“We must therefore pay much closer attention to the truth we have heard for fear of drifting from our course. For if the message delivered through angels proved valid, and every infraction and refusal to listen received an appropriate penalty, what makes us think we can escape if we disregard Christ’s great salvation? It was first confirmed to us by those who heard Him themselves. God continues to affirm their testimony with supernatural signs, wonders, various miracles, and gifts of the Spirit according to His own will.” (paraphrased)
The opening verses of chapter two are the first of five warnings found throughout the epistle. The writer can go no further without making a strong appeal to his readers to act upon what he has written. The greatness of Christ in the previous chapter culminates in this severe admonition not to deviate from His teachings.
“Therefore” refers to all that has been previously stated. Having proven Christ’s superiority over prophets and angels, the writer now encourages his readers to apply these truths. Because His covenant and salvation are superior, we assimilate this knowledge. Reverence for Christ is shown by earnest listening, then regulating our actions according to His instructions. We must obey the law and the prophets, but be especially careful to obey the Son of God.
“We ought” stresses necessity. We must listen carefully lest we drift away spiritually. This first warning strongly implies the redeemed can later be lost by neglecting salvation. “More earnest” is perissoteros, indicating we must pay close attention to Christ. To “heed” is prosechein, meaning to hold an important truth in the mind and put it into action, as opposed to letting it go.
“Slip” is pararuomen. This is not absent-mindedness or forgetfulness. It bespeaks something carelessly lost by its owner. It can refer to a ring that has slipped off a finger and become misplaced. Picture a boat without sail, oars or rudder, drifting out to sea past its safe haven while the captain is sleeping. Pararuomen means to be carried along and drift past a given point, swept away when safe anchorage is within reach. A saint can drift into sin like a ship headed for destruction. Paul speaks of those who have made a shipwreck of their faith in Christ (I Tim. 1:19). A soul is prevented from reaching its destination by slothfulness, not for lack of a map. One must not be indifferent to gradual backsliding. A Believer will not lose his grasp on salvation if he faithfully follows Jesus’ instructions. This phrase foreshadows what the writer later states concerning our hope in Christ “as an anchor to the soul” (6:19).
The writer proceeds to explain why we must pay close attention to God’s voice. If it was vital to listen to the Old Testament teachings, it is imperative to heed the Gospel message. “The word spoken by angels” refers to the Mosaic Law and covenantal relationship with God. Although the angelic mediation of the law is not recorded in the Old Testament, the Jews believed angels were involved in giving the law. Paul refers to the law that was ordained through angels, showing the inferiority of the law in comparison to Christ (Gal. 3:19). This is also mentioned in Stephen’s message (Acts 7:53). Although angels were involved in transmitting the law, Christ is infinitely superior in every way.
The Law of Moses is “steadfast” (bebaios), meaning “proven sure.” It refers to a legal contractual guarantee. God covenant is binding upon both Himself and His people. “Transgression” (parabasis) means stepping across a line that has been drawn; to sidestep the law. No one should allow the Gospel message to drift past them.
“Disobedience” (parakoe) pictures a child clasping his hands upon his ears to shut out parental instructions. It means imperfect or careless hearing, listening to another voice, or failing to grasp what has been said. An unwillingness to hear results in a refusal to obey. Every predetermined, presumptuous act of defiance accrues a punishment fitted to the crime. “Reward” does not refer to a prize, but to wages. “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 3:23).
Those who transgressed the law given through angels were punished. Because the Son is superior to angels, those who reject His message will receive even greater punishment. In the Old Testament, God’s people are told to hearken to His words (Deut. 18:15-21). In the New Testament, we are commanded by the Father to listen to His Son (Mt. 17:5).
The question of escaping judgment is rhetorical, for those who are deserving cannot escape the damnation of hell (Mt. 23:33). The only way to avoid judgment is by obedience to Christ. “We” includes all Believers from that day to today. His great salvation is contrasted with the method of redemption offered by the law. God has revealed Himself in Christ. The more complete the revelation, the more severe the penalty for negligence. To “neglect” (amelesantes) is to let something alone; to remain indifferent to it. It can also mean to make fun of something. The servants in Jesus’ parable made light of the King’s invitation and went their way (Mt. 22:5). We cannot afford to ignore a deliverance as great as His. If the Mosaic Law was strict, how severe will be the repercussions for ignoring the great salvation Christ offers. Because we have no excuse, we have no escape.
That which was “spoken by the Lord” means the teachings of Jesus. Note the contrast between that which was spoken (mediated) by angels (v. 2) and that which was spoken by Christ (v. 3). The writer refers to his readers as people who received the Gospel from those who had personally heard Jesus teach. This means they are second generation Christians. The effectiveness of the Gospel is continuously confirmed through the ages by those who witness God’s power. “Confirm” (bebaioo) is a legal term, designating something that has a guarantee of absolute security. The Gospel message carries a warranty secured by apostolic attestation.
His “great salvation” is neither idealistic nor theoretical, for God confirmed it in many ways. “Bearing witness” (sunepimartureo) is a judicial term referring to testimony in a court of law. The supernatural manifestations that accompany Christ’s teachings attest to the dynamics of the salvation He offers. God’s powerful supporting evidence includes signs, wonders, miracles and gifts distributed by His Spirit.
Signs indicate what God signified or proved by a particular display of His power.
Wonder and amazement point to the effect caused by the miracles.
Miracles display God’s power through supernatural acts.
Gifts of the Spirit are given to Believers to glorify God.
Paul affirms spiritual gifts are distributed according to the will of God (I Cor. 12:11). Those who know Christ soon become familiar with His wonder-working power. Jesus confirms His teachings by the signs that accompany them (Mk. 16:20).
QUESTIONS: FIRST WARNING – DON’T DRIFT
1. The Greek word “slip” means something that is carelessly lost by its owner.
True or False?
2. The Greek word “slip” is simply forgetfulness or absent-mindedness. True or False?
3. Under Old Testament law, what were the consequences of disobedience? (2:2)
4. By what four things does God confirm His power? (2:4)
5. According to Deuteronomy 28:2-5, what blessings are promised for those who listen to God?
6. According to Proverbs 13:13, what will happen to those who despise God’s word?
7. According to Matthew 11:15, what are disciples of Jesus commanded to do?
8. What does God the Father command us to do in Matthew 17:5?
9. In John 5:25, what is promised to those who hear the Son of God?
10. What phrase does Jesus repeat in Revelation 3:6, 13, 20 & 22?
11. According to I Corinthians 14:1, what should we desire?
12. From I Corinthians 12:8-10, list the nine gifts of the Holy Spirit.
13. What must we allow people to do? (I Corinthians 14:19)
14. According to Acts 2:22, who is credited for performing miracles, wonders and signs among the people?
15. Taking turns, discuss with your spouse a time in your life when you feel you heard directly from God.