Examining the Scriptures Daily

Hebrews 2:1 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

For this reason we must pay much closer attention[1] to the things that have been heard, so that we do not drift away[2] from it.

In the United States in 2010, the rate of traffic accidents was 12 per 100,000. Many of these deaths could have been avoided. How? Most occur because of distractions, not paying much closer attention, and drifting away into an object or head-on traffic. The driver is looking around reading signs, changing the radio station, eating food, talking or especially texting on a cell phone, instead of paying much closer attention to the road. These drivers refuse to accept that the tragedies they see on the internet or television can really happen to them. Immature ones can watch, even drive by the scene where four teens are horrifically killed in a head-on collision, because of texting, and then text while driving the next day.

Go back 2,000 years to the first-century, and the author of Hebrews is speaking of another type of distraction, which was contributing to the loss of eternal life among the Hebrew Christians. The author was making a point of Jesus superior position over the angels, the Aaronic priesthood, and the like, when he penned, “We must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” Why were these Hebrew Christians being exhorted to pay much closer attention, so that they would not drift away? The author penned Hebrews about 61 C.E., while Jesus ascended back to heaven in 33 C.E., some 28-years earlier. The expectation of Jesus return was very high, so much time was elapsing, and some of the Hebrew Christians were starting to drift away from the faith.

2:1. This verse introduces us to the plight of the readers. They had heard the gospel. They appeared ready to desert Jesus for some trifling replacement. The writer of Hebrews was horrified at this prospect!

Therefore reminded the people of the importance of the message about Jesus. The readers needed to listen because the truths of the gospel were too important to push aside. Issues of spiritual life and death were at stake. Whatever they did, the readers must hold fast to Jesus.

The idea of drifting away compared the audience to a boat sailing past warning signs to meet destruction and ruin on a rocky shore or in a raging rapid. The Hebrews needed to do something. They were listless while their situation demanded positive action. “Pay attention to your plight,” said our writer, “lest you carelessly fall into ruin.”[3]

Hebrew Christians Needed to Pay Much Closer Attention

Judaism is mostly identified with the religion of the Jews in the first century B.C.E. and the first and second centuries C.E. It should not be confused with the Israelite religion of the Old Testament from Abraham, the first Hebrew, to Moses and the Exodus (opening of OT), to the penning of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Malachi (closing of OT). Judaism twisted the Old Testament 39 books, coming up with oral laws that would make up the Mishnah[4] (c. 200 C.E.) and the Talmud (c. 500 C.E.) Why would those Jewish Christians want to return to Judaism? When we think of the things carried out under the Law, it was made up of things that could be seen by the eye. People were able to see the priest going about their business, and they could smell the burnt sacrifices. They could see the temple compound, the eighth wonder of the world. Christianity, on the other hand, was not based on the things seen, but rather things unseen. Those Jewish Christians had a high priest in Jesus Christ, but many had never seen him, as he had ascended back to heaven prior to them becoming a Christian. (Heb. 4:14) The Jewish Christians had a temple, but it was in heaven itself. (Heb. 9:24) Jews of Judaism were proud of their physical circumcision, while with the Jewish Christians “circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit.” (Rom. 2:29) Thus, we can see that the Hebrew Christian’s faith was previously, under Judaism, was based on touchable, perceptible, concrete and physical things, which had become a matter of faith after their conversion.

Those Jewish Christians were actually missing things that were seen because it had been a part of their lives since birth. Thus, the author of Hebrews, which this author accepts as being Paul,[5] felt the need to help them see that they actually had something far superior. While it was based primarily on faith as opposed to sight, it was superior to anything they had under the Mosaic Law. Making this point, Paul writes, “For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” (Heb. 9:13-14) Earlier in the letter Paul penned,

Hebrews 7:26-28 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

26 For it is fitting for us to have such a high priest who is loyal, innocent, undefiled, separated from the sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. 28 For the law appoints men as high priests who have weakness, but the statement of the oath, after the law, appoints a Son, who is made perfect forever.

THE CHRISTIAN APOLOGIST

While the above things about Jesus are the most important reasons for penning the book of Hebrews, Jesus himself offered another reason why those Jewish Christians and all other Christians need “must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” They lived in Jerusalem; it was 61 C.E., many years since Jesus ascension, but very close to when some of his words were going to find fulfillment. He had foretold the destruction of Jerusalem. He said,

Luke 19:43-44 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

43 For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade of pointed stakes[6] around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

Was Jerusalem ever surrounded by pointed stakes, as Jesus foretold would happen? If so, when would this take place? Just how close were they? Jesus foretells the destruction of Jerusalem; his words coming true in the year 70 C.E. when the Romans, under General Titus, erected pointed stakes, poles, used as a tall wall or enclosure driven into the ground side by side to keep the Jewish people trapped within their fortified city. He gave the following instructions,

Luke 21:20-21 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

20 “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know[7] that its desolation has come near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are in the midst of the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it;

Excursion The Great Tribulation

Matthew 24:15 Update American Standard Version (UASV)

The Abomination of Desolation

15 “Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation, which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand),

Matthew 24:13 reads, “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” Matthew 24:14 said, “this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” Matthew 24:15 begins with the Greek word hotan “whenever” followed by oun “therefore, which reads in English, “Therefore when,” which connects what preceded, “the end,” and leads into what follows. Let us take a moment to investigate verse 15.

In verse 3-14, Jesus outlined the signs of “the end of the age.” Here in Mathew, Jesus begins with “Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation, which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand).” If we look at the corresponding accounts in Mark and Luke, they offer us additional insights. Mark 13:14 says, “standing where it ought not to be.” Luke 21:20 adds Jesus’ words, “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know[8] that its desolation has come near.” The complete picture is an “abomination” “standing in the holy place,” i.e., “where it ought not be,” namely, “Jerusalem surrounded by armies,”

This is a reference to the Roman army, which assaulted Jerusalem and its temple starting in 66 C.E., under General Cestus Gallus. The temple was the “holy place” and the abomination was the Roman army “standing where it ought not to be.” As for the “desolation,” this came in 70 C.E. when General Titus of the Roman army completely desolated Jerusalem and its temple. Specifically, what was this “abomination”? Moreover, in what sense was it “standing in the holy place”?

When Jesus urged the readers to understand, what was it that they were to understand? They were to understand that “which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet,” i.e. Daniel 9:27. Part “b” of verse 27 reads “And upon the wing of abominations shall come the one causing desolation, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one causing desolation.”—Daniel 9:26-27; see also Daniel 11:31; 12:11.

The abomination of desolation is an expression that recurs in Daniel with some variation in wording (Daniel 8:13; 9:27; 11:31; 12:11), where most scholars agree that there is a reference to the desecration perpetrated by Antiochus Epiphanes when he built an altar to Zeus in the temple and offered swine and other unclean animals on it as sacrifices (cf. 1 Macc. 1:41–61).[9]

We can have it but one of two ways, as Jesus’ words is a clear reference to the Roman armies of 66 – 70 C.E. It may very well be that Daniel’s prophecy points to Antiochus Epiphanes “who in 167 [B.C.E., 200-years before Jesus uttered his prophecy] plundered the temple, ordered the sacrificial system to cease, and polluted the altar of the Lord by turning it into a pagan altar, where unclean sacrifices were offered to pagan deities.”[10] This would be no different from Matthew referring to Hosea 11:1 (When Israel was a child … and out of Egypt I called my son). In that case, Matthew did not use Hosea’s intended meaning, but carried out an Inspired Sensus Plenior Application, by having a whole other meaning, a completely different meaning for those words, making them applicable to Jesus being called back out of Egypt. It could be that Jesus used Daniel’s prophecy about Antiochus Epiphanes, and gave is an Inspired Sensus Plenior Application, by having a whole other meaning, a completely different meaning for those words, making them applicable to the Roman armies desolating Jerusalem between 66 and 70 C.E. Then, again, it could be that was what Daniel was pointing to all along, and Jesus used Daniel’s words in a grammatical-historical application. Either way, it still comes out the same.

During the days of the Maccabees this expression was used to describe the sacrilege of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Seleucid king who decreed that an altar to Olympian Zeus and perhaps a statue of himself were to be erected in the temple on 15 Chislev, 167 b.c.: “They erected a desolating sacrilege on the altar of burnt offering. They also built altars in the surrounding towns of Judah.” Antiochus further decreed that the Sabbath and other festal observances were to be profaned, that circumcision was to be abolished, and that swine and other unclean animals were to be sacrificed in the temple (cf. 1 Macc. 1:41–50). This was one of the lowest points of Jewish history and was considered by many the primary focus of Daniel’s prophecy. Jesus now quotes Daniel directly to clarify that the fulfillment of the “abomination that causes desolation” is yet future.[11]

When Jesus uttered those words of verse 15, the abomination of desolation was yet to appear. Jesus was clearly pointing to the Roman army of 66 C.E., with its distinctive standards, which were idols to the Romans and the empire, but an abomination to the Jews.

Roman Standards_

Judæa was under the charge of a Roman official, a subordinate of the governor of the Roman province of Syria, who held a relation to that functionary similar to that which the Governor of Bombay holds to the Governor-General at Calcutta. Roman soldiers paraded the streets of Jerusalem; Roman standards waved over the fastnesses of the country; Roman tax-gatherers sat at the gate of every town. To the Sanhedrin, the supreme Jewish organ of government, only a shadow of power was still conceded, its presidents, the high priests, being mere puppets of Rome, set up and put down with the utmost caprice. So low had the proud nation fallen whose ideal it had ever been to rule the world, and whose patriotism was a religious and national passion as intense and unquenchable as ever burned in any country.[12]

STANDARD OF THE 10TH ROMAN LEGION This legion attacked and destroyed Jerusalem in the Jewish War (A.D. 70).

Matthew 24:16 (UASV)

16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.

Mark 3:14b (UASV)

14 “… then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.

Luke 21:21 (UASV)

21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are in the midst of the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it;

Looking at verse 20 of Luke 21, we know that it fits the fact that General Cestius Gallus had “the holy city” Jerusalem (Matt. 4:5) surrounded, which had become the center of the Jewish revolt against Rome. Thirty-three years had passed since Jesus uttered his prophecy, but now the “abomination of desolation” of Rome was near. Gallus and his armies were responding to the Jewish revolt, at the time of the celebration of the festival of booths (tabernacles), October 19-25. On about November 3-4, the Roman army entered the city of Jerusalem, where they attacked the temple wall for five days, weakening it on the sixth day. However, for some unforsaken reason, he pulls away. On this attack of Cestius Gallus, Josephus’ Wars of the Jews 2.539, says that “had he but continued the siege a little longer, had certainly taken the city; but it was, I suppose, owing to the aversion God had already at the city and the sanctuary, that he was hindered from putting an end to the war that very day.” A footnote in Flavius Josephus and William Whiston reads,

There may another very important, and very providential, reason be here assigned for this strange and foolish retreat of Cestius; which, if Josephus had been now a Christian, he might probably have taken notice of also; and that is, the affording the Jewish Christians in the city an opportunity of calling to mind the prediction and caution given them by Christ about thirty-three years and a half before, that “when they should see the abomination of desolation” [the idolatrous Roman armies, with the images of their idols in their ensigns, ready to lay Jerusalem desolate,] “stand where it ought not;” or, “in the holy place;” or, “when they should see Jerusalem encompassed with armies,” they should then “flee to the mountains.” By complying with which those Jewish Christians fled to the mountains of Perea, and escaped this destruction. See Lit. Accompl. of Proph. pp. 69–70. Nor was there, perhaps, any one instance of a more unpolitic, but more providential conduct than this retreat of Cestius, visible during this whole siege of Jerusalem; which yet was providentially such a “great tribulation, as had not been from the beginning of the world to that time; no, nor ever should be.”—Ibid., pp. 70–71.[13]

Matthew 24:17-18 (UASV)

17 Let the man who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, 18 and let the man who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak.

Mark 13:15-16 (UASV)

15 let the man who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter his house, to take anything out; 16 and let the man who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak.

When General Gallus suddenly, for no seemingly good reason, withdrew his armies, they suffered substantial fatalities at the hands of the Jews, who were pursuing them. This would wake the Jewish and Gentile Christians to Jesus’ words, and that a great tribulation would soon be upon them. (Matt. 24:21) This gave them the opportunity to flee, and for no Christian, to return until the tribulation had passed. Eusebius of Caesarea (260/265 – 339/340 C.E.), a Christian, who was a Roman historian, writes,

But the people of the church in Jerusalem had been commanded by a revelation, vouchsafed to approved men there before the war, to leave the city and to dwell in a certain town of Perea called Pella.[14] And when those that believed in Christ had come thither from Jerusalem, then, as if the royal city of the Jews and the whole land of Judea were entirely destitute of holy men, the judgment of God at length overtook those who had committed such outrages against Christ and his apostles, and totally destroyed that generation of impious men. (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.5.3)

Josephus, first-century Jewish historian (33- 100 C.E.), tells us that the Jews waited for God’s help, not realizing this was the day of the Lord, a judgment day upon them,

A false prophet[15] was the occasion of these people’s destruction, who had made a public proclamation in the city that very day, that God commanded them to get up upon the temple, and that there they should receive miraculous signs of their deliverance. Now, there was then a great number of false prophets suborned by the tyrants to impose upon the people, who denounced this to them, that they should wait for deliverance from God: and this was in order to keep them from deserting, and that they might be buoyed up above fear and care by such hopes. Now, a man that is in adversity does easily comply with such promises; for when a such a seducer makes him believe that he shall be delivered from those miseries which oppress him, then it is that the patient is full of hopes of such deliverance. (Josephus, Wars of the Jews 6.285–87)

Dio Chrysostom expresses wonder at the level of Jewish fight that they possessed to the very end of the revolt,

The Jews resisted [Titus] with more ardor than ever, as if it were a kind of windfall [an unexpected piece of luck] to fall fighting against a foe far outnumbering them; they were not overcome until a part of the Temple had caught fire. Then some impaled themselves voluntarily on the swords of the Romans, others slew each other, others did away with themselves or leaped into the flames. They all believed, especially the last, that it was not a disaster but victory, salvation, and happiness to perish together with the Temple. (Dio Chrysostom, Orations 66.6–2–3.)

Zondervan’s Illustrated Bible Background Commentary on Matthew 24:17 tell us, “Likewise, there will not be time to gather provisions in the home. The flat rooftops on many homes in Israel were places to find a cool breeze in the evening and were considered part of the living quarters.” (Arnold 2002, 150) In Jewish homes of those who could afford a multiform house, there was a staircase outside that led to the roof. The poor would have had a ladder in the courtyard, which led to the roof. Therefore, anyone on the housetop of their home, which was very common, could leave without having to enter their home. Moreover, many homes were built side-by-side, and it was possible to walk from one rooftop to the next. These backgrounds fit what Jesus meant by the words that he used. Whether Jesus meant his words in a hyperbolic sense of, ‘when you see these things, act immediately, do not delay,’ or literally, ‘do not even look back, get out,’ it is clear that Christians considered Jesus’ warning serious, knowing that mere materials were not worth the loss of their lives.

Zondervan’s Illustrated Bible Background Commentary on Matthew comments on verse 18 that “The outer coat was an essential garment for traveling, often used as a blanket when sleeping outdoors, and only those in the greatest hurry would think of leaving it behind.” (Arnold 2002, 150) ZIBBC comments on Mark 13:18, saying “Winter is the time of heavy rains in Palestine, flooding roads and wadis.303 Gadarene refugees during the first revolt sought shelter in Jericho but could not cross the swollen Jordan and were slain by the Romans.304 Winter travel is also hazardous if people are to traverse mountain passes.” (Arnold 2002, 283)

Matthew 24:19 Update American Standard Version (UASV)

19 But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days!

Certainly, the modern day woman has taken on some very rigorous activities. Recently, this author saw news of a woman in her eighth month of pregnancy, running a marathon. However, in the days of the first century C.E., an extended flight over mountainous terrain on foot would be very difficult and quite dangerous. This would be especially true for any woman close to her due date. When the Romans finally desolated Jerusalem in 70 C.E., pregnant women, and those with young, were shown no mercy by the Roman troops. As the months of laying siege to the city drug on feminine prevailed, which for a pregnant woman, the baby would be robbing the woman of nourishment. For example, the baby would take the mother’s calcium for bone development, meaning the woman could lose all of her teeth. Moreover, some mother gave birth and had to watch her child starve to death, and in some cases, the people would take the child, cook it and eat it.

Matthew 24:20 Update American Standard Version (UASV)

20 But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath.

This verse is self-explanatory, as we can only imagine the Christians trying to escape over mountainous terrain during the winter. Imagine, if they ignored the warning, procrastinated until the Roman troops arrived, and had to make their escape in the winter; when, they could have left earlier. Zondervan’s Illustrated Bible Background Commentary on Matthew comments on verse 18, saying, “Flight in winter, when roads are washed out and rivers are swollen, presents even more difficulty for those fleeing the horrors of the coming desolation. In prayer the disciples must cling to God’s presence and ever-ready help, even though they may have to disrupt even the most devoutly held religious traditions, such as the Jewish Sabbath.” (Arnold 2002, 150)

Matthew 24:21 Update American Standard Version (UASV)

21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.

As we looking at Matthew 24:15-22 with Luke 21:20-24, the great tribulation of Jesus’ prophecy is applicable to what took place in Jerusalem. The fulfillment of these words came in 70 C.E., when General Titus and his Roman armies laid siege to the city, desolating it, killing 1,100,000 Jews, whereas 97,000 who survived were taken into captivity. (Whiston 1987, Wars of the Jews 6.420) Some might argue that the 6,000,000 million Jews killed by Hitler during World War II was certainly a greater tribulation than 70 C.E. However, the difference is God used the Roman army as a tool to judge (“a day of the Lord”) the Jews for their 1,500 years of false worship, child sacrifice, murder, and the execution of the Son of God. After 70 C.E. Jerusalem was never again the holy city that it once was, nor were the Jews God’s chosen people. Therefore, the suffering that the Jews faced during World War II was not as a judgment of God, but rather an unexpected or unforeseen event of human imperfect, as the result of Adamic sin, no different than any other atrocity on humanity.

Matthew 24:22 Update American Standard Version (UASV)

22 And if those days had not been cut short, no flesh would have been saved: but for the chosen ones[16] sake those days shall be shortened.

Again, these words are applicable to a preliminary fulfillment in 66-70 C.E. If we recall the city was under siege by General Cestius Gallus, who had the city, were undermining the Temple wall, with many of the Jews ready to surrender, but for some unknown reason pulled away, suffering great casualties at the hands of the pursuing Jews. Had Gallus not pulled away, leaving several years before Titus would come back and finish the job, the chosen ones, i.e., predominantly Jewish and some Gentile Christians would have not been saved from the desolation. Yes, they heeded Jesus words, “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know[17] that its desolation has come near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are in the midst of the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it.” (Luke 21:20-21) Thus, the Christians fled the city that was doomed to suffer destruction of 70 C.E. – End of Excursion

Christians Today Must Pay Much Closer Attention

CONVERSATION EVANGELISM

Just as those first century Christians need to pay much closer attention, so it is true of Christians today. We need to pay much closer to the Word of God because there is more destruction on the horizon. Of course, like them, we do not know the day or the hour. However, it is better to be awake when the thief breaks in your house. Moreover, we would not want to be distracted by the things of this world of humankind, who are alienated from God. After foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem, Jesus wrote, “But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” Luke 21:36

What can we do to motivate ourselves spiritually, paying much closer attention, to stay awake? Of course, being prepared and regular at our Christian meetings is crucial. Moreover, we do not just want to have a Bible that we carry around, but rather become a student of God’s Word. The Psalmist tells us, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Psalm 119:105

Consider the Bible can light up the path of things to come, things that are distant. On the other hand, the Bible can light up our every step into that distant future, helping us to make day-to-day decisions. This is why we need to pay much closer attention, as we prepare for Christian services and carry out personal Bible study at home. The knowledge, understanding, wisdom and insight that we will acquire will help us make decisions that will please God. (Pro. 27:11; Isa. 48:17) How can we increase our focus during Christian meetings?

Cultivating Our Attentiveness

THE EVANGELISM HANDBOOK

There are many things at a Christian meeting, which can sap us of our attention. It may be a crying infant just a few aisles over. It may be someone whispering behind us. It may be someone showing up late, trying to find a seat. It may be that we just finished eight hours at an extremely physical job, and both body and mind are tired. Moreover, maybe the speaker or the conductor is not the exciting. All or any of this can cause the mind to drift away. In extreme cases, these circumstances could cause us almost to fall asleep. Therefore, how can we cultivate our ability to be attentive during such trying times?

If we had prepared well at home, before the day of the meeting, it would be much easier to follow. Therefore, if we know what is going to be considered at future meetings, it might be prudent to buy out the time in the convenience of our home, to prepare. If we know what is coming in the Bible study class, we can work through that section by reading, meditating and writing down our thoughts in the margins of our book, or on a notepad. We can also look up each of the cited Scriptures, reading them, and even consider them in a commentary volume. If we have a schedule, we could prepare well for all of the meetings we attend. This will be even more efficient in those meeting, where participation is permissible.

Another trick to staying focused is to set closer to the podium as all the distractions will be far behind us. Moreover, we can look directly at the speaker as we follow along in our Bible. In addition, we can bring our notepad, adding notes from the points the speaker brings out, comparing them with ours. These techniques should keep our mind from wondering. There is little doubt that a prepared heart is far more beneficial that any guru method on focusing. Moreover, our inner person needs value why we gather. i.e., to praise and worship the Creator of the universe, the one from who we received life. (Ps. 26:12; Lu 2:36-37) It is also an opportunity to be fed spiritually. (Matt. 5:3) Lastly, the meetings give us an opportunity, “to stir up one another to love and good works.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

We can tend to view the Christian services through worldly lenses: if those conducting are skilled, we see it as a good service, but if the conductors lack in any way, we see it as a bad service. Of course, we should expect our religious leaders to give their best to God and us (1 Tim. 4:16), but we should not be overly critical of our leaders, expecting some charismatic personality that moves us more with emotions, as opposed to biblical insights. That is like feeding on junk food, as opposed to a good healthy meal. The former tastes good, but it has no lasting benefits and can do more harm than good. The latter may not have the exhilarating taste of the former but will fill us spiritually, holding us over for the long haul. While the teaching ability of those taking the lead has some significance, it is not the totality, when it comes to being spiritually fed. If our desire is to take in the very knowledge of God, the speaker’s abilities will be but a minor bump in the road, which we can easily get over, as he grows into his role. (Pro. 2:1-6) Therefore, let us be determined to “pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.”

Personal Bible Study

YOUR GUIDE FOR DEFENDING THE BIBLE_Third Edition

We must also “pay much closer attention to what we have heard” by way of our personal Bible study as well. The Holy Spirit can call to mind the things that we have fed our mind, but only if we have fed our mind. When we take some time out of each day to meditate on the Bible, using Bible study tools (Bible dictionaries, commentaries, word study, encyclopedias, and the like), it will implant biblical truths within our mind and heart. This will benefit us, and those who listen to us. It will affect our thinking (biblical worldview), our actions (Christlike), and help us make disciples of those who are reasonable. (Ps. 1:2; 40:8; Matt. 13; 28:19-20) Therefore, we need to cultivate attentiveness when we study on our own as well. Interruptions are controllable. We can turn off our home phone and cell phone. We can turn off the radio. Then again, it could be that we seem to have a short attention span. We may prepare to study, highly excited, but within a few minutes, we may lose our focus, daydreaming, or worrying about life’s troubles. How can we “pay much closer attention”?

We can do this by having foresight. If we know that we have a short attention span, prepare to cope with such. We can set up a schedule, i.e., set a specific time for each day, one that is less likely to be interrupted. In other words, do not look for a time each day, but rather, have a time each day and do not allow anything to interrupt, except a family emergency. Make sure all family and friends know your seriousness about not being interrupted. Give them examples of things, for which they may interrupt, and examples of things for which they may not. (Eph. 5:15-16) If we are a morning person, we may get up before others do. If we are not, or that is impossible, the evening may be best. (John 17:3) The point is we should not neglect a consistent regular study of God’s Word, especially if we hope to be an effective apologist, an evangelist. For this reason, we need to make a schedule and stick to it.

Meditating is emptying the mind of thoughts (i.e., distractions), to concentrate the mind on one thing, in order to aid mental or spiritual growth. It is the process of thinking about something carefully, calmly, seriously, and for some time, to arrive at God’s thoughts, not man’s thoughts. It will help us apply God’s Word in our lives correctly and in a balanced manner. (Jam. 1:22-25) It will help us to draw closer to God as we reflect on his Word. Thus, our focus should be, what the author meant by what he penned, and how is this applicable to my life.

In addition, as an apologist, we are always looking at how we can use Scriptures to reach the heart of others. We want to pause when we come to the text, which seems to be the answer to a question we have read, or may have heard. We will want to take some time digging through the Bible study tools, to find out if it is the answer. One thing we do not wish to do is to misinterpret and misapply a verse. There is nothing more humiliating than to reference the text to a Bible critic. He says something like, “that verse does not mean that you are using it out of context. If you look at the historical setting, it means …” Yes, Bible critics are quite well informed and can have a good grasp of Scripture. While we ‘study to be approved,’ they study to disprove. Generally, we do not waste our time with Bible critics, who do not have receptive hearts. However, there may be a time where the conversation is in a public forum, or in public, and failing to answer, leaves the impression the Bible critic is correct. This does not mean that we must always have a response. We can simply say, “I must humbly admit, I do not know, but I will study it out, and give you an answer if you are genuinely interested.”

Review Questions

  • What illustration makes a point of how distractions can cause a disaster?
  • What counsel did the apostle Paul give the Hebrew Christians, and why was it beneficial and timely?
  • Why were some of the Jewish Christians tempted to return to Judaism?
  • Why was the worship implemented by Jesus superior to that of the Mosaic Law?
  • What situation was on the horizon that made it vitally important that the first-century Christians ‘pay much closer attention to what they had heard, lest they drift away’?
  • When Paul penned the letter to the Hebrews, how long was it before the destruction of Jerusalem?
  • Why is it just as vitally important that Christians today ‘pay much closer attention to what they are hearing, lest they drift away’?
  • What can we do to show that we are cultivating attentiveness to spiritual matters?
  • How are God’s Word like a lamp to our feet and light to our path?
  • Why can paying attention to our Christian services be difficult at times?
  • What can we do to improve our being able to pay attention?
  • What is it that truly makes a Christian meeting successful?
  • How does personal Bible study and meditation benefit us?
  • How can we make the most out of our personal Bible study time?
  • What is meditation, and how does it help us?
  • What can we do to improve our attentiveness in our personal Bible study?
  • What does the Holy Spirit need to call things back to our minds?
  • In summary, what do we need to do to become an effective evangelist, apologist, as well as help us draw closer to God?

[1] Pay Attention: (Gr. prosechō) The sense of prosechō is to give heed or the need to pay attention. One must hold more firmly to what they believe, or what they have known to be true. Paul is telling these Hebrew Christians, who no longer have the visual aids like the temple, or the Jewish high priest, you need to hold more firmly to the things that you have heard.

[2] Drift Away: (Gr. pararreō) The sense of pararreō is to disbelieve or drift away gradually or slowly from what one had formerly known to be true. It is like being carried away by water current. These Hebrew Christians because of their daily harassment from the Jews in and around Jerusalem, living in the place where they can see what we now call the eighth wonder of the world, the Jewish temple, were gradually giving up their belief in the truth.–Heb. 2:1.

[3] Thomas D. Lea, Hebrews, James, vol. 10, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 24.

[4] The Mishnah is the Jewish law from the oral tradition, as distinguished from law derived from the scriptures, but more like read into the Scriptures. The Talmud is a book of Jewish law, i.e., the collection of ancient Jewish writings that forms the basis of Jewish religious law, consisting of the early scriptural interpretations Mishnah and the later commentaries on them Gemara (literally, “study”).

[5] Who Authored the Book of Hebrews: A Defense for Pauline Authorship

https://christianpublishinghouse.co/2016/11/02/who-authored-the-book-of-hebrews-a-defense-for-pauline-authorship/

[6] Barricade: (Gr. Charax) The Greek noun means pointed stakes, poles, used as a tall fence or enclosure driven into the ground side by side to keep out enemies or intruders. However, it can be used to keep enemies within an ancient fortified city. In 70 C.E., the Roman general, Titus, surrounded Jerusalem with a barricade.–Luke 19:43

[7] Or then recognize

[8] Or then recognize

[9] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1992), 603.

[10] Larry Chouinard, Matthew, The College Press NIV Commentary (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1997), Mt 24:15.

[11] Clinton E. Arnold, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 148.

[12] James Stalker, The Life of Jesus Christ (Chicago: Henry A. Sumner and Company, 1882), 30–31.

[13] Flavius Josephus and William Whiston, The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987).

[14] Pella was a town situated beyond the Jordan, in the north of Perea, within the dominions of Herod Agrippa II. The surrounding population was chiefly Gentile. See Pliny V. I8, and Josephus, B. J. III. 3. 3, and I. 4. 8. Epiphanius (De pond. et mens. 15) also records this flight of the Christians to Pella.

[15] Reland here justly takes notice that these Jews who had despised the true Prophet, were deservedly abused and deluded by these false ones.

[16] Or the elect

[17] Or then recognize