An Exposition of Hebrews
by A. W. Pink
The Apostle’s Prayer
(Hebrews 13:20, 21)
"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 well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen" (verses 20, 21). Let us begin by considering the connection which these verses have with what precedes: first with their wider context and then with their more immediate. In them there is really a gathering up into a brief but comprehensive sentence of the whole of what had been previously set forth, except that the apostle here prays there might be wrought in the Hebrews that unto which they had been exhorted. The substance of the whole doctrinal portion of the epistle is included therein, and the apostle now begs God to apply to the hearts of his readers the benefits and fruit of all the important instruction which he had presented to them. These verses, then, form a fitting conclusion, for what follows them is virtually a postscript.
Viewing our text in the light of its immediate context, we perceive a blessed exemplification of the fact that the apostle practiced what he preached, for what he had required from his readers he is here seen doing for them. In verses 18, 19 he had besought the prayers of the Hebrews on his behalf, and now we find him supplicating the Throne of Grace on their behalf. What a blessed example the chief of the apostles has left unto all whom Christ has called unto public service. If ministers desire the prayers of their people, then let them see to it that they are not backward in praying for those God has committed to their charge. This is an essential part of the minister’s functions. It is not sufficient that he faithfully preaches the Word: he must also fervently and frequently ask God to bless that Word unto those who have heard him. O that all who are called to the sacred office may feelingly exclaim "God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you" (1 Sam. 12:23).
The verses which are now before us are in the form of an apostolic benediction or prayer. In them is set forth, in a striking and appropriate manner, the Object to whom the prayer was offered, following which is the matter for which supplication was made. In this article we shall confine ourselves unto the former. The Person to whom the apostle prayed is here described first by one of His titles, namely, "the God of peace"; and then by one of His works, the raising of Christ from the dead, and this in turn is ascribed unto the blood of the everlasting covenant. Those who have followed us through this lengthy series of articles may perceive how aptly the apostle reduces his grand exposition of the superiority of Christianity over Judaism unto these three chief heads: the God of peace, the risen Shepherd of the sheep, the blood of the everlasting covenant.
"The God of peace." The varied manner in which God refers to Himself in Scripture, the different appellations He there assumes, are not regulated by caprice, but ordered by infinite wisdom; and we lose much if we fail to weigh diligently each one. It is not for the mere sake of variation in diction, but each distinguishing title is selected in strict accord with its setting. He is spoken of as "The God of patience and hope" in Romans 15:5, because that is in keeping with the subject of the four previous verses. In Romans 16:27 He is addressed "To God only wise," because the immediate context has made known the revelation of the mystery wherein His inscrutable wisdom had been veiled. Before considering the significance of "the God of peace," let it be pointed out that it is an entirely Pauline expression, occurring nowhere in the writing of any other apostle—another identifying mark of the penman of this epistle. It is found in Romans 15:33 and 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:11, Philippians 4:9, 1 Thessalonians 5:23, 2 Thessalonians 3:16, and here—seven times in all.
"The God of peace." First, this title contemplates God in relation to His people, and not mankind in general; yet in His forensic character, that is, in His office of Judge. It will be remembered that in that blessed passage where the two covenants are placed in antithesis and Sion is contrasted from Sinai, it is said, "But ye are come... to God the Judge of all" (Heb. 12:23), which is the climacteric feature of the Gospel. The face of the Supreme Judge is wreathed in smiles of benignity as He beholds His people in the face of His Anointed. But it was not always thus. On the morning of creation as God saw us in Adam, our federal head, He viewed us with complacency, as "very good" (Gen. 1.31). But alas! sin came in, a breach was made between the Creator and the creature, and a state of alienation, mutual alienation, ensued, for a holy God could not be at peace with sin.
It needs to be clearly recognized that from the beginning God has sustained other relationships to man than those of Creator and Benefactor. Adam, and the human race in him, were placed under law, and therefore became subject to Divine government. In consequence of this, God was his Lord, his King, his Judge. While he remained in loyal subjection unto the Divine authority, yielding obedience to the King’s laws, His favor was enjoyed, but when he transgressed, all was altered. Sin has not only defiled man, corrupting the whole of his nature, but it has brought him under the curse of the Divine law, and has subjected him to the Divine wrath. Fallen man, then has to do with an offended Judge. This was speedily made evident unto the original rebel, for we read, "therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from where he was taken. So He drove out the man" (Gen. 3:23, 24).
Alas, how little is this most solemn aspect of the Truth preached today! Sin has not only vitiated our nature, it has alienated us from God: as it is written "alienated from the life of God" (Eph. 4:18). Man has not only lost the image of God in which he was created, but he had forfeited the favor of God in which he was instated. In consequence of the fall, there is a mutual antagonism between God and man. Sin has made a breach between them, so that all the harmony and concord which there was, both spiritual and judicial, has been completely destroyed. Not only is the carnal mind "enmity against God" (Rom. 8:7), "the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men" (Rom. 1:18). That God is alienated from the sinner and antagonistic to him, is as clearly taught in the Scriptures as is man’s enmity against God.
The One with whom fallen man has to do, is his outraged King and offended Judge, and His own Word leaves us in no doubt as to His judicial attitude toward the fallen creature. "Thou hatest all workers of iniquity" (Ps. 5:5). "God is angry with the wicked every day" (Ps. 7:11). "But they rebelled and vexed His Holy Spirit: therefore He was turned to be their Enemy, He fought against them" (Isa. 63:10). It was for this reason that none other than our blessed Redeemer said, "Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear Him which is able to destroy both soul and body in Hell" (Matthew 10:28), which is to be understood not simply of God’s absolute power or omnipotency, but also and chiefly of His judicial power or rightful authority, as we are His prisoners and obnoxious to His judgments. Why is the modern pulpit so culpably silent upon these and similar passages?
God’s holiness burns against sin, and His justice clamors for satisfaction. But is He not also of infinite mercy? Blessed be His name, He is, nevertheless His mercy does not override and nullify His other perfections. Grace reigns but it reigns "through righteousness" (Rom. 5:21), and not at the expense of it. When therefore God had designs of mercy toward His people—who sinned and fell in Adam, in common with the non-elect—His wisdom contrived a way whereby His mercy might be exercised consistently with His holiness, yea, in such a way, that His law was magnified and His justice satisfied. This grand contrivance was revealed in the terms of the Everlasting Covenant, which was entered into between God and the Mediator before the foundation of the world, but in view of the entrance of sin and the fall of the elect in Adam. Christ undertook to restore the breach which had been made, to effect a perfect reconciliation between God and His people, to make full satisfaction for all the harm which sin had done to God’s manifestative glory.
Many, adopting the horrible heresy of the Socinians ("Unitarians"), will not allow that the reconciliation is mutual: but God has been reconciled to His people as truly as they to Him. As we have shown above, the Scriptures not only speak of enmity on men’s part but also of wrath on God’s part, and that, not only against sin but sinners themselves, and not the non-elect merely, but the elect too, for we "were by nature the children of wrath (yes, of "wrath" in addition to depravity!) even as others" (Eph. 2:3). Sin placed God and His people at judicial variance: they the parties offending, He the party offended. Hence, for Christ to effect perfect conciliation, it was required that He turn away the judicial wrath of God from His people, and in order to this, Christ offered Himself a propitiatory sacrifice to God, Himself bearing that wrath which was due to them.
This central truth in the Atonement, now so generally repudiated, was portrayed again and again in the O.T. types. For instance, when Israel sinned so grievously in connection with the golden calf, we find Jehovah saying to Moses, "Now therefore let Me alone, that My wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them" (Ex. 32:10). But notice how blessedly the immediate sequel shows us the typical mediator interposing between the righteous anger of Jehovah and His sinning people, and turning away His wrath from them: see verses 11-14. Again we read in Numbers 16 that upon the rebellion of Korah and his company, the Lord said unto Moses "Get you up from among this congregation, that I may consume them as in a moment" (verse 45). Whereupon Moses said unto Aaron "Take a censer, and put fire therein from off the altar, and put on incense, and go quickly unto the congregation, and make an atonement for them; for there is wrath gone out from the Lord: the plague is begun." Aaron did so, and we are told, "he stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was stayed" (verses 46, 48).
Surely nothing could be plainer than the above examples, to which many others might be added. All through the patriarchal and Mosaic economies we find that sacrifices were offered for the specific purpose of averting God’s righteous wrath, to appease His judicial displeasure, to turn away His anger, the effect of which being expressly termed a "reconciliation:" see Leviticus 16:20, 2 Chronicles 29:24, Daniel 9:24. Most obviously the Israelites offered not their sacrifices to turn away their own enmity against God. Inasmuch, then, as those O.T. sacrifices were foreshadowings of Christ’s oblation, what a turning of things upside-down is it to affirm that the great end of Christ’s work was to reconcile sinners to God, instead of to divert God’s wrath from us. The testimony of the N.T. is equally plain and emphatic: then let us bow to the same, instead of resisting and reasoning against it.
Of Christ it is said, "Whom God hath set forth a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare (not His love or grace, but) His righteousness" (Rom. 3:25). Now a "propitiation" is that which placates or appeases by satisfying offended justice. The force of this verse is by no means weakened by the fact that the Greek word for "propitiation" is rendered "mercyseat" in Hebrews 9:5, for the mercyseat was a blood-sprinkled one. It was the place where the typical mediator applied the atoning sacrifice for the satisfying of God’s justice against the sins of His people. As a matter of fact the Hebrew word for "mercyseat" signifies "a covering," and it was so designated for two reasons: first, because it covered the ark, hiding from view the condemning Law—the tables of stone beneath it; and second, because the blood sprinkled upon it covered the offenses of Israel from the eye of offended justice by an adequate compensation. Thus it fittingly portrayed the averting of deserved vengeance by means of a substitutionary interposition.
"For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son; much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life" (Rom. 5:10). Yes, when we were "enemies," God’s enemies—obnoxious to His righteous judgment. This term denotes the relation in which we stood to God as the objects of His governmental displeasure and subject to the curse of His law. But we were "reconciled," that is, restored unto His favor, and that, not by the Spirit’s work in us subduing our enmity, but by "the death"—the propitiatory sacrifice—of God’s Son. That this statement refers to the turning away of God’s anger from us and the restoring us to His favor is clear from the previous verse: "Much more then, being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him." Now to be "justified is the same as God’s being reconciled to us, His acceptance of us into His favor, and not our conversion to Him. Being "justified by His blood" points to the procuring cause of our justification, and that blood was shed that we might be "saved from wrath." God is now pacified toward us, because His wrath was exhausted upon our Surety and Substitute.
"That He might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby" (Eph. 2:16). "That He," that is, the Mediator, the incarnate Son. "Might reconcile," that is, restore to God’s judicial favor. "Both," that is, elect Jews and elect Gentiles. "Unto God," that is, considered as the moral Governor of the world, the Judge of all the earth. "In one body," that is, Christ’s humanity, "the body of His flesh" (Col. 1:22)—here designated "one body" to emphasize the representative character of Christ’s atonement, as He sustained the responsibilities and liabilities of all His people: it is the One acting on behalf of the many as in Romans 5:17-19. "Having slain the enmity thereby," that is, God’s holy wrath, the hostility of His law. The "enmity" of verse 16 cannot possibly refer to that which existed between Jews and Gentiles, for that is disposed of in verses 14, 15. "Enmity" is here personified ("slain") as "sin" as in Romans 8:3. Thus, Ephesians 2:16 signifies, that all the sins of God’s people meeting on Christ, Divine justice took satisfaction from Him, and in consequence God’s "enmity" has ceased, and we are restored to His favor.
Let it not be thought that we are here inculcating the idea that Christ died in order to render God compassionate toward His people. Not so, the Father Himself is the Author of reconciliation: 2 Corinthians 5:19. The gracious means by which He designed to effect the reconciliation originated in His own love, yet the atonement of Christ was the righteous instrument of removing the breach between us. The term is entirely a forensic one, contemplating God in His office as Judge. It concerns our relationship to Him not as our Creator, or as our Father, but as our King. The reconciliation which Christ has effected wrought no change in God Himself, but it has in the administration of His government: His law now regards with approbation those against whom it was formerly hostile. Reconciliation means that transgressors have been restored to the judicial favor of God through Christ’s having closed the breach which sin had made. It was the amazing love of God which gave Christ to die for us, and His atonement was in order to the removing of those legal obstacles which our sins had interposed against God’s love flowing out to us in a way consistent with the honor of His justice.
The great controversy between God and His people has been settled. The fearful breach which their sins occasioned has been repaired. The Prince of peace has silenced the accusations of the law and removed our sins from before God’s face. Peace has been made—not a peace at any price, not at the cost of righteousness flouted; no, an honorable peace. "The God of peace," then signifies, first, the Judge of all is pacified; second, the King of Heaven has been reconciled to us; third, Jehovah, by virtue of His covenant-promises, has received us to His favor—for while He continued offended, we could not receive any gifts of grace from Him. Just as surely as Christ turned away God’s wrath from His elect, so does He in due time send the Holy Spirit into their hearts to destroy their enmity against God, this being a consequence of the former.
We trust that what is next to be before us will render yet more intelligible and forcible all that has been said above. "That brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus." Here is the grand evidence that God is pacified toward us. When God raised Christ from the dead, He showed that He was propitiated, that He had accepted the ransom which had been given for our redemption. Let it be carefully noted that in our present verse it is the Father who is said to raise Christ, and that, in His character of "the God of peace." We will consider these two things separately. There is an order preserved in the personal operations of the Godhead. Resurrection was a work of Divine power, and that Divine power belongs in common to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who being one and the same God concur in the same work. Yet They concur in a way proper to Them: in all Their personal operations it is ascribed to the Father, as the Fountain of working and Wellhead of all grace, who doth all things from Himself, yet by the Son and Spirit.
In the grand mystery of redemption God the Father sustains the office of supreme Judge, and hence we read "Let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36 and cf. 10:36). So it is in our text: the raising of Christ is there viewed not so much as an act of Divine power, as of rectoral justice. It is God exercising His judicial authority which is emphasized, as is clear from the particular terms used. We are ever the losers if, in our carelessness, we fail to note each single variation of language. It is not who "raised again," but "brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus." The force of that expression may be ascertained by comparing Acts 16:35, 37, 39. The apostles had been unlawfully imprisoned, and when, later, the magistrates bade them go forth, they refused, demanding an official delivery; and we are told "they came and brought them out of prison"—compare also John 19:4, 13 for the force of this term "brought."
When Christ was in the state of the dead, He was in effect a prisoner under the arrest of Divine vengeance; but when He was raised, then was our Savior let out of prison, and the word "brought again" suitably expresses that fact. Christ possessed the power to raise Himself—and considering His death and burial from another angle, He exercised that power; but in His official character as Surety, He lacked the necessary authority. The God of peace sent an angel to remove the stone from the sepulcher, not to supply any lack of power in Christ, but as the judge when he is satisfied sends an officer to open the prison doors. It was God Himself, as the Judge of all, who "delivered" Christ up for our offenses, and it was God who raised Him for our justification (Rom. 4:25). This was very blessed, for it evidences the perfect subjection of the Son to the Father even in the grave: He did not exercise His might and break prison, but waited till God brought Him forth honorably from the dead.
Let us next observe the particular office Christ sustained when the God of peace brought Him again from the dead: "that great Shepherd of the sheep." Note, not "the," but "that great Shepherd," because Paul was writing to those who were familiar with the O.T. "That Shepherd" signifies the One who was promised in such passages as "He shall feed His flock like a shepherd: He shall gather the lambs with His arm and carry them in His bosom" (Isa. 40:11), "And I will set up one Shepherd over them, and He shall feed them, even My Servant David: He shall feed them, and He shall be their Shepherd" (Ezek. 34:23)—the Object of the faith and hope of the Church from the beginning. Into the hands of our blessed Redeemer God placed His flock, to be justified and sanctified by Him. Let it be duly recognized that a shepherd is not the lord of the flock, but a servant to take charge of and care for it: "Thine they were, and Thou gavest them Me" (John 17:6) said Christ.
Christ is the "Shepherd of the sheep" and not of the "wolves" (Luke 10:3)or the "goats" (Matthew 25:32, 33), for He has received no charge from God to save them—how the basic truth of particular redemption stares us in the face on almost every page of Holy Writ! There are three main passages in the N.T. where Christ is viewed in this particular character. He is "the good Shepherd" (John 10:11) in death, the "great Shepherd" in resurrection, and the "chief Shepherd" in glory (1 Pet. 5:4). The "great Shepherd" of the sheep calls attention to the excellency of His person, while the "chief Shepherd" emphasizes His superiority over all His un-dershepherds or pastors, the One from whom they receive their authority. How jealously the Holy Spirit guarded the glory of Christ at every point: He is not only the "Shepherd" but "that great Shepherd," just as He is not only High Priest, but our "great High Priest" (Heb. 4:14), and not merely King, but "the King of kings."
"Through the blood of the everlasting covenant." This is obviously an allusion to "As for Thee also, by the blood of Thy covenant I have sent forth Thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water"—the grave (Zech. 9:11). What is said of Christ is often applied to the Church, and here what is said of the Church is applied to Christ, for together they form "one Body." If, then, He was brought back from the dead through the blood of the everlasting covenant, much more shall we be. To say that God brought again from the dead "that great Shepherd of the sheep" means, He was raised not as a private person, but as the public Representative of His people. "The blood of the everlasting covenant" was the meritorious cause; as it was "by His own blood He entered in once into the Holy Place" (Heb. 9:12) and that we have "boldness to enter into the Holiest by the blood of Jesus" (10:19), so it is according to the infinite value of His atoning blood that both the Shepherd and His sheep are delivered from the grave.
As Christ (and His people) was brought into death by the sentence of the Law, so from it He was restored by the law’s Administrator, and this according to His agreement with Him before the foundation of the world. This it is which gives additional meaning to the Divine title at the beginning of our verse: He is called "the God of peace" from that compact which He made with the Mediator, concerning which we read, "The counsel of peace shall be between Them Both" (Zech. 6:13); "My kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of My peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee" (Isa. 54:10). The older commentators were about equally divided as to whether the final clause of our verse refers to that eternal agreement between God and the Mediator or to the new testament or covenant (Matthew 26:28); personally, we believe that both are included. The new covenant (about which we hope to have more to say later in our Covenant articles) is proclaimed in the Gospel, wherein is made known the terms on which we personally enter into the peace which Christ has made, namely, repentance, faith, and obedience. The new covenant is ratified by Christ’s blood, and it is "everlasting" because its blessings are eternal.