But You Remain

But You Remain

We can all get a bit nostalgic about returning to time when we didn’t have a care in the world. For many of us, that’s a time in childhood where we felt a sense of security. For some of us that time was a very brief window before the hardships of reality crept into our lives. 

An essential aspect of our reality is that we are in constant flux, alongside other creatures and creation that is constantly changing. We have a desire to return to a time when change was slow and there were longer periods of rest. As kids we might have found those times mind numbingly boring, but as adults we long for that kind of peaceful naivete.

The author of Hebrews has been making the case for the superiority of Christ over angels. His next consideration is the unchangeable nature of the Son. 

While we live in a world that is in constant change—God is unchanging. If God is God, then he cannot change—for any change could only diminish his being.We will come back to this. But, it is precisely the fact that the Son is unchangeable that makes him so compelling. We desire to understand what we have never known by personal experience. 

In a world that is filled with continual transition and impermanence, we are tempted to formulate our own plan for peace and security. As long as that plan is of our own making, it can only lead us outside of God’s perfect will.

The future of the saints is permanently secure because the Son is perpetually sovereign.

Read Hebrews 1:4-14.

The  Immutability  of the Son (10-12)

This next quote is the longest reference in the chapter, and it is taken from Ps 102:25-27. The inspired heading to this psalm provides the context: “A prayer of one afflicted, when he is faint and pours out his complaint before the Lord.” So the psalmist begins with a description of his desperate situation. He is in distress (2). His heart is so troubled he forgets to eat his bread (4). He groans out loud (5). “I eat ashes like bread and mingle tears with my drink” (9). The theme of the psalmists lament is the weakness and mortality of his sinfulness.

But, what lifts him out of his despair? The knowledge that the Lord is “enthroned forever” (12). And that this same Lord “regards the prayer of the destitute and does not despise their prayer” (17). God doesn’t force himself to listen to the prayers of the afflicted. He’s not put off by their groaning and longing for peace. The psalmist looks forward to a time when God would rescue his people and they would have the freedom to gather together for worship (18-22).

All of that sets up the conclusion that the author of Hebrews quotes. The Lord has created the heavens and the earth, but they will wear out and pass away unlike the Lord. It’s another example of the Creator-creature distinction. When everything in this world is fading away, God remains the same. He is constant when everything else is in flux. And this is specifically true of the Son.

The Doctrine of Divine Immutability

In volume two of his systematic theology, Herman Bavinck tracks the historical argument of Divine Immutability. 

“From the presence of motion in the universe Aristotle inferred the existence of a ‘first mover,’ an ‘everlasting immovable being,’ who is one and eternal, necessary, immutable, free from all composition, devoid of potentiality, matter, change; and who is pure act, pure form, unadulterated essence, absolute form, ‘the very nature of a thing, primary substance.’ Philo called God ‘unchangeable, self-consistent, invariable, steadfast, firm, fixed, unadulterable.’ And with this assessment Christian theology concurred. God, according to Irenaeus, is always the same, self-identical. In Augustine, God’s immutability flows directly from the fact that he is supreme and perfect being: ‘It is instinctual for every rational creature to think that there is an altogether unchangeable and incorruptible God.’ This concept of an eternal and unchangeable being cannot be obtained by the senses, for all creatures, also humans themselves, are changeable; but within their souls humans see and find the immutable something that is better and greater than all the things that are subject to change.”

Heretics consider God to be mutable, suggesting that he has changed through his interaction with humanity. But Bavinck points out: “The difference between the Creator and the creature hinges on the contrast between being and becoming.” Creatures change, God does not. We are unstable while God is a firm foundation. He is the Rock upon which we find a sure footing!

Augustine likened God’s immutability to the sun that remains largely the same, even though it can both harmfully burn us and helpfully illuminate our day. Thomas Aquinas pointed out that a pillar doesn’t change when a person is looking at it from the right or left. While Bavinck acknowledges that illustrations are inadequate to convey the whole truth, he argues that “they do suggest how a thing may change in its relations while remaining the same in essence.”

Finding Peace in the Son

Considering the fact that this Jewish community had experienced hardship, and that they had a robust knowledge of the psalms. It seems likely that they were quite familiar with Psalm 102 and may have sung it many times.

Maybe, the author of Hebrews knew that his audience had a growing nostalgia for a time when they were free from persecution and constant pressure from the outside world. However, he knows (by inspiration of the Spirit) what they don’t quite grasp—that returning to the temple would not get them back to a place of serenity. 

What they needed more than anything, in the midst of a chaotic world, was to learn to rest in the protection of their sovereign Lord. Recognition of the permanence of the Son provides the assurance and comfort they’re after.

Jesus, the man of sorrows (Ps 102), understood the depths of human despair as he was abandoned on the cross—not only by his closest companions, but he was also forsaken by his Father. At the same time, he conquered sin and death, bringing fulfillment to the despairing cries of previous generations. And—even now, still enthroned in glory—the Son continues to hear the cries of his people, representing them and their petitions before his Father.

The true source of our stability will not be found by returning to a nostalgic time in the past, but by learning to rest in the unchangeable and permanent nature of the gospel. We must learn to trust in the only thing that is stable and constant if we want relief from our present and ever fluctuating hardships.

› It is the immutability of the Son that ensures the preservation of…

The  Inheritance  of the Saints (13-14)

The final quote in this chain of seven Old Testament passages comes from Psalm 110:1. This Messianic psalm of David is quoted or alluded to more than any other psalm in the New Testament (22x). The author of Hebrews has the same interpretation of this verse as Jesus (Matt. 22:43-45Mark 12:35-36Luke 20:41-44), Peter (Acts 2:34-35), and Paul (Eph 1:20-22). He will reference it several more times in later chapters (Heb 2:85:6106:207:31117218:110:12-1312:2). 

The psalm refers to the Father’s exaltation of the Son at his right hand. “Yahweh says to [David’s] Lord”—David is speaking of a future Son who would conquer his enemies (Ps 110:256). He would fulfill the Messianic office of the king. However, he would also be “a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (Ps 110:4). Only the Messiah fulfills both the office of king and high priest.

A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews Note on the Expression “In the Beginning” (1:10)

It was an angel host that joyfully heralded the birth of the Savior (Lk. 2:13); angels ministered to him after the ordeal of his temptation in the wilderness (Mt. 4:11); angels at the empty tomb announced the resurrection of Jesus from the dead (Lk. 24:4ff.); angels strengthened the disciples who had just witnessed the ascension of their Master from the Mount of Olives with the assurance that he would return in the same way as they had seen him go (Acts 1:10f.); and angels will accompany the Son of man when he returns in the glory of his Father (Mk. 8:38; Mt. 16:27; 25:31; Lk. 9:26; 12:8f.).

Therefore, this Messianic King is superior to angels, who are “ministering spirits” that ultimately serve “those who are to inherit salvation.” Just as the angels served the Messiah, so they surround and protect the saints. John Calvin points out the tremendous comfort this verse provides to believers. Angels are ceaselessly tasked with guarding, protecting, and ministering to the saints until they reach glory. They are tasked with securing our perseverance. 

Angels Accompany Christian and Hopeful

John Bunyan concludes Pilgrim’s Progress with a beautiful illustration of this truth. As Christian and Hopeful complete the final leg of their journey—they are met by two shining angels. They are informed that they had two difficulties remaining. First, they must cross the river—whereupon they lose their mortal garment. This test of faith varies according to the strength of each pilgrim’s faith. 

Christian enters with water with fear and doubt looking for every alternative, and he immediately begins to sink. He despairs of all his past sin. He begins to lose all hope as he plunges deeper. He cries out to Hopeful, fearing death and everything becomes dark so that he cannot see. He loses his senses, unable to recall the many graces that he had received along his journey.

Hopeful remains with him, encouraging him and supporting him so that he would not drown. But, Christian’s despair continued to grow. Hopeful, who is standing in shallow water, tells Christian that he can see the gates of heaven and men waiting to receive them. But Christian says they are only their for Hopeful. He is convinced he won’t make it.

Then said HOPEFUL, “My brother, you have quite forgot the text where it is said of the wicked, ‘There are no bands in their death, but their strength is firm; they are not in trouble as other men, neither are they plagued like other men’ (Ps 73:4-5).

These troubles and distresses that you go through in these waters are no sign that God hath forsaken you; but are sent to try you, whether you will call to mind that which heretofore you have received of his goodness, and live upon him in your distresses.”

Then I saw in my dream that CHRISTIAN was as in a muse awhile, to whom also HOPEFUL added this word, “Be of good cheer, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole “; and with that CHRISTIAN brake out with a loud voice, “Oh, I see him again! and he tells me, ‘When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee'” (Isa 43:2).

Then they both took courage, and the enemy was after that as still as a stone, until they were gone over. CHRISTIAN therefore presently found ground to stand upon; and so it followed that the rest of the river was but shallow. Thus they got over.

The angels met them as they come out of the river and usher them joyfully to the gate of heaven. The last difficulty is their reception at the gate, but with angelic accompaniment—this is depicted as their warm and joyful acceptance into glory. They show their certificate to the King and are transfigured as they enter the kingdom of heaven. 

When Ignorance arrives at the gate—having crossed the river on Vain-Glory’s ferry—no angels accompany him and he has no certificate. The contrast with Christian’s experience is shocking. Ignorance did not struggle to cross the River, but his faith was false and he had nothing to show the King upon his arrival at the gate. Christian, on the other hand, went through a deep darkness and despair. It was the example of Hopeful that encourages us to keep our eyes of faith sharply focused upon the King of glory.

The original audience could not return to their past, but the promise of their future glory made their present suffering well worth it.