Remember these two points as we study this chapter:
Outline of chapter two:
“For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away.”
For this reason:
The prepositional phrase, for this reason, relates this verse to the first chapter. Our next word is a personal pronoun which is a special warning to Jewish unbelievers residing in Jerusalem in 67 AD, three years before the fall of Jerusalem. We is used in a very interesting way here. The writer is a believer, but the passage coming up is a challenge to unbelievers. He uses the personal pronoun we to warn to beware of missing the port of eternal life, because if you refuse to believe in Jesus Christ you are going to be overtaken by a national catastrophe. Believing in Christ not only meant their personal salvation but believing in Christ meant their personal safety in the coming Jewish war with Rome. So he identified himself with his people. Whoever the writer was, he was a Jew, he was a believer and he wrote one of the most unique of all of the books of the Bible. He was a fantastic person in that as a believer in Jesus Christ he felt the desperate need of the hour, and he identified himself with unbelievers to bring them this message. He wasn’t an unbeliever but at that moment he was speaking to unbelievers, he was identifying himself with them, and he was exercising a function of his priesthood which indicated his maturity. He was willing to take responsibility as part of the pivot of mature believers for his own nation.
The word must is taken from a verb which is an impersonal form to indicate logical necessity. The logical necessity is for religious types, and of course religious types are the most difficult ones to reach with the Gospel. The Jews who lived in Jerusalem were generally very religious people. One of the most difficult people in the world to share the Gospel with are religious people. They have too many theories and ideas on how they are going to get to Heaven. They have built a hundred back doors into Heaven through legalism. They all have their own little pet ideas and they will hang on to them if for no other reason than they want to argue with you and prove you wrong.
The Jews at this time, in a state of unbelief and in a state of religion, had held to the Levitical priesthood. When people are often uncertain as to their destiny they try to find some tradition on which to anchor it. Therefore they had a temple in which they used animal sacrifices. They had a priesthood. Even though many of the priests were not even related to the tribe of Levi they still functioned as priests. They had lots of ceremonies and religious activities, lots of religious days which they had added to the feasts of the Levitical code, and they dabbled in these things and they clung to these things. All through this epistle we are going to find the writer showing that these things had a purpose in the past, that that purpose is now gone, that there is a new purpose for believers, there is a new purpose in life. And the new purpose in life is related to the fact that the priesthood to which they cling, and the ceremonies and the functions of that priesthood, are all shadows, they’re gone and that there is now an eternal priesthood. And as religious types functioning under the temple activities, they were very far from these things, and that in the function of their priesthood and observing all of their sacrifices they are actually in the worst possible shape; they are on the way to the Lake of Fire (Hell) with these things.
The Jews had their ritual and it brought them together. It gave them national consciousness at a time when Rome was about to destroy them again. They related it to their nation, to their freedom, and unfortunately they related it to God. But you can’t take the shadows of ritual and get any reality with God. In the past that ritual had reality because Christ had not yet come in the flesh. But once Jesus Christ came and died on the Cross for our sins, and was raised again and ascended, now if that ritual still used it has no reality. It is shadow worship. Tragically the shadow worshippers were not going to Heaven, they had not believed in Jesus Christ. There were also reversionistic believers who joined them, and by joining them, encouraged them to think that they had some reality. But in the year 67 AD the offering of the animal sacrifices had no reality. The man who wrote this book was a Jew. His heart was broken because all of these rituals when they pointed to Christ before He came were wonderful, but now that Christ had come and these people had rejected Him, they were left with an empty shell called religion, and they were left with a ritual that had no meaning. Because the writer is a Jew by birth but a believer by faith in Christ, he is really not a Jew any more but a member of the body of Christ. He therefore can understand the tragedy of the religious Jew in 67 AD. And not only does he understand the tragedy but he has under the ministry of God the Holy Spirit the most fantastic compassion you will ever see in writing.
The word pay here means to embrace. He used the word pay directed to unbelieving Jews because every day they faced the altar of the temple, they observed animal sacrifices, they watched the high priest, and the priests in their function in the rituals. And they thought that was reality; but it wasn’t. The reality is with the High Priest, Jesus Christ. The phrase pay much closer attention is demanding that Jewish unbelievers stop this ritual for a minute and listen. The ritual is ritual without reality and it is going to send them to the Lake of Fire if they don’t wake up to the truth. The reality lies in Who and what Jesus Christ is: what He has done for them on the Cross.
The Jews had heard the Gospel all of their lives. They had the Torah, the Old Testament Scriptures. They had been hearing the Gospel in many different ways, but rejecting it in favor of the Law and tradition. The writer now relates the reality of the situation. All of this ritual is meaningless, the time is short, this ritual is about to be wiped out. This ritual which was blinding them was going to be removed because the Romans were going to destroy the Temple. Drift away is used in a nautical sense of a ship facing the possibility of a great storm and not able to enter the harbor of safety which is analogous to the place of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. And these Jews were drifting past (failure to believe in Christ), and once they drifted past, the storm (destruction of Israel) was going to hit them. The storm would happen in 70 AD and this warning was given in 67 AD. The Jews were facing national catastrophe. They were warned to stop practicing the Mosaic Law and believe in the reality that the shadows and types portrayed, Jesus Christ.
“For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?”
Here was the reason why the unsaved Jews should pay more attention to the Gospel than they ever had before. The reason was because the time was short, and they were about to face great national disaster. In that national disaster, many of them would die and some would go into slavery. And the only way to avoid these things was to respond to the Gospel, believe in Christ, and get out of Jerusalem as a result of understanding doctrine.
Both the unbeliever and the believer in reversionism are dabbling in shadows. With the believer: crucifying the Son of God afresh; putting Him to open shame — Hebrews 6:6; with the unbeliever: drifting by the port of eternal salvation — Hebrews 2:1. Now that man is superior to angels and now that the born again believer is positionally superior to angels — though not physically at the present time — how does he get the Word of God today? Not through ritual, not through shadows, you get it through accurate doctrinal teaching by a pastor-teacher. Human beings are provided a spiritual gift and in the provision of that spiritual gift members of the human race in a body of corruption can communicate things that the elect angels didn’t even know of. Remember that the Church Age doctrine is a mystery doctrine, and not only did the people in the Old Testament not know about it, but neither did the angels.
The angels could communicate Old Testament doctrine when allowed to, but Church Age doctrine is currently communicated by pastor-teachers. Therefore it is fitting that in God’s plan of grace that men, starting with the apostles and continuing in every generation with pastor-teachers, should communicate things that angels did not even know of. In Ephesians 3:10 we have this fact, that the angels listen in on sermons so they can learn it too. The angels learn from the Church the wonderful things of God. But now that the Word of God is completed angels have nothing to do with communication. And the power to communicate is from God the Holy Spirit. The doctrine communicated through the channel of angels was not changeable by man because they spoke as directed by God. (Matthew 1:20; 2:13; Luke 1:11-13, 26-28; Acts 10:3-6; 27:23-24)
Disobedience means negative volition toward doctrine, unwillingness to hear Bible teaching, including the Gospel. And so there were two kinds of violations in this verse. First there was the direct violation of the law called transgression. Second there was a violation of unwillingness to hear called disobedience. The words just recompense mean fair punishment for either direct violation of the law or unwillingness to hear doctrine (specifically the Gospel message).