son would be greater, and the mediation of a Son, whose proximity to the [leader] of the household was so much greater, who shone with the reflection of the honor of the [leader] of the household since he stood so close to the Father, would be more effective and sure than that even of a faithful servant.”[33]

The author of Hebrews attests that “Messiah was faithful as a Son over His house [epi ton oikon autou]—whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end” (Hebrews 3:6). The NASU provides the text “was faithful” in italics. The RSV, NEB, NRSV, ESV, and HCSB all use “was faithful” not in italics. While the idea of Yeshua the Messiah being faithful to the Father’s work is clearly implied in the text, as the comparison is being made to Moses, there is not agreement on whether it should be understood as a past action, or a present action, as it is not explicitly provided in the Greek. The NIV, NJB, and TEV all use the present tense “is faithful.” Ellingworth is inclined to believe “The present may be preferred as the more unmarked tense, and because the passage is concerned with believers’ present relationship with Christ.”[34] What makes this important is because Yeshua is presently in Heaven interceding for people, His faithful actions for human beings still an ongoing action they can rely upon.

Believers in Yeshua are told that they are members of God’s household “if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope” (ESV). They are required to abide or remain in the Messiah if they truly intend to be considered members of God’s house. The result of maintaining one’s salvation in Yeshua is that a man or woman can have “confidence,” “courage” (NIV), or “rejoicing” (YLT). The term parrēsia is very specific as it means “freespokenness, openness, frankness” (LS).[35] deSilva remarks that this “is a term familiar from discussions in Greek political works of the democratic ideal of free speech ideally enjoyed by citizens of Greek cities. It is the mark of the ‘free’ person rather than the slave.”[36] Moses, of course, would have this status because he was God’s close attendant. The author of Hebrews wanted his audience to understand that they have a status as free men and women if they held fast to their faith in Messiah Yeshua, which should empower them to be able to speak freely of their hope in Him to the world at large. This hope is one of spiritual transformation and the promise of knowing that redeemed men and women will rule and reign with Him in the future Kingdom Age.


NOTES

[1] This entry has been adapted from the author’s commentary Hebrews for the Practical Messianic.

[2] Hagner, in New Interpreter’s Study Bible, 2156.

[3] LS, 411.

[4] J. Behm, “thought, insight,” in TDNT, 639.

[5] Guthrie, Hebrews, 97.

Cf. Romans 11:29; 1 Corinthians 1:26; 7:20; Ephesians 1:8; 4:1, 4; Philippians 3:14; 2 Thessalonians 1:11; 2 Timothy 1:9.

[6] LS, 107.

[7] Cf. Matthew 15:24; John 5:24, 30.

Each one of these passages employs the verb apostellō, “to send off, despatch, on some service” (Ibid.).

[8] A.M. Stibbs, “Hebrews,” in NBCR, 1197.

[9] Bruce, Hebrews, 91.

[10] Jastrow, 1583.

[11] The Soncino Talmud. Judaic Classics Library II.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Lane, Hebrews, 47a:75.

[15] LS, 650.

[16] W.E. Vine, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1968), 387.

[17] Ellingworth, 201.

[18] The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Libronix Digital Library System 1.0d: Church History Collection.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Morris, in EXP, 12:31.

[21] The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged, 81.

[22] The Works of Philo: Complete and Unabridged, 669.

[23] Ibid., 291.

[24] Ibid., pp 497-507.

[25] Note that it is debated among conservative theologians as to who actually wrote this verse of the Torah. The NASU and NIV versions both include the verse in parenthesis (), indicating the opinion that it was likely inserted by a later scribe. If indeed inserted, it was done so with the intention of emphasizing the humility of Moses, and how Moses would point one to praising God before praising him.

[26] Ellingworth, 203.

[27] Hegg, Hebrews, 44.

[28] Ellingworth, 196.

[29] Guthrie, Hebrews, 101.

[30] BDAG, 453.

[31] LS, 363.

[32] Bruce, Hebrews, 93.

[33] deSilva, 138.

[34] Ellingworth, 209.

[35] LS, 611.

[36] deSilva, 139.