Hebrews 3 is a Big Shock Chapter for its original recipients. This is what everything in the book has been building to so far, and everything else in Hebrews flows out of it. Chapter 3 demands a complete reorientation of mind for its first audience: they trusted Moses, they considered themselves "in Moses", they thought that Moses was the high point of the nation's relationship with God and the revelation of God through Moses was the highest, clearest and most important words that would ever be communicated from God. Moses, Moses, Moses.
Our writer's argument is:
- Jesus is greater that Old Testament prophets (of which Moses was the supreme one)
- Jesus is superior to angels (who mediated the Law to Moses)
- Therefore Jesus is greater than Moses (and, he will go on to say, greater than the Law of Moses)
Put yourself in their shoes. They had been taught for 1400 years that following Moses and obeying the Law was the exclusive way to know and be accepted by God. No Moses, no relationship with God. This is a HUGE claim that Hebrews 3 is making.
The chapter divides into two main points:
1. Fix your eyes on Jesus Christ as apostle and high priest to us from God, and not any longer on Moses as apostle and high priest (3:1-6)
2. Don't turn away from him (3:7-17). If it was serious to rebel against Moses, then it is much more serious to rebel against Jesus.
I like the household image that the writer uses. Believers, he says, are God's household, his extended entourage. It doesn't quite mean "family" here as it does in other places, so much as God's group, the folk he has in his house as servant/friends. Maybe it would be OK to say "God's groupies", the people who get to circulate with him.
As a member of this group, Moses had the highest place. He was the chief servant by dint of faithfully speaking the words of God concerning what God would do in the future. But he was still a servant. Christ, on the other hand, is the son of the household. He is qualitatively different in status to Moses, just as the builder of a household is qualitatively superior to the household they build.
It looks as if some of the new believers were getting tempted to go back to the old, familiar Law of Moses ways. It was deeply ingrained. It felt very risky and edgy (and heretical?) to go with this teaching about the Christ, rather than stick with the Mosaic Law. I feel for them. Nevertheless the writer is clear - "don't do it!" Turning away from God's apostle was the same as turning away from God. When people rebelled against the leadership of Moses, that was the same as rebelling against the leadership of God They remained in the desert for 38 years until every single unbelieving person had died. v12 says that turning away from Jesus is also turning away from the Living God. It is the new equivalent of the desert disobedience, only much worse.
Every Christian is confronted most days with "do I want to live for Jesus today?" decisions. Or the temptation to follow something that seems more secure or more attractive to me in the moment. This chapter is written, among other things, so that everyone who reads it today will soften their heart to God, hold to him firmly and beseech him to keep us from doing a desert--style rebellion.
Some Christians might even read this right on the cusp of giving up on God. Hebrews 3 was written to people with a similar struggle. The writer says that sin can seduce us into a place where that seems the right thing to do (v13). The purpose of sin is to harden our hearts by deceiving us ("sin's deceitfulness"). If you want to turn away from God today, that is sin tempting you to that, hardening your heart. We need to recognise that for what it is, turn to God and plead that he will soften our heart and guard it against being deceived.