The doctrinal part of the Epistle is now finished and the last chapter gives us, as is usual in Paul's writings, exhortations regarding the behavior of those who have accepted by faith the truth declared in previous chapters.
Brotherly love is emphasized. Those who have been drawn to Christ out of a world that rejects Him, should be characterized by love for each other. Sadly, it is often otherwise!
Then there follows an exhortation to show hospitality to strangers. This probably refers to visiting servants of Christ first of all, and then of course others of God's children who might be in need of kindly accomodation as they pass from place to place, particularly those who were fleeing from persecution. Some in the old dispensation who thought they were thus showing courtesy merely to men, found it was their hallowed privilege to serve angelic visitors.
Many were already imprisoned for Christ's sake. The saints were exhorted to remember them and to keep in mind all who were suffering from whatever cause, as though being exposed to similar testings themselves. None knew when his turn might come to endure affliction for the sake of that worthy name.
In contradistinction to the loose and immoral ideas so common in that day, and even in our day unblushingly held by many, marriage was to be recognized as honorable because of a divinely ordained relationship. Marriage is to be preserved in purity, knowing for certain that those who violated the marriage covenant would have to face God regarding their sin.
The Christian too should live a quiet consistent life, not coveting what others might possess. He should be content with what God has given, knowing that in Christ he has been granted more than any worldling ever knew. To have His promise, "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee," is enough. What more could be desired until called home to be forever with God Himself. Therefore in faith, each believer can confidently exclaim, "The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me" (5-6). Someone has well said, "God is a Substitute for everything, but nothing is a substitute for God."
In that circle of God's favor,
Circle of the Father's love,
All is rest, and rest forever,
All is perfectness above.
Blessed, glorious word "forever"—
Yea, "forever" is the word.
Nothing can the ransomed sever;
Naught divide them from the Lord.
If we are correct in believing, in spite of what many have alleged to the contrary, that the apostle Paul was the author of this Epistle, we can well understand how earnestly he would plead for complete separation from the ancient system. The glory of that system had departed since the rejection of God's Son. The dark clouds of judgment were hanging low over the land of Palestine. In a little while the sacred city would be a ruined heap. No more would the smoke of sacrifice ascend from Jewish altars. Moreover, most of the apostolic company had either been called home or were laboring in distant lands. Paul himself was very shortly to be martyred by the executioner's ax. With all these things pressing upon his soul, he urged the Hebrew believers to make a complete break with the system that had rejected the Lord of Glory.
First he called on them to remember those who had been their guides in days gone by, who had instructed them in the Word of God. It is evident from verse 7 that he had in mind those who were no longer with them. They were to remember their leaders of the past and to imitate their faith, considering the results of their manner of life. These men for Christ's sake had suffered and toiled, gladly resigning all thought of worldly preferment that He might be glorified in their lives. The object of their faith was Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today, and unto the ages to come. The unchanging Christ, ever abiding amid changing scenes, is to be the object of His people's hearts. It is important to remember that this does not imply that our Lord acts in the same way in every dispensation, but He Himself abides the same in His Person. If this were constantly kept in mind, Christians would not confuse things that God has plainly distinguished. For instance, it is often said by those who do not think clearly that because the Lord healed all the sick who came to Him when He was here on earth, He will do the same today for all who seek His help, because He is "the same yesterday, and today, and for ever." Strange that they do not go farther, and insist that He will raise the dead and restore to them their loved ones now as He did three times when here on earth. Such confusion of mind would be avoided if the differences in dispensations were clearly understood.
The next warning is against false teaching (v. 9). From a very early day men arose in the Christian companies and particularly in Jewish assemblies, presenting new and perverse teaching. It was necessary to warn the disciples against these heresies. Some of these laid great stress on Mosaic and rabbinical commandments concerning meats and ordinances that were connected with the temple service and had no proper place in the Christian economy. And so Paul wrote, "Be not carried about with [various] and strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein."
In verses 10-14 we have the direct commandment to come outside the camp of Judaism in holy separation to the Lord Jesus Himself. We have an altar of which they who serve in the tabernacle have no right to eat; that is, our altar and our service are all of a heavenly character. Since Christ has died there is no altar on earth. But the altar that was symbolized by the golden altar abides in Heaven, where Christ makes intercession for us. To talk of any other altar, as is done in Romanism for instance, and some sects of Protestantism, is to deny the truth of the finished work of Christ.
No blood, no altar now,
The sacrifice is o'er;
No flame nor smoke ascends on high,
The Lamb is slain no more.
In the time when the Old Testament ritual was recognized by God, the bodies of the beasts sacrificed for sin were burned in a clean place outside the camp. Their blood was brought into the sanctuary by the high priest when the sin offering was presented to God. In fulfillment of the type, "Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood"—that is, that He might set them apart to God in all the value of His atoning work—"suffered without the gate." He took the outside place there to bear the judgment that our sins deserved. Now we put our trust in Him, the rejected One, as our Savior, and confess Him as our Lord. In faithfulness to the call of God we are to be identified with Him in His rejection, so the apostle exhorts, "Let us go forth... unto Him" (v. 13).
This admonition would mean even more to these Hebrews than to believers in a later day, who have never been attached as the Jews were to a divinely ordained system that was afterwards disowned by God. The deepest affections of their hearts, until they knew Christ, were twined about that system. But the apostle, speaking as a Jew to those who like himself had admitted the messiahship of Jesus, said, "Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach. For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come" (13-14). This was a tremendous challenge to these Hebrew Christians. It meant the breaking of the tenderest of ties, and would necessarily lead to the gravest misunderstandings. But in no other way could they be faithful to the One who had bought them with His blood, yet whom the nation of the Jews had refused. They must imitate their father Abraham, who left country and kindred because he sought a city that had foundations whose builder and maker is God.
I need hardly dwell on the fact that this expression, "Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp," has been gravely abused and greatly misused by many. They make this command the ground for separation from Christians often as godly as themselves, on the pretense that if they do not see eye to eye with them they themselves constitute the camp. But the apostle is speaking of separation from Judaism, and not, thank God, from Christendom. However far Christianity may have departed in some respects from New Testament truth, it has not yet been disowned by God.
In saying this, I would not for a moment be understood as condoning what is admittedly evil and unholy. But we cannot be too strong in insisting that Hebrews 13:13 is no ground for ecclesiastical pretension of any kind whatsoever. Ruin and failure are everywhere in our churches today. This calls for humble confession and self-judgment, not for pride of position.
Verses 15-16 bring before us in a very precious way the sacrifice that believer-priests are now privileged to offer, for all Christians are now holy and royal priests. As holy priests we are to "offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name." God has said, "Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me" (Psalm 50:23). As holy priests, we enter into the sanctuary to present our worship and adoration to Him whom we now know as our God and Father. Then as royal priests we go out to man on God's behalf, and so we have the exhortation, "Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God" (Hebrews 13:16, rsv). Our priesthood has both a Godward and a manward aspect, thus preserving that even balance which is so characteristic of the Word of God.
We have seen, in verse 7, how the writer called on the saints to remember those who in days gone by had the rule over them. In verse 17 he stressed obedience to those who now care for them in holy things. "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you." True spiritual authority will be exhibited by real shepherd-care of the people of God, and when the Head of the church gives the pastoral gift, it is for the blessing of all. To flaunt such a gift or to refuse recognition of it is to ignore and despise the Head Himself. On the other hand to confuse the pastoral gift with the so-called clerical order is utterly unscriptural. No amount of training or ecclesiastical recognition can make a man a pastor. It is the Head of the church Himself who gives such a "gift" to His people.
In true Pauline fashion the writer begged for an interest in their prayers. How characteristic this was of Paul! He said, "Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly. But I beseech you the rather to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner" (18-19). At the most, he realized that in all probability it would not be very long until he sealed his testimony with his blood. Yet if in answer to prayer he might be restored to service for a little time, he would value this, while being in all things subject to the will of God. Who can tell how much each servant of Christ is indebted to the prayers of God's hidden ones? To bear God's servants up before Him is a wondrous ministry. The full fruit of our intercession will only be realized in that day when every secret thing will be revealed and each one will be rewarded according to his own service. Let none think that it is a little thing to pray. There is no higher ministry, no more important office, than that of the intercessor.
The beautiful benediction of verses 20-21 brings the Epistle proper to a close. How often the words have been uttered through the centuries; how preciously they still come home to every believing heart! "Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen." How blessed is the title, "The God of peace." It is found elsewhere in the New Testament and it tells of peace made by the blood of the cross. Now on the basis of the accomplished work of the cross God is speaking peace to all who trust His Son. After the Good Shepherd offered Himself in behalf of the sheep and shed His blood for their redemption, God raised Him from the dead thus sealing the everlasting covenant. God has made that same Jesus to be both Lord and Christ. Exalted to the Father's right hand, He is now the Great Shepherd guiding His chosen flock through the wilderness of this world. Soon, as the apostle Peter wrote, He will return in glory as the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4), to whom all the under-shepherds must render their account. Meantime, by His Spirit He is working in those for whom He died on Calvary's cross. By this inward work He is sanctifying His people to Himself, daily making them more like their blessed Master. All the glory of their salvation belongs to Him both now and for eternity. And so the "Amen" closes the doctrinal and practical parts of the letter.
The concluding salutations need not occupy us long. In verse 22 he pleaded with his readers to receive his admonitions, which will cut right across all their natural inclinations. But because of the circumstances in which they were found he was pressed in the spirit to write these words.
His companion Timothy, who had apparently also been in prison, was now at liberty. Paul and Timothy hoped to visit the churches in which these Jewish believers were found, if it should be the will of the Lord. Then once more he mentioned their guides, those who had oversight in spiritual things, sending to them a special salutation as well as to all the saints. This recognition of their leaders would come with good grace indeed from the apostle Paul, for there had been many who sought to bring about a breach between him and them. But he himself refused to acknowledge anything of the kind, and he recognized them in their God-given place as caring for the souls of the saints. The Italian brethren, in Rome and elsewhere, joined with him in this salutation.
Paul concluded the letter by putting upon it what we have seen to be his own secret mark, "Grace be with you all. Amen."
While specifically set apart by God as the apostle to the Gentiles, Paul never forgot that he himself was a Jew by birth. He knew all that it meant for his people to declare themselves followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. His heart yearned over them, and he was jealous with a holy jealousy lest they should come short of their full blessing by compromising and clinging too long to forms and ceremonies that had now become a mere lifeless system since God's own Son had been crucified. He would have them enjoy in the fullest possible way that grace which was the very center and epitome of his message both to Jew and Gentile.
As we review the history of Christendom we can see today how necessary was this cleavage. The heart of man readily falls in with forms and ceremonies. It is only those who are led of God who worship in Spirit and in truth. On every hand men are turning back to ritualistic forms and liturgical systems, seeking thus to make up for the increasing lack of true spirituality and devotedness to Christ. Unsaved men can "enjoy" a "religious service," but only the regenerate can worship by the Spirit of God.
—H.A. Ironside Expository Commentary