In this section, we come to the first of three major warnings we find in this letter. This first one comes in the form of a parenthesis; a slight deviation from the thought the writer pursued. We should remember that this letter is a strong exhortation that these Hebrews leave the shadows and embrace the substance which has come in Messiah. If they don’t move on they are in danger of shrinking back which in their case meant renouncing their faith altogether.
We should not forget the pressure these Hebrew believers faced for their faith. Some had already lost their homes and property, while others had been imprisoned. Still others were ostracized for showing sympathy to other believers. They all faced fierce persecution for their faith. How easy it would have been to forget the whole thing and just embrace Judaism as superior to their new-found faith in Jesus as Messiah. That is exactly what many of these believers were now tempted to do. But the writer now exhorts them to resist that temptation and to continue in faith. He must convince them that no matter what they go through, they must not give up their faith.
The Content of the Warning
Let us carefully analyze the content of this warning:
A. Need for Attention (2:1)
He begins by reminding them that they must give careful attention to the word they had already heard. “To give heed is to apply the mind to a particular subject, to attend to it, to consider it. It is here opposed to ‘neglecting the great salvation.’ No person can read the Scriptures without observing the stress that is laid on consideration, and the criminality and hazards which are represented as connected with inconsideration.”
The word therefore connects these words to the previous words, demonstrating the connection between theology and practice. These Hebrews must give careful consideration to the Gospel which they have already heard. Notice he calls it “what we have heard.” These believers did not hear the Lord themselves, but those that first heard Him preached the Gospel to them. They were to give careful attention to that word.
The revelation made by Jesus consists of doctrines and precepts. If we are going to fulfill these words we must learn how to consider the various doctrines of which the Christian faith consists. If they don’t consider these things carefully they will be in danger of “drifting away.” This term was originally a nautical term and described a ship that is not properly anchored and drifts away from the harbor. This relates to another verse from the apostle Paul: “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming” (Eph 4:14).
The apostle is talking there of doctrinal stability and the need for settled views of the Gospel. The immature, he says, are tossed back and forth by the waves. I often meet people who are under the impression that to have no fixed theology is to remain open to the Spirit. For that reason, they are constantly changing and drifting about whatever comes down the pike. This is not maturity because if they were, they would have settled views of the truth.
B. Why We Should Give Careful Attention (2:2-4)
The basic argument here is that the Gospel is superior to the Law because it was not spoken by angels but by the Lord Himself. Notice how he calls it “the message spoken by angels” (Hebrews 2:2). That was the Law which was mediated to Moses by angels. It is possible that the voice which Israel heard at Sinai was actually mediated through angels. Yet even though spoken through angels, every word of it was binding upon every Israelite. If an Israelite ignored or violated any part of the Law, he would be immediately condemned.
Now he applies that to the Gospel; if they ignore so great a salvation they should not think that they will be guiltless. We need to be clear that the sin in view here is apostasy—turning their backs on the Gospel. They should give heed to its message for at least three reasons:
1. The Lord Himself spoke it
This is a reference to the Lord’s earthly ministry and to the testimony during that time of the salvation which he came to bring. That salvation was the subject of the prophets for centuries before the Lord appeared. Remember how Peter put it: “Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things” (I Peter 1:10-12)
The Lord Himself revealed the means of salvation: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
There is a theology which says that Jesus earthly ministry and the teaching He gave in that period was just for Israel. Jesus made it clear that his salvation was being offered to those outside of Israel as well: “Many would come from the east and west and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom.” The Gentiles would also be included in this great salvation.
2. Communicated by the apostles to others
The apostle now defines what the apostolic witness is. Those who heard the Lord Himself were responsible to communicate to others what Jude calls “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” It is the faith as first preached by the apostles and now contained in the New Testament. We have not heard the Lord, but we have heard those who heard him (through their writings). We must continue to give heed to that which was delivered to the apostles by studying their words. This alone substantiates that the Church’s faith must be solidly built on the teaching of the apostles. This is why Jude exhorts us to “contend earnestly for the faith.” By the term “the faith” Jude means that body of teaching which was once for all delivered to the apostles.
3. Confirmed by supernatural gifts
The Gospel was confirmed to those first century hearers not only by apostolic witness, but by supernatural power. This is clearly a reference to the miracles that were performed by the apostles that are recorded in the book of Acts. The writer uses various terms to describe them.
“Signs and wonders” refer to those miraculous operations which were common in the law and the Gospels. It was used of Stephen in Acts 7 and the works which he did and also of the blinding of Elymas (Acts 13). The term “various miracles” seems to refer to those miracles performed for the benefit of others (healings). “Gifts of the Holy Spirit” are referred to in I Corinthians 12 as those things which God imparts to various believers.
The question is, “does this verse limit these miraculous operations to the First Century only?”
Those who are in the Cessationist camp think so. Yet there is nothing in these words that implies that these manifestations were limited to the First Century. It may confirm the reason for the profusion of these things then and why they are not as prevalent today, but nowhere does it state that these miraculous signs have ceased.