A Son Worthy of More Glory than Moses
Topic: Perseverance of the Saints Passage: Hebrews 3:1–6
1 Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, 2 who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house. 3 For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. 4 (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) 5 Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, 6 but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.
“She now realized that Scrubb had some excuse for being white, for no cliff in our world is to be compared with this. Imagine yourself at the top of the very highest cliff you know. And imagine yourself looking down to the very bottom. And then imagine that the precipice goes on below that, as far again, ten times as far, twenty times as far. And when you’ve looked down all that distance imagine little white things that might, at first glance, be mistaken for sheep, but presently you realize that they are clouds—not wreathes of mist but the enormous white, puffy clouds which are themselves as big as most mountains. And at last, in between those clouds, you get your first glimpse of the real bottom, so far away that you can’t make out whether it’s field or wood, or land or water: further below those clouds than you are above them. Jill stared at it.”
C. S. Lewis describes that cliff in The Silver Chair. To follow his words is to sense the true greatness of that towering cliff, even to feel the butterflies in your gut. Why do his words have such impact? Partly, it’s the type of comparison. He doesn’t make the cliff sound high by putting down other cliffs. He takes the greatest cliffs we’ve experienced and then shows how far this one dwarfs them. He takes the mountainous thunderheads we know and then exposes them as but little sheep next to this great cliff.
Hebrews makes similar comparisons when describing Jesus’ greatness. In chapters 1 and 2, he does it with angels. Angels are truly great beings. But “the name Jesus inherited is more excellent than theirs.” Even more, he created them. To follow his words is to sense Jesus’ true greatness, even to feel the weight of his glory in your gut.
In the first six verses of chapter 3, Hebrews now makes a similar comparison with Moses. He’s worthy of more glory than Moses. The contrast may sound irrelevant. But to know the Bible’s storyline is to know that Moses is a figure of immense importance. God chose Moses to deliver his people from Egypt. God gave Moses the Law. God spoke with Moses face to face. God listened to Moses when he interceded. Moses words governed Israel for hundreds and hundreds of years. Even into the New Testament we find this struggle in the early church: what to do with the Law of Moses, what does the gospel imply about Moses.[i] Moses is a big deal, especially for Jews.
These Jews have become Christians at some point. But they’re now wavering in their commitment to Jesus. Part of that is due to their own passivity. They’re drifting away. The other part is due to persecution. Enemies do terrible things to persuade them to forsake Jesus.[ii] The two sides may even be related. You can imagine a Jewish Christian thinking, “Why keep suffering? Wouldn’t it be easier to return to our old ways in Judaism? The Jews would leave us alone. Besides, didn’t God speak in the old covenant as well? Why bother with Jesus if following him means so much sacrifice?”
Hebrews exists to address that problem. It does so primarily by magnifying the greatness of Jesus. Seeing Jesus’ greatness compels perseverance. That’s his aim in contrasting Jesus with Moses.
Main Exhortation: Consider Jesus
Consider Jesus, he says in verse 1. That’s the main and only command in verses 1-6. The rest serves that one command. By “consider” he doesn’t mean some occasional thought. Nor does he mean regular thought without serious reflection. When Jesus says, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they neither toil nor spin, yet not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed like one of these,” he means for us to truly study them, to understand their nature, to see God’s care revealed in them.
So also here: to consider Jesus is to think about him carefully. It’s to fix your thoughts on him, to look intently into God’s word and study Jesus’ person and work.[iii] It’s to meditate on his glory as Son, to learn from his faithfulness and sacrifice. And why wouldn’t you? Notice how the command to consider Jesus rests on his finished work. “Therefore” points backwards: God worked through Jesus to bring many sons and daughters to glory. We also get these wonderful descriptors for those belonging to Christ.
We are holy. In Hebrews, if it’s not used for the Holy Spirit, “holy” refers to the place God manifests his presence. It’s an Old Testament concept. God is holy. If he was to use someone, they had to be set apart as holy, as exclusively for God. You couldn’t serve in God’s presence with sin. God had to make you holy. This involved the blood of a bull and a couple rams being spilt and sprinkled on the altar and applied to the priests, so that they might be set apart for God’s holy service.[iv]
Likewise, when the blood of Christ is applied to the believer, we become holy, cleansed, set apart exclusively for God. He alluded to this back in 2:11, where Jesus is “he who sanctifies;” and we are “those who are sanctified.” Jesus makes people holy.
But we’re not simply holy; we’re holy brothers (and sisters). Again, he’s reaching back to 2:11-12. “That’s why he’s not ashamed to call them brothers, saying, ‘I will tell of your name to my brothers…” from Psalm 22. As King, Jesus willingly identifies with us. He endures sufferings for us. He remains faithful when tested. God vindicates him; and that leads to him spreading joy and worship among God’s people. Even calling us brothers. It was another way saying, “You’ve become my siblings. I’m not ashamed to make you fellow heirs in the family of God.”
Then he adds one more: “you who share in a heavenly calling.” Jesus is leading his people to glory. To the better country in 11:16. To the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem in 12:22. As Christians, we share in that coming kingdom. It’s not here yet in full. But in some real sense, we already belong to it. God’s calling has secured our destiny in it and that’s where we’re going.
Some of us read a verse like this one and our eyes just dance over the first few words, looking for something to do: “Therefore, holy brothers…yeah, yeah, yeah, give me something to do…” And never once do we stop to meditate on the glorious truth about our identity in Jesus. Who we are compels how we live, beloved. Being precedes doing. Belonging produces endurance. Don’t skip these gospel-infused descriptors of your identity. They are God’s encouragement in the race. If you belong to Christ, you are holy. You are his brothers and sisters. You share in a heavenly calling. The same Lord who called you into glory, he will get you to glory. So consider him. Consider Jesus.
Who is Jesus? Apostle, High Priest, Faithful
What exactly should we consider? First off, we need to consider who Jesus is. He is the apostle of our confession. You won’t find that title applied to Jesus anywhere else in the New Testament. A few clues, though, help solve what’s bound up in this title. Apostle simply means “sent one.” It wouldn’t take us very long to find numerous places, especially John’s Gospel, that refer to Jesus being sent by the Father.
But in light of the connections with Moses, I don’t think it’s an accident that a cluster of places in Exodus use the same vocabulary to describe God sending Moses. In particular, God sends Moses in Exodus 3:13-14 to announce God’s name to the people. Tell them, “I AM has sent me to you.” It’s no accident that, like Moses, Jesus announces God’s name in 2:12—“I will tell of your name to my brothers.”[v] To be the apostle of our confession, then, is for Jesus to be the one sent to reveal God’s name in the fullest way. As apostle he brings the ultimate revelation from God.
He is also high priest of our confession. Under the old covenant God sent Moses to deliver his people and establish the priestly order. That priestly order told a story. God is holy. He cannot overlook sin. Sin separates us from God. At the same time, God chooses to love sinners and bring them into his presence. The only way they can enter his presence, though, is by the death of another in their place. Hence the priests would offer the blood of bulls and goats.
These were but copies of the greater things to come. The blood of bulls and goats never really took away sins. But the sacrifice Jesus brings—his blood removes sins forever and in full. Jesus establishes a better priesthood. Hebrews will develop this further as we move along. But as high priest, he opens the way to God’s presence. As apostle he brings revelation from God. As high priest he brings us to God.
All this he accomplishes by being faithful to God who appointed him—verse 2. All his duties to the Father—he fulfills them with unwavering faithfulness.
Why Jesus over Moses? He’s Worthy of More Glory.
It’s at this point that the connection with Moses becomes explicit: “just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house.” Remember, Moses is a big deal for Jews. He’s drawing them in with what they know so well, with someone they already find great in their history, someone God used mightily to deliver them. But it’s all to reveal the main thrust for why they need to consider Jesus over Moses.
It’s not that considering Moses is bad. Moses helps us understand Jesus and why Jesus did what he did. What’s bad is elevating Moses as the end in itself, as if that’s all God had to reveal when Moses was pointing forward to Jesus all along. What’s bad is when Jewish Christians start entertaining Moses as an escape from following Jesus.
So he says, “Look, both Jesus and Moses were faithful.” But Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses. That’s his main argument: Jesus is worthy of more glory than Moses. Then he supports that with two reasons.
One, Jesus is the builder of God’s house; Moses is only part of the house. He’s speaking metaphorically. God’s people are like a house. The Old Testament referred to the covenant people as the “house of Israel.” Also, verse 6 makes this most explicit: “and we are his house.” So when it says Jesus is the builder of the house, think people. God’s people. God’s family. God’s kingdom.
Follow him in verse 3: “For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself.” When I was little, I watched my dad build a house on my grandmother’s ranch. Then not too many years ago, I watched him build another little cabin on their property. They wanted a place for their grandkids to stay when we visited. Each house was well built. As I watched them come together, from the peers being set to the inside finished, I was impressed by these houses. But not near as impressed as I am with my dad. His mind, his creativity, his skill truly amaze me. Humanly speaking, the builder gets the glory. We look at builders and say, “Wow! You made that?!”
Same here with Jesus building God’s house. The builder gets the glory. Moses simply belongs to God’s house. Jesus builds it. Even more, verse 4 says: “For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.” The ESV encloses verse 4 with parentheses. But I find it to add further substance to his point.
The builder gets the glory. God deserves glory, since he created all things.[vi] And we know from 1:2 that God the Father created the world through his Son. Meaning, the glory Jesus deserves for building God’s house is the same glory God deserves for creating the world. Moses only recorded that God spoke the world into existence. The Son spoke the world into existence; and this same Son became man to build God’s house on earth. Tell me, who’s worthy of more glory? Moses may look like those mountainous thunderheads, but next to Jesus’ greatness he looks like a puffy little sheep.
His second support for why Jesus is worthy of more glory is this: Jesus is the Son over God’s house; Moses is only a servant in the house. Verse 5, “Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son.”
He’s nearly quoting Numbers 12:7. Miriam and Aaron oppose Moses. They question his authority. Then God rebukes them and says this: “If there’s a prophet among you, I the LORD make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the LORD.”
Wow! That’s no small servant. To behold the form of the Lord; for God to speak with Moses mouth to mouth—that’s a glorious position. Even Paul would later say that Israel couldn’t gaze at Moses’s face because of its glory. But, that glory doesn’t hold a candle to Jesus being Son over the house. It’s one thing to experience God’s glory like Moses did. But it’s another thing altogether to be the very radiance of God’s glory—1:3.
Moreover, as Son he is the heir. To him belongs everything in the house. He owns it not only by rights as Creator; he owns it by rights as Redeemer. He became man to purchase God’s people with his blood and then rise to rule over them with resurrection power. Moses cannot boast such glory…
But he did speak of it; he anticipated it. That’s how he served in God’s house. “He testified,” verse 5 says, “to the things that were to be spoken later.” What was “to be spoken later”? God speaking to us in these last days by his Son—1:2. In other words, Moses spoke in ways that anticipated God speaking through Jesus. That’s why 9:19 will talk about Moses speaking the law; and that law was but a copy of the heavenly things to come. That’s why Jesus told the Pharisees that Moses wrote about him.
In other words, “Why would you guys revert back to Moses, if Jesus is worthy of more glory—he’s the builder of and the Son over God’s house—and Moses’ words anticipated his coming all along?! Moses was pointing to Jesus’ glory, and Jesus came. What are you doing returning to Moses?!” See how he’s turning their eyes to Jesus’ glory to keep them true to the faith? Truly grasping Jesus’ greatness produces perseverance.
Considering Jesus Fuels Perseverance
Verse 6 will lead us into further application, but he finishes it like this: “we are his house, if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.” What does that mean? In 4:16 he says, “let us with confidence draw near to the throne of grace.” In 10:19 he says, “we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus.” In 10:35 the confidence refers to the people knowing they had “a better possession in Christ and an abiding one.”
So there’s an inner certainty based on Christ’s objective work. Then in terms of boasting, I found Wes’s definition a while back helpful: boasting has to do with going vocal about what our confidence is in. In this case, the hope secured for us by Jesus’ finished work. So to paraphrase, “we are his house, if indeed we remain confident and boast in the hope made certain by Jesus’ work.”
Now, there are different types of conditional sentences in the New Testament.[vii] Some describe a cause-to-effect relationship. The idea would be: if you hold fast, then and only then will you truly belong to God’s house. Many read verse 6 that way; and they do so largely because it wouldn’t make sense to have a future piece of evidence (“you holding fast”) produce a present reality (“we are God’s house”).
But in my judgment, I think another reading makes better sense of verse 6, especially since being God’s house is something “true of the readers already.”[viii] Better is to understand the condition describing an evidence-to-inference relationship. If she has a ring on her left hand, then she’s married.[ix] Does having the ring cause her to be married? No, it’s the evidence that she’s married. So also here: holding fast is the evidence that we belong to God’s house. Point being, true Christians will persevere. True Christians will set their confidence in the hope secured by Jesus’ finished work.
As one mentor put it, true Christians stick. They hold fast to Jesus until the end. He remains their boast and joy. So what does that mean for us? Confidence in Jesus’ finished work will characterize any true church. I don’t mean you can just show me on paper or download it from their website. I mean having personal, inner confidence that we have nothing without Christ. When suffering and pain hurl us to the floor, I mean the rock-solid certainty behind a simple, “Jesus, we need you! You’re everything here.”
That confidence characterizes God’s house. That confidence must continue to characterize us. There are ways to abandon it, you know? We abandon that confidence, for example, when we start trusting in our own works or goodness to earn God’s favor. Maybe you sin and start thinking, “What do I have to do to regain God’s love, to get him on my side again?” when in reality God is always for his children. Christ’s work is sufficient to cover all our sins. Nothing further needs to be added.
We abandon our confidence when we find the world’s means of security more important and more central to our hope than the security of belonging to God. You name it: the gun in your back pocket, border control, retirement funds, safety systems—all things that require great wisdom for any society. But to make any of them your ultimate hope is to drift from your heavenly calling. How do you know whether you’re making them your hope? How angry or fearful do you get when they’re threatened?
Or, when the color of our skin or economic status becomes more central to fellowship, more central to whom we’re willing to listen in the church, more central to our identity than what we share in Christ—then we abandon our confidence in Jesus’ finished work. Much like Peter did when he distanced himself from the Gentiles. Much like the church James wrote to did when they favored the rich over the poor.
As those who belong to God’s house, Jesus and the hope he secured for us by his finished work must be our only confidence, our only boast. How does Jesus remain our confidence and boast? Verse 1—we must consider Jesus.
Crucial to our perseverance is considering Jesus. We must fix our minds on the glory of his person and the extent of his work. Truly grasping Jesus’ greatness produces perseverance. On numerous occasions people have come asking us for help in the battle against sin—against sinful anger, against sexual immorality, against impatience with their children, against the fear of man. But at times what I hear from them isn’t a desire to know Christ more deeply but only a desire to be rid of this or that sin. “Just give me a silver bullet,” is what it boils down to. “Just tell me how to fix this” without any heart for Christ, for opening the word to know him, for sitting down in prayer with him.
That’s not Christianity. Nor will that way of thinking produce any lasting endurance in the faith. Those in God’s house consider Jesus. They fix their minds on Jesus and cleave to him in their affections. We become what we worship. What you take into your minds eventually shapes who you become; and if you’re not making Jesus’ person and work your meditation you won’t become like him.
Think how often it comes up in the New Testament. The disciples argue about who gets to sit next to Jesus in glory. Jesus’ answer: “Whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Consider my example as servant.
Or here in Hebrews, part of what we should consider about Jesus is that he was faithful to him who appointed him. To truly consider Jesus’ faithfulness should lead us to follow him in faithfulness to the Father. Or when some of the Corinthians assert their rights to eat meat sacrificed to idols, Paul sets his example before them. He willingly sets aside his rights to serve the good of his brothers. Then he says, imitate me as I imitate Christ. Christ is the ultimate example of setting aside rights to serve another’s good.
Or in Ephesians 5, we are to “walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us…” Husbands are to “love their wives as Christ loved the church.” In Colossians, if we have complaints against another Christian, we are to “forgive each other as the Lord has forgiven you.” Or Philippians 2—consider Jesus’ mindset: though he was in the form of God, Christ didn’t count equality with God a things to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant…” In 1 Peter 2, we should consider that Christ suffered leaving us an example, so that we might follow in his footsteps.” In 1 John 3, everyone who hopes in Jesus purifies himself as he is pure.
Considering Jesus means so setting our minds on him as our example that we then follow him in faithfulness, sacrifice, humility, forgiveness, suffering, and purity.
At the same time, Christ’s exemplary faithfulness in all these ways also accomplished our redemption. So it’s not that we consider him only as our example but also as our Redeemer. To consider Jesus as Redeemer means so understanding the sufficiency of his work, that we rest ourselves in God’s grace. We set our minds at peace, knowing how his death truly cleanses us from a guilty conscience. When we sin, it means finding his sacrifice sufficient to cover those sins. When we’re weak, considering Jesus means depending on his help in time of need; he identified with us in order to sympathize with our weakness and help us to glory. If your husband has betrayed you, consider Jesus—he is faithful to his bride. He never betrays, never leaves; he always provides, always protects, always prizes his people.
Jesus is also our hope—something else to consider about Jesus. If Jesus is building God’s house, it’s not as if the work will stop, as if he’ll run out of strength or supplies to finish it. It’s not as if he’ll eventually have to kick you out, leaving you orphaned on the street. He’s the master builder. I got this connection from Tyrone, by the way. We were discussing this passage and he said, “[There’s a] possible appeal to promise—as the promise of Jesus “the builder” (3:3, 4) to “build” (Matt 16:18; 2 Sam 7:13) a body that will truly endure (John 15:16; Phil 1:6).”
Moreover, consider that Jesus is coming again. All the wrongs he will make right. All the injustice he will judge. All the tears he will wipe away. All the weapons of war he will turn into instruments of peace. All things will one day be rightly ordered and prospering beneath his lordship. That is the hope secured for us by his finished work.
So don’t waste your thought-life, beloved. There’s no one greater to consider. Nothing could be more beneficial to you as a person than considering Jesus. He is the highest joy, the purest object, the deepest pleasure, the strongest person, the most beautiful. Stimulate contemplation on Christ’s person and work. Study the Scriptures. Be disciplined in prayer and meditation. Take every opportunity to think of Christ. Throughout the week, sing songs about him. Write poetry. Admire him. Adore him. Give thanks for him. He is worthy of all glory, honor, and praise.[x] He brought to us revelation from God. He also brought us to God by the blood of his cross. As God’s house let us once again renew our confidence in the hope he secured for us. Let’s do that even now as we take the Lord’s Supper.
[i] E.g., Acts 6:11; 15:21; 21:21.
[ii] Heb 10:33-34; 13:3.
[iii] Matt 7:3; Jas 1:23. John Brown once said, “This is a duty of radical importance to Christians. It is because we think so little, and to so little purpose, on Christ, that we know so little about him, that we love him so little, trust in him so little, [and] so often neglect our duty…” John Brown, Hebrews (Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1862), 157.
[iv] E.g., Exod 28:41; 29:1; 40:9; Lev 16:19.
[v] Isn’t that what John also says Jesus does on the way to the cross? “I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26).
[vi] Revelation 4:11, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things…”
[vii] For my conclusions on Hebrews 3:6b, I’m indebted to the discussion in Andrew J. Wilson, “Hebrews 3:6B and 3:14 Revisited,” Tyndale Bulletin 62.2 (2011): 247-67.
[viii] Wilson, “Revisited,” 262.
[ix] Wilson, “Revisited,” 259.
[x] The last few exhortations appear as headings in John Owen, The Glory of Christ: His Office and Grace (Ross-shire: Christian Focus, 2004), 78-91.