By Cecil Willis
Last week we sought to answer the exceedingly important question, “What must I do to be saved?” This week we want to continue our thoughts along the line of the same general theme. In our lesson last week, we learned that each time the question “What must I do to be saved?” is asked, the same answer is given. We studied the instance in which the Philippian Jailer asked it, and found that he was told to believe, repent and be baptized. The Jews who had killed Christ were told on the day of Pentecost to repent and be baptized. They had become believers during the course of Peter’s sermon. Paul, previously called Saul, was told by Ananias to “arise and be baptized and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). So we see that a person must believe, repent and be baptized in order to be saved.
Paul, believed to be the writer of the book of Hebrews, began the second chapter of the epistle by saying, “Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things that we have heard, lest haply we drift away from them” (Heb. 2:1). This is the same thought with which we closed our lesson last week. We learned what one must do in order to have his sins remitted, therefore we ought to give earnest heed to these commands.
The apostle Paul began a logical argument showing why we should render obedience to the gospel of Christ, or at least some of the reasons why one should submit to the laws of Christ. He says, “For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” (Heb. 2:2, 3). Paul made a reasonable argument to the Hebrews that is equally as applicable to us as it was to them. He pointed to the past and demonstrated to them that when an individual disobeyed God’s law, he was inevitably punished. Under the law spoken by angels, every transgression and every disobedience was punished. When he spoke of the law spoken through angels, certainly Paul was referring to the old Mosaical law. When the evangelist Stephen was preaching to the group of Jews that finally killed him, he said, “Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? and they killed them that showed before of the coming of the Righteous One; of whom ye have now become betrayers and murderers; ye who received the law as it was ordained by angels, and kept it not” (Acts 7:52, 53). You will observe that Stephen spoke of this group of Jews as having received a law that was ordained, or that came through angels, but they did not keep it, and a part of this law was that which was spoken by the prophets. Certainly he referred to the law of Moses.
Likewise, when Paul spoke of the fact that under the law that was spoken by angels every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward, he was speaking of the law of Moses, Those under Moses’ law were punished without exception and severely.
Before we continue Paul’s argument, let us stop to think of what the Bible says that establishes this premise in Paul’s argument. What evidence is there that those under this old law were punished? The same writer, in the tenth chapter of the book of Hebrews, said, “A man that hath set at nought Moses’ law dieth without compassion on the word of two or three witnesses” (Heb. 10:28). The Jews had crucified Christ because they thought He had violated their law. Their law said that if one claimed to be God, he should die, or at least this was the application that those Jews made of the law when they sought Christ’s death. They thought He was claiming to be God’s Son. They believed He was not. What great crime had He committed? The Jews said, ‘He hath set at nought Moses’ law. Therefore He must be punished, for all sins under Moses’s law are punished. None escape.’
We might look back to Moses’ law and study a plain statement showing that those who violated this law, were punished, without exception. “If there be found in the midst of thee, within any of thy gates which Jehovah thy God giveth thee, man or women, that doeth that which is evil in the sight of Jehovah thy God in transgression his covenant, and hath gone and served other gods, and worshiped them, or the sun, or the moon, or any of the host of heaven, which I have not commanded, and it be told thee, and thou hast heard of it, then shalt thou inquire diligently, and, behold, if it be true, and the thing certain, that such abomination is wrought in Israel, then shalt thou being forth that man or that woman who hath done this evil thing, unto thy gates, even the man or the woman, and thou shalt stone them to death with stones” (Deut. 17:1-6). We read again about a man that was found guilty of taking up sticks on the Sabbath day which was a violation of a plain statement of the law of Moses. This man was to be taken and stoned to death.
In Joshua 7, we read that Achan kept some of the devoted things from the city of Jericho. God had told them to burn many of the things, and that the vessels of gold and brass were to be put into the treasury of the Lord. But Achan saw a goodly Babylonian garment, a wedge of gold, and two hundred shekels of silver that he decided to take for himself. God commanded that Achan be taken, stoned, and burned. This was because he had violated the law of God, or the law of Moses, which had been given through angels. This was the way sins were punished back under this Old Testament Law.
But Paul’s argument ran like this. If people were so certainly and severely punished in the Old Testament, and if we set aside God’s law Today, how shall we escape? If a man that disobeyed God’s law by picking up sticks on the Sabbath day was killed, what shall be the end of those that do not obey the gospel of Jesus Christ? Notice Paul’s statement from. Hebrews 2: “For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?”
This question asked by Paul, “how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” is called a rhetorical question. It is a question in which the answer is implied. The implication is that if one never escaped punishment under the lesser law, the law of Moses, then those who set aside God’s holy law, called the great salvation, will not escape.
But of what was the writer speaking when he referred to the “great salvation?” It is but a simple matter to determine. In fact, the very context in which we find the statement concerning the “great salvation” described what it is. Paul said, “how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which having at the first been spoken by the Lord, was confirmed unto us by them that heard” (Heb. 2:3). He said the great salvation is that which was first spoken by the Lord, and confirmed unto us by them that heard. Now what was the message of salvation that was spoken by the Lord, and confirmed unto us by them that heard? Specifically, it is what we have come to call “The Great Commission.” Matthew told of this event with these words, “And Jesus came to them and spake unto them, saying, all authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth. Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28:18-20). This is the message that was “first spoken by the Lord” as Paul expressed it in Hebrews 2.
Luke told of the giving of The Great Commission, or of the proclamation of the great salvation by the Lord, in this language: “And he said unto them, Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer, end rise again from the dead the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name unto all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46, 47).
Mark also described the important matters transpiring just prior to our Lord’s ascension back to the Father: “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the who1e creation. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved: but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned” (Mk. 16:15, 16). Jesus told them that if men and women are to share in the great salvation, if they are to receive the remission of their sins, they must hear the gospel preached, they must believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, they must repent, and then they must be baptized. This is the great salvation that is first spoken by the Lord.
But this “great salvation” is also defined by another statement. Paul says that the salvation was first spoken by the Lord, but was confirmed to us by them that heard, “God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders, and by manifold powers, and by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to his will” (Heb. 2:4). The great salvation is the message that was confirmed unto us by them that heard Jesus speaking. The confirmation carne by God’s enabling them to work miracles.
If ever there was a clear statement as to who can work miracles, this passage makes it plain as to who these individuals are. God also is bearing witness with them, Who is the “them” spoken of in this passage? It refers to those individuals who heard Jesus first proclaim the great commission. A lot of denominational preachers claim that they can work miracles, but this passage definitely declares that this is not true, for those that Jesus enabled to work miracles were those that heard Jesus proclaim the “great salvation.” Not a single person living today was present at that time. Men today may claim that they have supernatural powers, and can perform miracles, but there are just two alternatives to this claim. Heb. 2:1-4 tells us whom Jesus empowered to work miracles, and it was not any preacher living today. This passage says preachers of today cannot work miracles by the power of Jesus, yet these preachers claim they can. If the passage is right, the preachers are wrong; and if the preachers are right, the Scripture is wrong. I will take God’s word over man’s anytime. Preachers are making a false claim when they think that God is enabling them to work miracles.
Immediately after Mark recorded the statements relating to the Lord’s declaration of the great salvation or the great commission, he said, “And these signs shall accompany them that believe: in my name shall they cast out demons; !hey shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall in no hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and, they shall recover. So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken unto them, was received up into heaven, and sat down on the right hand of God, And they went forth and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word by the signs that followed” (Mk. 16:17-20). Now this is the passage which denominational preachers often cite to prove that God gives them the power to work miracles, but Jesus was not speaking either to or about modern denominational preachers, He was speaking of those to whom lie had first spoken the great salvation, namely, and apostles. The apostles were the ones that Jesus enabled to work powers, wonders, and signs. The apostles were the ones whose words Jesus confirmed by the signs that followed. It is a mistake to think that this passage teaches that men today can work miracles. Yet (his is the strongest proof these pseudo-miracle-workers can produce, and this passage denies that they can perform them. Do not be deceived by these men who are making pretentious claims.
The great salvation is the gospel plan of salvation. It is the message that one must believe, repent, and be baptized in order to be saved. Thousands, yea millions of people have neglected the great salvation. Some are indifferent toward God’s laws, and others have been misled as to what they must do. Read Matt. 28:18-20; Mk. 16:15, 16; and Luke 24:46, 47, and do exactly what they say. How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? The teaching of the apostle Paul is, we shall not escape! They did not even escape under Moses’s law, and certainly we shall not. To confirm this statement and to conclude our lesson, read a statement from Paul’s pen recorded in Hebrews 10:27-31: “A man that hath set at nought Moses’ law dieth without compassion on the word of two or three witnesses: of how much sorer punishment, think ye, shall he be judged worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant wherewith he was sanctified an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know him that said, Vengeance belongeth to me, I will recompense. And again the Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
Truth Magazine XX: 29, pp. 451-454
July 22, 1976