Hebrews 3:1–6 is one of the most difficult passages that I have studied. Having worked to understand the passage (at least partially), I would love to share what I learned. Normally, online writing does not lend itself to the commentary genre.
In this case, it might work because Hebrews 3:1–6 almost cries out for comment due to its dense, deep, and difficult nature.
Why is Hebrews 3:1–6 hard to understand?
It is not because its meaning is impossible to grasp. But because the author chooses each word intentionally to tie itself into the previous two chapters and to look forward to the rest of the book.
As well, in these six verses, the author cites two passages somewhat obliquely (Num 12:7; 1 Sam 2:35), and each passage has contexts and a meaning that really influence how we read Hebrews 3:1–6.
On top of this, the author here uses odd and specific language for Jesus. Here Jesus is called “apostle”—the only time in Scripture (but see John 3:17). He is also called a high priest, a title used only of Christ in Hebrews (though his priestly nature is implied elsewhere).
The name “Christ” given to Jesus in context means anointed one as in anointed priest. That is odd in itself because we expect Christ to mean anointed Lord or King as is the normal Pauline usage. Here, it does not due to the citation of 1 Samuel 2:35 as well as the priestly language in Hebrews 3 and the priestly context of Hebrews 2.
Further, the word “house” or “household” in context has a complex meaning that may include (1) creation, (2) tabernacle, and (3) human beings.
The word “build” in 3:4 actually means “furnish” since the Greek verb kataskeuazo means furnish especially in contexts of tabernacles (and later Hebrews use sit that way).
Oh, and Jesus is said to be “made” in Hebrews 3:2 (τῷ ποιήσαντι αὐτὸν), although translations opt to see the verb here as “appoint” (I am not convinced).
I am sure more could be said. But a person can figure out why Hebrews 3:1–6 provides us challenges when we read it.
To begin to unravel these questions, I first provide a translation of the Greek text and then comment on it. It may not be the most exciting thing that you read today, but I hope it helps you understand the Bible better. That is a big win in my book.
 Therefore, holy brothers, participants of the heavenly reality, contemplate the Apostle and High Priest of our confession—Jesus.  He was faithful to the one who made him as also as Moses was “in all of his house.”  For he is counted worthy of greater glory than Moses as the one who furnishes the house has much more honour than it.  For every house is furnished by someone, but God has furnished everything.  And while Moses was “faithful in all of his house” as a servant to testify of things that would later be spoken,  Christ [was faithful] as the Son in his house. We are this house if we hold fast to the boldness [of speech] and boast of hope.
Hebrews 3:1. When the author says “Therefore,” he names the explicit consequences of Hebrews 1–2. The text of Hebrews aims to persuade its audience to remain faithful despite hard circumstances. Here, the author points to the contemplation of Jesus—the Apostle and High Priest. Jesus is the Apostle because God sent him to speak on his behalf (Heb 1:1–2:4). Jesus is the High Priest because he assumed human nature to sanctify it (Heb 2:5–18). Thus, the two titles intentionally harken back to the two main points that the author has already made in Hebrews 1–2. As the Apostle, God speaks “in the Son” (Heb 1:2). As the High Priest, Jesus sanctifies, counsels, and makes atonement for his people (Heb 2:11, 17–18).
By means of union with our flesh and blood, he came to humanity from God as the Apostle. Having sanctified human nature, he then returns to sit at the right hand of the Father as High Priest on behalf of humanity. He is the mediator between God and humans. And this mediatorship entails that humans become brothers with Jesus Christ in the household of God (Heb 2:11–13). Hence, they take the name holy brothers. They are holy because the High Priest sanctified human nature; they are brothers because the Apostle assumed human nature to form a real unity between humans and Jesus, which he maintains as the heavenly High Priest who stands on behalf of humanity before God.
In this sense, the holy brothers are participants of the heavenly reality because they have united to the heavenly High Priest. More specifically, the double sharing of the Son with us (Heb 2:14) and us with the Son (Heb 3:1, 14) receive its principal symbol in Baptism—”the heavenly gift” (Heb 6:4). This gift by the Spirit of Christ’s presence anticipates our reception into the heavenly city of God, the heavenly Jerusalem (Heb 11:10, 16; 12:22).
The call to contemplate … Jesus signifies a spiritual contemplation as in Hebrews 2:9. The context of Hebrews, however, strongly implies that we contemplate Christ in and through the Scriptures (here the Old Testament). Hebrews 1–2 and even Hebrews 3:1–6 have consistently pointed to Christ’s presence and speech in the Old Testament. The contemplation then signals a spiritual reading of the Old Testament in a Christ-centered way. The Book of Hebrews explains what that looks like.
Hebrews 3:2. Jesus (He), like Moses, faithfully executed his ministry. Unlike Moses, Jesus has greater glory and honour (3:3). The citation of Numbers 12:7 (“He is faithful in all my house”) plays an important role here. First, Numbers 12 importantly shows God vindicating Moses and his prophetic ministry in front of the tent of testimony and in the presence of Aaron and Miriam. Here, Moses is said to be utterly unique among the prophets (12:8). If Jesus is greater, he is greater than all the prophets. In these days, God speaks to us through his Son (Heb 1:2). He is the Apostle of God.
The language of House here implies the tabernacle or temple of God since that was a common designation. Also, the priestly context of Hebrews 2:5–18, the title for Jesus High Priest, and the verb “to furnish” which Hebrews later uses in association with furnishing the tabernacle (Heb 9:2, 6; v. 21) along with the LXX confirm that the house means “tabernacle.” The allusion of 1 Samuel 2:35 makes it almost impossible to read the passage in any other way. The passage reads:
And I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind. And I will build him a sure house, and he shall go in and out before my anointed forever. (ESV)
And I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who will do all things in my heart and in my soul, and I will build for him a faithful house, and it will go before my anointed one [Christ] forever. (LXX).
καὶ ἀναστήσω ἐμαυτῷ ἱερέα πιστόν, ὃς πάντα τὰ ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ μου καὶ τὰ ἐν τῇ ψυχῇ μου ποιήσει, καὶ οἰκοδομήσω αὐτῷ οἶκον πιστόν, καὶ διελεύσεται ἐνώπιον χριστοῦ μου πάσας τὰς ἡμέρας. (LXX)
In context, 1 Samuel 2 prophecies about a new priest who will fail as Eli’s house had done. The promise here is that God will build the house of the faithful priest, and that house will go before the Christ. This allusion helps explain why Hebrews uses the language of faithful, High Priest, house, and Christ. It also nearly guarantees that house in context means the tabernacle and more broadly whatever belongs to one’s household (furnishings, people, servants, a Son). We will return to this complex use of the word house shortly.
The language of “made him” may refer to God’s formation of Jesus. Contextually, it may also point to Jesus’ appointment as High Priest. Most likely, it refers to the Son’s assumption of human nature, detailed in Hebrews 2:5–18. Hebrews affirms the real, created humanity of Jesus as well as the uncreated divinity of the same Jesus. He is God (1:8–9) and Lord (1:10) as well as “flesh and blood” (2:14).
To be faithful here will explain what faith looks like throughout the rest of Hebrews. Faithfulness like Moses and Jesus (Heb 11–12) will look a lot like confident trust and endurance rather than an abstract and unfelt belief.
Hebrews 3:3. The point of the comparison between Jesus and Moses becomes clear. Despite Moses being the greatest prophet, Jesus is better. He has more glory than even Moses who saw God and the glory remained his face—to the point that he had to cover the glory on his face to hide it from Israel (2 Cor 3). And he is said here to the agent who furnishes the house—not broadened to include all of creation (3:4).
Hebrews 3:4. The author of Hebrews makes it clear that the house now means the universe which God has furnished with stars, planets, and so on. The key point, however, is that Jesus co-furnished the universe as he has the same honour as the creator does (3:3). The co-honour and so co-glory of Father and Son here evince a high-Christology that stands alongside the statement that God “made him” without blinking an eye. Jesus is divine and created; he is creator (Heb 1:10) and “flesh and blood” (Heb 2:14).
Hebrews 3:5. The repetition of the citation of Numbers 12:7 reinforced the positive view of Moses. The author in fact has the highest possible view of Moses. That is what makes it so significant that Jesus has greater glory and honour than Moses. Yet Moses testified to Jesus as one anticipating and waiting for him. As Numbers 12 concerns Moses and the tent of testimony, it is possible that is why the author of Hebrews uses the word testimony. Whatever the exact reasoning, it is clear that testimony here signals Moses’ testimony about Jesus. According to Hebrews 11:36, Moses considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.”
The particular ways in which Moses testifies to Christ include the specific furnishings of the tabernacle and divine liturgy given at Sinai (Exodus 19–32). Later, for example, Hebrews calls the curtain of the temple the flesh of Christ: “the curtain, that is, through his flesh” (Heb 10:20). As the divine Apostle and human High Priest, the curtain symbolically represents his mediatorial role between God and man. It speaks of “Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant” (Heb 12:24).
Hebrews 3:6. What also makes Christ unique, here a term to signify the anointed High Priest, is that he the status of nature Son. God sent and speaks in the Son (1:2). The Son is God and Lord (1:8–10). The same Son is “flesh and blood.”
The same Son who is God and Lord (Heb 1:8–10) is also “flesh and blood” (2:14). One Son, one Jesus, uncreated and created (1:10 and 3:2), the mediator between God and man in his body—sent from God as Apostle and returned back to him as High Priest (3:1). That is Jesus.
And due to his assumption of “flesh and blood” (Heb 2:14) and his sanctification of our humanity (2:11) through the cross (2:9) and ongoing priestly work before God (2:17–18), we become in him sons of God. We have come to share in Christ” (Heb 3:14) because Christ shared in us (2:24). We are “participants of the heavenly reality” as brothers to the man from heaven, Jesus the anointed High Priest of our confession. We thus confess him as such in praise because we have become “this house.” We belong to God as furnishings in his cosmic house, which is being built up as a temple of God—with Christ the High Priest.
This priestly identity that we share with Christ concretizes our ethics because it is conditional upon the fact that “we hold fast to the boldness [of speech] and boast of hope.” The boldness here envisions bold speech before the king, in this case, God and the hope here points to Jesus our High Priest who brings us before the throne of grace where we can speak boldly due to his death for us (Heb 4:16).
Hebrews 3:1–6 underscores the apostlic and high-priestly ministry of Jesus who in himself becomes the mediator between God and man—since he is divine and human. He speaks God’s word as the divine apostle; he sanctifies and saves humanity as the glorious high priest. He co-furnishes the universe and the church with God, and he thus shares in the glory and honour of God, while at the same time is said to be formed by God. That is, the author of Hebrews affirms the dual reality that Jesus is both divine and human, uncreated and created.
The shocking reality is that we become included in the life of Jesus—his glory, honour, sanctify, salvation, and representation because we become sons of God due to his incarnation, sufferings, and ascension (implying the resurrection too). We become participants in the heavenly reality of Jesus and so become sons of God—the very household that Moses was only a servant of. We gain the status of sons in the Son.
But these rewards and honour and glory only come to those who “hold fast to the boldness [of speech] and boast of hope.” That particular holding fast work here does not imply anything about our ability. Rather, it implies that we speak to the Father of lights with boldness because of our hope in Jesus our High Priest. In short, we hold fast by holding fast to the confidence that we have because Christ suffered for us and for our salvation.
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