Hebrews Study #2: “A Fear of Intimacy . . . . . . . . with God”
Why do Fallen Men and Women Gravitate Toward a Human Mediator?
By Richard Allen – February 20, 2023
The picture at the top of this week’s Blog should say it all. In this picture, the artist displays the Israelites cowering in fear before the smoldering and quaking Mountain (Horeb), where Moses had been meeting with God Almighty. After leaving bondage in Egypt, they were miraculously delivered through the Red Sea by the hand of God. Now, they stood before Moses – who had just given them the Ten Commandments – yet they were literally “shaking in their sandals” before our Holy God’s presence on the smoldering mountain. They were so fearful of God, they pleaded with Moses:
“Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was (Exodus 20:18-21).
What a picture. The top of a huge mountain literally burning with fire, rumblings, lightning and thunder – and the people of God standing as far away from God’s presence as they could. But what they said was even more startling, pleading with Moses to speak to them instead of hearing from God: “You speak to us Moses, we’ll listen. But don’t let God speak to us, as we might die!” We might sympathize with the Israelites at Horeb, but I fear that their attitude was not limited to seeing God’s power at Horeb. I think many believers and even non-religious people, when confronted with the God of the Bible have a similar response: “We don’t want a direct relationship with such a powerful and scary God, we want a Mediator, a Priest, a Moses, or a Clergyman to stand between God and Us! Direct contact with God is risky, so we’d rather have someone be our “representative” to stand between God and Us.”
This fear of intimacy with God is nothing like Job’s longing for a mediator to stand between God and himself (Job 9:33). No, this “Fear of Intimacy with a Holy God” comes from guilt-ridden people who still were in their sins and terrified of God, the Holy Judge of all! The writer of Hebrews actually alludes to the passage quoted above from Exodus 20 where the Israelites had been encamped around Horeb, saying that “the mountain burned with blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet, making the fearful hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them by God” (Hebrews 12:18-19). The writer of the Book of Hebrews confronts this fear of intimacy with God and the Israelites’ desire to have a mediator – by encouraging these Jewish Christians not to long for a “priestly representative,” like their ancestors sought from Moses. This is rather astounding when you think about it.
The question may be asked: “OK, if we don’t have a priest or mediator to tell us what God wants, how are we to know this God? And by what means might we have knowledge and have intimate fellowship with Him? We are blessed that the writer of Hebrews gives us a great answer, but some people just don’t want to hear it:
“Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will” (Hebrews 2:1-4).
The writer of Hebrews warns these Jewish Christians that Jesus is the “Son by whom God is now speaking” (Hebrews 1:2). He also warns his readers that there will be no escape from coming judgment if they fail to listen to Jesus the Son, who has fully declared God’s salvation to us. You may ask: “How do we know what the Son has spoken?” The answer is quite simple, as the writer further adds that our salvation was attested (confirmed) to us by “those who heard Jesus speak, that is the Apostles” (Hebrews 2:3). Their words alone were “certified through signs and wonders and witnessed to by God the Holy Spirit” (Hebrews 2:4)! This is the “infallible chain of authority” for the revelation God gave us regarding this great salvation: 1) The Father speaking, 2) Through the Son whom He appointed the heir of all! 3) The Son’s declaration confirmed by His Apostles, and 4) God certifying the Apostles’ witness by manifestations of the Holy Spirit! So, in reality it’s the word of God – the Bible alone, that is the only revelation which flows from God’s “infallible chain of authority!” Why would anyone turn again to another priest, mediator or spokesman?
Chapters one and two of Hebrews makes clear that this infallible chain of authority is the only authority God has ordained. No angel or other mediator has been appointed to speak for God. It’s listening to Jesus the Son, proclaimed by the words of His Apostles that brings real intimacy with God! That’s why God said: “This is my Son, Listen to Him” (Luke 9:35). Denominations which somehow fancy that God gave them the authority to invent a manmade priesthood – of which neither Jesus nor His Apostles approved – have only managed to place their church-machinery between men and God. As we’ll see in coming weeks from the Book of Hebrews – ALL OF THESE PRIESTLY FUNCIONS HAVE ALL BEEN FULFILLED, COMPLETED AND DONE AWAY IN CHRIST! And just in case you think I’m only picking on the old mainline denominations - just know that I also worry that many so-called Bible believing denominations have put their clergy in the place of human priests! I can’t tell you how sick it makes me feel that some mere mortal thinks he or even she is “God’s Man,” that is, a chosen representative of God, mediating salvation to the people. As Jesus died on Calvary’s cross, the hand of God reached down into the Jewish Temple (that God himself had ordained) and gave us an amazing sign that the status quo Old Testament priestly functions were over – and God would never again dwell or be limited to a physical building made with human hands (Acts 17:24). In the Book of Matthew it says:
“And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many” (Matthew 27:50-53).
The writer of the book of Hebrews, expounding on this, explained that this ripped veil in the temple had walled off God’s presence in the Holy Place from anyone except the High Priest, and then only once a year (on Yom Kippur):
“ ‘This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,’ then He adds, ‘Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.’ Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin. Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?” (Hebrews 10:16-29).
These are amazing words of exhortation to us. The Jewish Priesthood, Temple, Altar and all the trappings of “pre-Christian faith” were completely eliminated when God ripped the veil open that served as a barrier between God and Man! We are told that with “boldness we can enter the Holiest place by the blood of Jesus in a new and living way.” I surmise the 1st Century Jews tried to repair that curtain and for the next 40 years offered “useless sacrifices” that God neither asked for, nor accepted. Why would He? After Jesus came as the High Priest over God’s real house, He could now offer full assurance of faith, a cleansing of our hearts from “evil consciences,” that is – consciences that are burdened with the knowledge of our sin. This is the New and Living way for the Children of God during these wonderful last days when God has fully and finally spoken to us by His Son – and brought us into intimate fellowship with Him by His Spirit! Who in their right mind would want to go back and erect another veil or altar or priesthood or priestly sacrifices – which would mean that “we are still in our sins,” and the way to God is still closed.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has brought us into such glorious freedom, forgiveness and intimacy by His Son. By Jesus, we’ve been made heirs of the world to come! (James 2:5).