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Great are the Offices He Bears (5): The Forerunner

T Wilson, Glasgow

Hebrews 6 employs a rich variety of metaphors to describe the child of God. He or she is described as:

• a fruitful field v.7
• a follower of those who inherit promises v.12
• an heir vv.(11), 17
• a pilgrim who patiently endures v.18
• a fugitive v.18
• a feeble boat on the sea of life v.19

Also among the many figures of speech is the metaphor of the Forerunner (v.20).

In the chapter, God, who cannot lie (Titus 1.2), binds Himself with an oath to Abraham the heir. God was determined to show the immutability of His counsel to Abraham, so he became the recipient of both promises and the oath. What condescension for God to enter into the rites of men! What confirmation! Abraham must have found assurance in that oath, without realising that it was to have a far wider application. Centuries later, to the heirs of promise it would be revealed that through that oath "we might have a strong consolation" (v.18).

The believer today has more than Abraham’s confirmation; his is a fuller consolation. What is the nature of our consolation? The two great stabilisers of Abraham’s faith were the word (of promise) and the oath. We have three in that we also have the hope, in which Abraham could have no part. Indeed the hope could not be in view until the Lord Jesus had ascended on high. This hope is not a vague, insubstantial wish, but a vital force within the soul. With joy we recall that "a threefold chord is not quickly broken" (Eccl 4.12). We observe that we have:

The word, revealing the promises;
The oath confirming the Person, who is the fulfilment of those promises;
The hope connected with the place where He is now.

The writer fastens our attention on the hope! In a complex metaphor we are caused to think of the importance of hope to the heir of God. We recall that we are saved by hope (Rom 8.24). When a man has lost his hope, he has lost his way and will soon be on the rocks. We need hope as the anchor of the soul. Every Christian can sing meaningfully, "We have an anchor that keeps the soul". We do need hope as the anchor of the soul. The metaphor is clearly nautical, a not-unusual metaphor about the voyage of life. From Homer’s Odyssey and Virgil’s Aeneid onwards, tales of storm and shipwreck have appealed to seasoned travellers and armchair voyagers alike. In the application of this metaphor to the believer’s life there are storms but no shipwrecks. There are also no armchair voyagers. There will be storms but, amid them, the One is near who reached out to disciples fearful of perishing. May God give us faith so that He need not say, "O, thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?" (Mt 14.31).

In 1290, Margaret, the Maid of Norway, began her journey to be crowned Queen of Scotland as the successor to her grandfather. Her mother had married the King of Norway, but sadly she died at her daughter’s birth. At seven years of age, the Maid set sail from Bergen, bound for Leith and her coronation. But it was not to be. Severe storms blew her ship wildly off course and she landed in Orkney, very ill from sea-sickness. (Ironically, she landed at St Margaret’s Hope, probably called after her mother.) Because her ship never reached Leith, she never wore the crown; indeed her name is missing from many lists of Scotland’s monarchs. That will never be the Christian’s plight. Not one born-again individual will fail to reach the heavenly harbour, no matter how fierce the storms against him or her may have been. Not one will miss his or her coronation. We are certain of glory for we have an anchor that enters "within the veil", anchored to the very Throne of God. That anchor cannot fail; we are therefore assured that we will safely reach the heavenly harbour.

Writing on this section, J M Davies cites H A Ironside, who suggested that the term "forerunner"1 is "a nautical term for a small boat which carried the anchor into the harbour" when a large vessel could not go in if the tide was out and "the entrance had sand bars, which hindered big ships from entering until high tide. The small boat took in the anchor which was then fastened to an immovable rock, thus assuring the larger ship of its safety" until it was safe to berth. We do expect many problems here in this world, for "we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts 14.22). Until the time of our berthing we are fastened, unshakeably fastened, by hope’s anchor. That anchor assures us that we will not be a minute behind schedule. When the voice says, "Enter thou into the joy of thy lord" (Mt 25.21), nothing will hold us back. We will enter with full sail and high tide into the heavenly harbour. When we will reach the harbour is not "circumstances permitting".

Christ has carried our anchor "within the veil" (v.19), but to what is it fastened? F F Bruce writes: "We are moored to an immovable object, and that immovable object is the Throne of God".2 The two epithets "sure and stedfast" are reassuring. The first is a negative word, announcing that it will not fail; the second a positive word declaring that it will remain firm in all conditions. Wiersbe summarises the two adjectives: " ‘sure’ – it cannot break – and ‘steadfast’ – it cannot slip".

When our seas are not as calm as mirrored glass and the winds are testing the strength of our boat’s timbers, how important to have a strong anchor firmly fixed to the eternal throne, within the veil! Clearly, the metaphor was important to persecuted saints. As the evidence of the catacombs of pre-Christian Rome reveals, pictures of anchors are among the commonest decorations to be found. Whatever the motivation to decorate a niche in a subterranean vault, it is clear that some gloried in the Christian hope and were comforted by the anchor of the soul and the Forerunner.

The author again asks us to "see Jesus", as he did first at 2.9. There he notes that Jesus was made for a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death. Seven times the writer uses the name "Jesus", the name which Joseph was commanded to give Him (Mt 1.21). (The name "Jesus the Son of God" also occurs once, 4.14.) Arguably, each of the seven occurrences of that lovely name Jesus takes us back to great historical events we find set out in the Gospels, but some of its uses are also reminders that as a Man the Lord has encountered many of the trying circumstances we face. At 6.20 we look and note that death has been unable to hold Him and He is now within the veil. Later at 13.20, he records that the God of peace has brought again from the dead this One, "that great shepherd of the sheep". At 6.20 He is "Jesus made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec". On the other side of death is the Man who has defeated death and in so doing has "destroy(ed) him that had the power of death, that is, the devil" (2.14). He has anchored our frail barque where death cannot reach. His presence there assures us that one day we will be where He is. It also assures us that He is there as our High Priest, ever mindful of our weakness and ever available to us, even amid the storms of life.

In the language of the Zionist philosopher Martin Buber (died 1965), there is more than a faint echo of Hebrews 6.20, as he set out the Jewish hope in which there is no place for our Forerunner: "There are no knots in the mighty cord of our Messianic belief, which, fastened to a rock on Sinai, stretches to a still invisible peg anchored in the foundation of the world".3 He considered that the Jews’ unbroken history has two anchor points he considered strong. Both of them will one day be dissolved, another Jew, himself the apostle to the circumcision, revealed (Gal 2.8; 2 Pet 3.10-12). Neither the creation of the world nor the giving of the law offers the assurance the Christian has, as he faces life’s storms and perhaps death itself. The Christian knows his Forerunner has entered "for us". What assurance in an uncertain and increasingly antagonistic age!

To be continued.

1 The Greek word, pródromos, occurs only here in the NT.
2 Cited by J M Davies.
3 Thomas Long. Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for teaching and preaching: Hebrews.

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