Hebrews 3:1–6 . . .
“Jesus, Greater than Moses”
The author of "Hebrews" has made considerable effort in chpts. 1 and 2 to document how Jesus is superior to angels. Starting with chpt. 3, he'll call Jesus names. Don't worry! All three are God-honoring names. The author will also give us, his readers today, a virtual tour of God's house; we'll learn who built it, the purpose for its construction, who owns it, and who derives benefit from living in it.
We also learned in our previous discussion that the Israelites' old Law derived its authority from three sources: from angels, Moses, and Aaron the high priest. We'll now see how and why the author preferred and spoke more highly of Christ than of the angels through whom the Law was given. Here he also prefers Jesus more than Moses, who was the architect and organizer of the Law, albeit the famed lawgiver of the Old Testament.
Today’s commentary begins by appreciating the meaning of the author's tour of "God’s house," which was designed and built by God for eternity. We'll be guided by the author's addressing the tour’s subjects and participants: "Therefore, holy brothers and sisters" (v. 1). While he identifies the house’s extended family, which includes its servant (Moses) and its present owner (Christ), his most decisive description of God’s house is revealed in this exhortation that concludes his house tour: "And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory" (v. 6).
Therefore, Focus Your Attention on Jesus (3:1–6)
The author’s initial implication is sharply stated from the beginning: "Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, . . . fix your thoughts on Jesus." The Greek word transliterated "think" (katanoeō) is an essential word for disciples and students. It means to "carefully examine and perceive a subject or an argument." Readers of this letter, then and today, were expected to negotiate their way through both opening chapters of "Hebrews" to learn the bold, outstanding beliefs and declarations about Jesus and what it meant to be members of God’s chosen household.
Jesus Greater Than Moses
3 1Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest. 2He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house. 3Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. 4For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. 5"Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house" [quoted from Numbers 12:7], bearing witness to what would be spoken by God in the future. 6But 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 (3:1–6).
Starting with "Therefore," the author directs our attention to what he'd already written: Chapter 1 speaks of Jesus as the Son, God’s full and final revelation to man who has supremacy over all creation, particularly the angels. Chapter 2 begins with an exhortation to listen more carefully to what God has spoken through Jesus. The remainder of chpt. 2 speaks of the incarnation of the Son and its impact on man.
Looking first at the subjects of this passage, "holy brothers and sisters" are righteous brethren, not only in profession and title but in principle and practice. Those "who share in the heavenly calling" are partners through the Spirit of grace who comes from heaven. Because Jesus is committed to "bringing many sons and daughters to glory" (2:10), we are partners in his heavenly calling, which should bless and encourage us to press on, even through times of difficulty and trial. And those "whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest" all represent fellow believers. It's Jesus' Spirit of grace that enables Christians to be successfully transported from darkness into marvelous light; such a calling brings down heaven into the souls of men and women, raising them up to a heavenly calm and conversation, preparing them to live forever with Jesus in heaven.
What, in particular, are we to take note of regarding Jesus? Readers are exhorted to "fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest." To take note of or "fix our eyes on Jesus" might summarize the author's six-verse-long exhortation; it could very well sum up the entire message of "Hebrews." The author is about to compare, then contrast, Jesus with the much-revered Moses. These two names — apostle and high priest — are two titles that our author has chosen to highlight to demonstrate Lord Jesus' superiority to Moses,' beginning in v. 2.
Beyond the subjects to whom the author addressed this passage, we need to appreciate the three names given to Jesus herein: (1) our apostle, the great revealer of our faith, the principal messenger whom God had purposefully sent to man; (2) the high priest of our professed belief, the head of every church; and (3) as Christ, the Messiah, anointed and in every way qualified for the titles of "apostle" and "high priest," being faithful as "the Son over God's house" (v. 6) who became our healer and great physician of our souls.
The combination of Jesus' first two titles encapsulates the opening praising of the exalted Lord’s majesty (as shown in Hebrews 1–2). An "apostle" is someone sent out by divine appointment to be a prophetic carrier of God’s Word. We seldom apply this title to Jesus, but he's our Apostle. His apostolic mission is to be a flesh-and-blood presentation of God’s eternal Word, enabling its truth to be understandably communicated. A "high priest" is appointed by God to mediate God’s covenant, partnership, or koinonia with God’s people — partners "who share in the heavenly calling" (v. 1) — by pastoring and purifying God’s people so they can maintain their covenant relationship with a holy God.
Christians have a duty to attribute those high and honorable titles to Lord Jesus! The order is to "fix your thoughts on Jesus" (v. 1) with the greatest attention and devotion, acting toward him most appropriately. Stay tuned: We'll later be encouraged to "fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (12:2, from the Berean Study Bible).
Comparing Moses with Jesus
Today, "apostle" refers to a pioneering advocate and/or missionary and/or teacher, sent to carry out a special task. If an apostle is a "sent one," Moses was clearly sent by God to Egypt, where he spoke to men for God. Jesus was an apostle in the same sense, leading men from captivity to freedom. As Moses was the one through whom the Law was given, Jesus was the One through whom God finally and fully spoke (1:1–3). Both Moses and Jesus, our author tells us, were faithful to their divine calling. The first Christian leaders were called "apostles" because God sent them out to declare his good news. Jesus is "our apostle" because God sent him to us so that, by his death, he'd save many (John 3:16). For that reason, the author opened with his "fix your eyes on Jesus" declaration in v. 1.
God gives an invitation to everyone whom Christ has saved as well as prepared a place in heaven (John 14:2). Saved brothers and sisters become "holy" because they've chosen to belong to and believe in God. And they're "holy brothers and sisters" because God has brought them into one large household: the family of God. "God's house" means "God's family."
Moses, in Contrast to Jesus
Jesus is greater than Moses (3:3–6), just as he's greater then angels (1:1–2:18). Lord Jesus became "faithful to the one who appointed him" (3:2), just as Moses was faithful "in God’s house" (vv. 3–5) to the Israelite people. The point here is that Moses is a part of the house while the Son, the house builder, is greater than the house. In all cases, the Creator is invariably greater than the creation. Add to that contrast these additional distinctions between Moses and Jesus that Pastor/teacher/elder Bob Deffinbaugh highlights: "Two more elements of contrast are introduced in vv. 5 and 6. First, we see that 'Moses was faithful as a servant' (v. 5), while Christ was 'faithful as the Son' (v. 6). Second, this contrast between 'servant' and 'Son' is underscored by the fact that Moses was a servant 'in' all God’s house (v. 5) while Christ is the Son 'over' God’s house."
Saying more about this contrast, Pastor Deffinbaugh writes: "There is one more observation that I would point out to you. The author began by referring to 'Jesus,' then to Him as 'God.' In v. 6, He is the 'Son' and 'Christ.' So, Jesus is the Son, God, and Christ, i.e., the Messiah. Some Jews tended to understand these (and other) titles as referring to different persons. Such is not the case with the author of 'Hebrews.'"
The Importance of Moses
Moses was considered by some Jews to be the greatest man in the Old Testament. He was a great mediator; when God revealed his glory at Mount Sinai, the terrified Israelites asked Moses to mediate between them and God (Deuteronomy 5:25–27). Moses also functioned effectively as an intercessor; the nation Israel would have been wiped out had it not been for Moses (Num. 14:11–20). Especially esteemed for his role in the Israelites' reception of the Law of Moses, he was a great military leader; under his leadership, the nation defeated armies that opposed them, beginning with Pharaoh’s forces. Moses was also a judge and arbitrator for the nation Israel (Exodus 18:13–16). Want more? Moses was a superb author, penning the first five books of the Old Testament.
Reading v. 3 in particular, we should think more about how Jesus is similar to Moses. Certainly, both were faithful to God, loyal, and responsible in their work for him. Moses remained loyal, even when nearly all the people in his nation decided [repeatedly] to no longer obey God; every time they forsook Father God, Moses prayed, urging God to not destroy the nation. Perhaps surprisingly, God responded as Moses had requested. Moses was a member of God's household; Jesus, the creator of that house, is worthy of greater glory.
It's important to note that "God's house" (v. 2b) doesn't represent a building, temple, or church; "God's house" in this passage represents God's people. So Moses was a faithful servant to God and his people, even when they'd abandoned their faith. Jesus was faithful, too, obeying his Father completely, doing all that God had directed him to do. When Satan tempted Jesus to not obey God, Jesus suffered greatly while devotedly choosing to fully obey his Father; he did so, every minute of his life.
A Matter of Mastery
Moses’ master was God. The quotation "Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house" (v. 5) is from Num. 12:7. They're words that God himself spoke to Moses' brother and sister, Aaron and Miriam, who became jealous of Moses and began to speak against him, refusing to respect his importance as God’s principal servant. A very humble man, he didn't try to defend himself. But what Aaron and Miriam were saying about him offended God and made God angry with them. So, God himself, as Moses' master, spoke to defend his servant. God explained that his relationship with Moses wasn't like his relationship with other holy men and women prophets. He spoke to Moses clearly and directly.
God made Moses the master of God's house — all the Israelites, God's chosen family. He gave them his Law through Moses, who led his family through the desert, taught them how they should live, and showed them how to worship, honor, and glorify God. And Moses did these things to demonstrate to his people what God would do for them in the future, namely to introduce the people to the coming Messiah, the Christ.
While Moses was God’s servant, Christ is God’s Son, the owner of God's house. A servant sometimes receives great honor. But the Master’s Son deserves much greater honor than any servant. Through numerous difficult challenges, Moses remained completely loyal to God, carrying out all of his responsibilities as God’s servant. Christ, God's Son, was completely loyal to his Father. The author will soon declare that Christ never sinned (4:15) and never did anything wrong or displeasing to God.
Making It Personal
Verse 6 tells us who Christ is and that we are members of his house. We must hold firmly to our confidence, faith, hope, and trust in God. We also need to have a proper relationship with him, which is possible only because of Christ, who died so that God could forgive our sins (9:28). We're to confess our sins to God and invite him into our lives (6:1). And we must listen to what he's said (3:7–8) and believe and obey him (3:12–14).
Are you growing in theological understanding? Throughout "Hebrews," the author expresses concern and worry about the spiritual immaturity of this letter’s readers, some of whom had been Jesus-followers a long time (cf. 2:1–4; 6:1–3), but their forward drive had gotten "stuck in neutral." The author’s concerns about his audience typically transform themselves such that the brethren need to be warned to "grow up" in their understanding of Jesus. Spiritual immaturity results from a lack of theological understanding: We grow not, because we know not!
Living today in a covenant community, we Jesus-followers are partners "who share in the heavenly calling" through a participatory covenant community or koinonia. We're addressed as members of the house that God designed and built (shown here), which is a house built of quality construction, and why its residents can confidently have high expectations about its future (v. 6): God’s house was built to last. When you feel troubled, in need, fearful, or discouraged, look only to Jesus! Our author doesn't want us to look to mere man, even those as great as Moses. And he certainly doesn’t want us to look to ourselves, as though we might somehow be able to guard and control our souls. We're to look only to Jesus!
Once saved, always saved? Take heed of this warning! The kind of household described herein, constructed by God’s unconditional grace, is conditionally maintained as a result of a person’s secure obedience to God. That expressive requirement is most evident in this phrase (v. 6): "if indeed we hold firmly to" the beliefs we declare and affirm, then our life with God will endure (see 3:14). "Hebrews" does not preach a once-saved, always-saved, no-matter-what religion! It proclaims, instead, a covenant-keeping faith that depends on a close-working partnership between an ever-faithful God and his faithful people, as highlighted in this short video from The Bible Project called "Covenants."
- Q. 1 Daily, how well do you focus your attention or fix your eyes on Jesus?
- Q. 2 To whom do you look when you feel troubled, in need, fearful, or discouraged? Where do you find him?
- Q. 3 Do you see yourself as being one in God's house? If so, how do you explain it?
New International Version (NIV) or view it in a different version by clicking here.
— Listen to chapter 3, narrated by Max McLean.