1 “Therefore we must pay greater attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it.
2 For if the message declared through angels was valid, and every transgression or disobedience received a just penalty,
3 how can we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? It was declared at first through the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard him,
4 while God added his testimony by signs and wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, distributed according to his will.” Hebrews 2:1-4
In Chapter 1:5-14 the author/preacher of Hebrews established his case that Jesus has supreme authority over all things including angels.
The word “therefore” in verse one connects this passage to the string of Old Testament texts quoted in 1:5-14. The phrase, dia touto that we translate therefore can also be translated as for this reason, giving us an even richer connection with chapter 1:5-14. Also in this first verse the discussion is removed from the abstraction of chapter one to a personal need on behalf of the church not to drift away. Notice the writer’s use of “we” thus making his exhortation personal and by the use of the word “must” not giving his audience any wiggle room to reject his words.
This opening verse of chapter 2 is rich and we are not finished with it yet. The text goes on to say that what we must do is “pay greater attention to what we have heard” so that “we do not drift away from it.” The Greek behind the phrase “pay greater attention to,” has the idea of giving it our full attention. In other words we aren’t to give the word of God our casual attention now and then when we have nothing better to do with our time, but instead we are to devout our greatest interest and inquisitive powers into concentrating on what God is declaring to us through the Word.
The object of our attention is “what we have heard,” that is the word spoken via the Son (1:2). In verses 3-4 what we have heard is defined as the message of salvation. Now comes the part of the statement in verse 1 that hits us all between the eyes which is the reason “we must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard” (message of our salvation), that is ‘so that we do not drift away.’
The word used here in verse 1 for drifting is pararuomai and signifies an object that slips away like a ring that falls off your finger or objects that go in the wrong direction like a piece of food that slips down the windpipe. In the Greek text of Proverbs 3:21 the same word pararuomai is used of not letting right teaching slip away from one’s attention. Here in Hebrews 2:1 it is not the teaching that is slipping away, but the person who is slipping away from the teaching. The author/preacher does not mention the problems that are causing the congregation to slip away from the gospel but taking the tone of the book into consideration it is probably some form of persecution.
Now in verses 2-3 we see why the author/preacher spent so much time declaring Jesus greater than the angels in chapter 1. If the message presented through angels was valid and disobedience to the message received punishment, then how do we escape such punishment if we neglect “so great a salvation.”? (v. 3: 1a)
Hebrew tradition often referred to the angels bringing the law (old covenant) to the people and if Israel were judged in relationship to their keeping of the Old Covenant then how much more will Christians be judged for not paying strict attention to their salvation that comes through the blood of the Son of God?
The words translated transgression (violation) and disobedience has the connotation of being conscious rejection of God’s will. The author/preacher of Hebrews often associates disobedience with an unwillingness to listen to God’s voice. (see 3:7-19; 12:25)
Now here is the crux of the situation and that is we can have no expectation of escape from the consequences of disobedience and sin if we “neglect such a great salvation.” And how do we do that? By being indifferent and paying not enough close attention to the means of our salvation—Jesus Christ.
The word translated neglect in verse 3 is amelesantes and has the meaning to ignore through apathy or not to care about something (see 1 Timothy 4:14). In other words anyone who cares so little about the word of salvation, even though declaring to be a Christian that they neglect it, will find no escape from punishment.
So when did these people hear the good news of the Gospel? The answer, of course, is when it was first announced by the Lord and then taught to them and preached to them by writers and pastors. Remember Mark 1:15, “The time has come…The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.” (See Matthew 9:35)
Of course these Christians, being second-generation believers, had never heard Jesus preach or teach but they were taught by those “Who heard Him.” (v. 3) Now here is something really interesting that in verse 3 we are told that those people who had heard Jesus “attested” to Him. The Greek word translated attested has the meaning of to confirm in the sense of firm assurance or with a guarantee. It is even better than having a warranty on your new car. And of course our assurance of the truth of God in the New Testament is our guarantee—the Holy Spirit. Though the people had not heard the gospel from Jesus’ mouth they could still count on it absolutely.
Now in case that was not enough, another witness came alongside assuring the validity of the original eyewitnesses’ testimony of salvation in Christ alone. “God testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to His will,” (2:4). In other words the audience for Hebrews not only had the sure word of testimony of the reality of Jesus’ salvation but they had experienced it through signs, wonders, and miracles along with the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
There are numerous lessons we can develop from these four short verses, but foremost we learn that each of us has to take our salvation seriously. We are responsible for growing and making personal commitments to Jesus. This in no way diminishes grace since that is all of God. What the author/preacher of Hebrews is saying is that grace is of no value to us if we don’t claim it and that comes through paying attention to it.
It is one thing to spout off that we have salvation but it is quite another to know (experience) in the depths of your very being that you have the assurance of salvation. And that only comes through careful examination of the Scriptures, remembering how God has led you rejoicing in His love and unconditional acceptance. If you believe your sins hang over you waiting to pounce on you to condemn you then you need to dig deep into Scripture and find those amazing texts about how God forgives and forgets your sins when you put your love and trust in Him.
We drift away because we become lazy and put other things in our hearts. We “must” put our full attention understanding the unconditional love and mercy of salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ if we are to have assurance and peace in our Christian walk.
I know far too many fellow believers who long to believe God accepts them unconditionally but have a nagging doubt that somehow it’s just too good to be true. Maybe, they think, God forgives others but their own sins are just too much for God to wrap His head around. So they live their life hoping and longing, and if life gets difficult they just give up and drift away because they never understood their assurance in Christ.
Hebrews is written to give us assurance and to give us the confidence in God’s salvation towards us that we don’t need to drift away or ever doubt our redemption. Please, don’t neglect such a wonderful salvation. Delve into the Bible, prayer, fellowship, and you will grow closer to God than you could ever imagine and your trust and assurance in His word will ring true in your heart.
God loves you beyond your wildest expectations and dreams.