Let’s turn to Hebrews 4:12, 13. We have to wonder when reading a passage like this, “What does this passage have to do with this context?” Well, I am going to answer that today. It is talking about the terror of the Word of God. We will see what that means.
Let us look at the verses, starting with verse 12:
12For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.
This passage of scripture that we are going to examine is a passage about the Word of God itself. However, let’s not miss the context in which these passages sit. Remember, we have been examining in our immediate context the promise of God that He offers to all those who care to listen. That is the person who hears the truth and is moved in his or her will to act upon it with a whole-hearted trust in God’s promise will enter into rest.
In fact, if you noticed in Hebrews 4:3, it says:
3For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said, "As I swore in My wrath, They shall not enter My rest," although His works were finished from the foundation of the world.
In verse 3 it says that there are a group of people who have entered into God’s rest, meaning entering into God’s salvation, through Jesus Christ. This has a present and future aspect to it.
However, those who do not listen and heed God’s promise, they are doomed to remain under God’s warning and oath as seen in Hebrews 3:10, 11:
10"Therefore I was angry with this generation, And said, ‘They always go astray in their heart, And they did not know My ways’; 11As I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest.’"
The warning is for us not to fall short in the same way they (Israelites) fell short concerning the promise that is now preached to us today. It is by entering into God’s rest by listening to and heeding the good news of Jesus Christ. In Hebrews 4:2 it says:
2For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard.
So they heard it, they were listening, but they did not believe it. The failure of the past generations is that heard what God said but did not trust and believe Him. Hearing is one thing and believing is another. The Word of God warned them not to harden their hearts, to not turn away when God is speaking. Yet they spurned the good news and promised rest.
The warning for us is to not repeat their folly. Do not repeat their foolishness. Why are we warned in scripture to not repeat their folly? Our passages answer that question. It is because of the terror of the Word of God. In other words, what God says, God means. If God makes an oath they will not enter His rest, they will not enter His rest. If God makes an oath that those who hear the Word of God and end up in disbelief will not enter His rest too.
If the sanctions of God’s Word were so effective on the Exodus generation that Joshua, Caleb and all those under twenty years old entered in the promised rest in Canaan, but all the rest perished in the wilderness for not believing God’s Word. A Word they heard but did not act upon.
If that generation was given the good news in types and shadows, pointing ahead to the days of the gospel and they were held accountable and responsible for what was spoken, then how much more will the Word of God be effective today?
The days of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ are why we have this stressed in this passage of scripture. Look at Hebrews 4:6, 7:
6Therefore, since it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly had good news preached to them failed to enter because of disobedience, 7He again fixes a certain day, "Today," saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before, "Today if you hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts."
Remember “Today” means while you still have life and breath. Today means while there is yet time. Right now is today, isn’t it? Not tomorrow, not yesterday but today. While you are under the hearing of God’s Word is when God is calling and saying to respond. Do not put it off because something more interesting is going to happen tomorrow.
Do not put it off because today is the day for you. You may not have tomorrow and you do not have yesterday anymore. Give Him, while you have a chance, obedience and trust. Give Him submission so you can enter into rest through Jesus Christ. That is God’s message to us right now. God’s Word is performative today and confronts the Christian church with the same alternatives as that generation: Either enter into His rest or be left with God’s wrath. There is no in-between, there is no negotiating. That is it.
This is a hard message, but one we need to hear because they needed to hear it and we need to hear it. For us it is today. There are four observations concerning the Word of God that should strike terror in those who hear and here is the first one in Hebrews 3:7;
7Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, "Today if you hear His voice 8Do not harden your hearts as when they provoked Me, As in the day of trial in the wilderness,
Remember, when you hear the preaching of the Word of God, you are hearing the voice of God. The Holy Spirit means it is God Himself. When you hear the voice of God, it is speaking about the will of God. As if God has completely and finally spoken in His Son, who has unique supremacy over all things. Furthermore, it must follow that absolute trust and obedience must be given to Him consistently. From the day you believe for the rest of your life, you must believe in Christ Jesus.
If obedience and trust are not given to Him then the consequences are bound to be awful. Instead of the blessings of the Word of God, it will be exchanged for terror.
There are two things about the Word of God that we should never forget. The first is that the Word of God is God’s chosen instrument to give life to His people. He didn’t choose any other means but the preaching of the Word of God. In Genesis 1, God creates the world and everything in it by the Word of God. In Genesis 12, God intimates and initiates the covenant with Abraham by the Word of God. In John 1, God’s incarnate Word Jesus brings life to all that believe. In Romans 10:17
17Faith comes by hearing and hearing the Word of God.
God brings life to you by the hearing of the Word of God. That is His means and vessel to bring it to your ears and mind. God wants to impress it upon your will. It is sent out to us to save us.
The second thing about the Word of God is that it is God’s chosen instrument for giving holiness to his people. John 17:17
17Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth
It sanctifies us. Ephesians shows that Christs cleanses the church by the Word of God. It sets us apart when it saves us and continuously does that for the rest of our days. So those who continue to remain insensitive to the Word of God will have the Word of God as a lethal weapon against them. In other words, do not ever be under any illusion regarding the Word of God and what it says about Jesus. Let no one think that disbelief, ignoring and disobeying God’s Word is an insignificant an light matter. It is a very serious and weighty matter.
The Word of God can very effectively and accurately diagnose your spiritual vital signs. It can unmask you for who you really are. Jeremiah says in Jeremiah 23:29 about the Word of God:
29"Is not My word like fire?" declares the Lord, "and like a hammer which shatters a rock?
This is the power of the Word of God upon the soul of man. The source and dynamic comes from God Himself. It does not comes from man, it comes from God. That makes it a very dynamic Word that we can have no opinions about. We cannot argue with any success or any lasting results. No, God wins. Either the Word of God will be a blessing to you or it will be terror to you. That is the point of this passage.
The second observation about the Word of God begins to unfold. Hebrews 4:12 shows:
12For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
The Word of God is living. It simply means to be alive. The Word is as living as God Himself. God and His Word cannot be separated from each other. It is His Word that is living and alive and enters into your ears and hearts and remains His Word with an imperishable life-giving power.
That is why anyone can be saved. The Word of God can open our blind eyes, generate our dead souls to see that Jesus is the only way. Only God can do that. If not then we would remain in our dead condition of unbelief. Isn’t it time that we stop thinking of the bible as an old must book that has no relevance to our lives? And see it as a living book that conveys a message of deliverance and salvation to all that listen to it and respond in faith?
That bible is showing that God has, essentially, throughout the ages has unfolded and carried deliverance to those who need salvation from the bondage of sin. He sanctifies those who are His. In Hebrews 2:10 it tells us
10For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings.
Bringing many sons to glory is God’s plan. He does it through a living Word. It is a Word that cannot be killed, it cannot be silenced. Many people in history have tried to silence it, but it is very much alive. It is penetrating to all the cultures of the world, even the Muslim world that has been closed for hundreds of years. It is penetrating through that world too. In Hebrews 4:12:
12For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
Not only is the Word alive, but it is effective. It is the word that means it is full of energy. It is used for activity that produces effective results. It was the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 55:11:
11So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth;It will not return to Me empty,Without accomplishing what I desire,And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.
Every time the Word of God goes out, it is sent to save those and bring them to belief or condemn those and leave them in their unbelief. That is what the Word of God does every time it is sent out. It will have one of those two effects. It will not return to God void. It is effective for exposing the hearts of people professing the Christian faith, but are really unbelievers. One of the points of this passage – many didn’t belief.
A leading professor of a theological seminary brought together some interesting categories to try to understand the spiritual condition of unbelievers. In his observations, he came up with five conditions of unbelievers. Every one of us were in one of these categories.
The first one is the Conscious Unbeliever. He is aware that he is not a Christian. Sub categories stem from the Conscious Unbeliever. There is the Immoral Pagan who lives a blatantly immoral and illegal life. There is the Intellectual Pagan who claims that the faith is unattainable and reasonable. There is also the Common Pagan who is fashionably skeptical of God. If the world’s trends are skeptical then he is also. The Genuine Thinker who has some really serious and well-conceived objections to truth. The Religious Non-thinker, who belongs to a cult, organized religion or denomination with some seriously mistaken doctrine.
The second category is of the Non-Churched Nominal Christian. They have a belief in basic Christian doctrine, but no remote connection to the church. They are unregenerate, not born again and do not believe. Thirdly, is the Church Nominal Christian. This person participates in church but is not regenerate. This someone is a semi-active moralist who is respectably moral, but whose religion is without assurance and is all about duty.
Then there is the Active Self-righteous person. They are very committed and involved in church, but the only assurance of salvation they have is their own good works. They have not received or understood the gospel of Jesus Christ and remain in unbelief even though they think they are believers.
The Awakened Sinner is stirred or convicted over their sin without gospel peace. They are seriously convicted about their sin, they know they are sinners. Under this category, you have the curious. The Awakened Sinner is stirred up in a mainly intellectual way but without gospel peace. The Convicted Awakened Sinner with false peace. They have no understanding of the gospel and were told that a simple prayer, walking down an aisle or something along those lines will make it right with God.
Then there is the Comfortless Awakened Sinner, they are extremely aware of their sin, but not receiving or understanding the gospel of grace.
Fifthly, we have the down-right apostate. An Apostate was once devoted and active in the Church of God but then repudiates the faith without regret and leaves it. Someone who apostatizes can come back if God convicts them of their sin and grants them faith and repentance. He can bring them back to the church – that can happen. The Apostate who remains in unbelief, was a part of the church, repudiates the faith and leaves.
The vital energy of the Word of God can expose all echelons of unbelief. No matter where they are, how hidden they may be or even how sincere a person may be in their religious activity, God will expose it. That is the next thing the Word of God tells us. The vital energy of the Word of God is illustrated by one of the most destructive weapons ever devised, the sword.
The sword is really a close combat weapon. Swords were not meant to give a small cut. Swords, in battle, were used and designed to be plunged through the enemy and kill them. Furthermore, if needed, to cut the enemy’s head off or cut the enemy in half.
That is why it is still a very effective weapon today. In Hebrews 4:12 it says:
12For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword…
It is sharper than a sword. When the past generation sought to disregard the oath of God and enter Canaan, they were driven back by the swords of the Amelekites and Canaanites. It is that very word from the Old Testament that he picks up here. That sword is a two-edged sword. A two-edged sword means that it cuts both ways and can easily slice someone in half. Razor-sharp on both ends, it goes in easy and cuts where it needs to cut. That is the Word of God.
Also in Hebrews 4:12 is stabbing., He uses the word piercing. The sword enters with ease and is able to penetrate the very innermost core of an individual and brings to our attention his point. In verse Hebrews 4:12 it says:
12…and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
What he is saying is that due to the context in which these passages sit, he is expounding to us the declaration that the unbeliever should not enter the rest of God based on the oath/Word of God. So neither will the unbeliever escape the destructive energy of the Word of God.
It is necessary, in the consequences of the dynamic nature of the Word of God, when it divides something as illustrated here; whether the division of soul and spirit, it produces death. The sword goes out to produce death. To conquer, divide and slice. The joints and marrow cannot be divided without exertion of great force which will assuredly produce great pain and eventually death to the enemy.
The Word of God goes out with such force that no one can stand against it. It is a sword like no other sword. When God’s Word went out to those long ago in the wilderness, it proved to be living and active because it carried out with great effect the denunciation of God’s oath in Hebrews 4:3:
3"…As I swore in My wrath, They shall not enter My rest,"
The carcasses of 100,000 Israelites died in the desert. That only means that the threat announced against unbelievers of the New Testament economy will certainly not be less. Hence, the repeated warning in the New Testament today: If you hear His voice, don’t harden your heart. If you hear His voice, look at yourself. Where do you stand before God?
If you do not have tomorrow, will the Word of God become a terror to you in a way where it would produce eternal death instead of life, which it is by its very nature? Why are we not to harden our hearts? Because God’s oath still remains. Those who will not enter His rest by believing in Jesus Christ for eternal salvation are known by God and they will not enter.
The Word of God produces death to those who do not believe and exposes the true nature of unbelievers. It renders them defenseless before the scrutinizing gaze of the Judge.
In John 12:47 gives us some insight to who the Judge is:
47If anyone hears My sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.
That is the mission of God. It says in the passage of scripture that he came to save and not save and not judge. However, look at John 12:48 says:
48He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day.
The bible is telling us the two-fold mission of the Lord Jesus Christ: To save by the Word of God and to judge by the Word of God. Mainly to save by the Word of God so people will hear, not harden their heart. They will listen, believe, follow Christ and not reject Him. Those who finally reject Him and remain in their unbelief will be judged by the same word.
In Hebrews 4:12 it says:
12…able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
The deep recesses of your heart, where we place and hide things. No one knows about this part of your heart but you. No one but God. The Word of God goes out, goes deep and penetrates the soul and down to the very considerations of your thoughts. In fact, what you are thinking about before you even act on them. Even how you think and where it leads to in your actions. It is able to go right down to the very core of your being and expose you.
It has the ability to disclose the most secret and most closely hidden sin of the human heart. The Word of God will threaten the external actions as well as the thoughts, opinions and desires. It will lay them bare before God in regards to what one thinks and wants.
In other words, we cannot hide anything. In that sense, the Word of God becomes a terror to those who remain in unbelief. It exposes the apostate. It exposes the secret unbeliever. It exposes the backslider running from the faith. It exposes the vanities of our earthly thoughts. The emptiness of our earth-bound strivings. The worldly achievements that we put so much energy and time into. Yet all the time, it was just for our own pleasure.
Especially the foolishness of opposing God’s spirit when the voice of God was proclaimed to you. What good would any of these things be if we have not genuinely and sincerely obeyed the Master’s voice and entered God’s rest in repentance towards God through faith in Jesus Christ? What good would any of this be if when you come to the end of your life, you do not know your Creator through Christ?
There is another thing that the Word of God exposes: It exposes those who love the truth. It exposes those who are found in Jesus Christ. It knows who we are and God knows His children. It is not a matter of whether we know God, it is whether God knows you. That is the real issue, does God know you? Are you one of His children because you came to Christ with child-like faith and believed? The Word of God is the only power that can penetrate so deeply and expose the inwardness of our being so completely. It will reveal sins in order to bring one to repentance. Whether in word, thought, or action. It will also do the same for the purpose of judgment leaving that person with no way out.
An old commentator said “However orthodox then may be our professed creed. However regular our external conduct. If our views of truth are not confirmed to the mind of Christ. If our tempers and dispositions are not regulated by the statements of His Word and subject to the influence of His Spirit. Though we may be called by His name and students and preachers of His Word, we are none of His. We are in reality unbelievers.”
That should cause anyone to step back and reexamine themselves. To question if whether or not their relationship with Christ is real. Are we just going through the motions, acting them out? Are we caught up in a phase of our lives and just having a good time? Or are we truly believers? God wants us to know now so the Word of God will not be a terror to you but rather a blessing.
That takes us to the last observation of the Word of God in Hebrews 4:13. This demonstrates the exhaustive surveillance of the Word of God:
13And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.
Many learned interpreters think that this is actually a reference to the manner in which the priest inspected the victims intended for sacrifice in the Old Testament. After being killed, they were hung by the neck, the skin was stripped off them, the bowels taken out and the backbone opened. This is so the internal parts of the animal were completely laid open. So the priest could inspect it and was able to see any blemish in the animal that would make it unfit of being a perfect sacrifice to God.
In a real way, whether this was in mind or not, the thing that was clear is that the Word of God can cut through your defenses. Lay bare all your inward thoughts, intentions and secrets. It either convicts a person to make changes or to make it impossible to avoid God’s righteous judgment. God is perfectly aware and can deal with us. Not according to what we appear to be, but according to what we really are and what He really knows us to be.
That is why the Word of God is so frightening for those who remain in unbelief. The bottom line is that those who have not believed as yet and are still in disbelief go against the oath of God that still stands against them They will not enter into the rest of God. They will be left with the terror of the Word of God to which there is no escape.
My admonition to those in that condition is that today is the day of salvation. Today is the day you should come to Christ. Today is the day to ask Christ to save you. Tell Him that you are a sinner and cannot save yourself. Ask Him to save you by the blood of His Son and forgive you of your sins and grant you eternal life and rescue you by the terror of the judgment of the Word of God. There is no escape from that. To be condemned forever is a horrible thought.
However, brethren, there is also good news. To those who believe and continue, there is good news. Those who trust God’s promise and believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior will enter into God’s rest. Instead of the terror of the Word of God against them, they have a merciful High Priest who is for them. He is interceding on their behalf and helping them to hold fast to their confession.
Why does the High Priest do that for those who believe? Because we are weak and have remaining corruption in our life and sin. We are prone to wonder. Look at Hebrew 4:14-16
14Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. 16Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
This is the blessing of the believer. We do not have to be afraid of the terror of the Word of God because we have a merciful High Priest, Jesus Christ. He intercedes for us, holds on for us. He causes our confessions to be strong. When we are weak, He causes us to persevere until the end of our lives. He then takes us into His rest.
Those who do not believe do not have a High Priest. They have no one to intercede for them. They have no one to plead their case or sacrifice on their behalf and shed the blood of sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins.
We, who believe, do have a High Priest and that is a great comfort. We are not afraid of the Word of God. It does not mean that it does not cut us. It will expose us and examine us. It is doing it right now. However, in the Day of Judgment the terror of the Word of God will be absent because we have a Mediator that will stand between us and God.
That is the blessing of the Word of God. That is the encouragement of the Word of God. We need to hear and know this. We need to know this so we can take the next step, the next breath and wake up tomorrow in this world. We need this more than anything else.
As the old tribe heard the gospel come to them in Papa New Guinea. They screamed out “Etou Etou”. It is true! It is true. That is our battle cry. May the Lord lead you into His grace and give you rest. This is so you can hold to your confession as He holds to you. So you can escape the final terror of the Word of God because you have a High Priest who knows all about you and is for you.
He has taken care of every detail so you can be saved. There is nothing to fear.
Let us pray/ Lord I thank you that in just a few short passages of scripture, they can be so much. It only proves, again, that Your Word is not the word of men. The word of men is not living and effective. It is not eternal and cannot expose a man’s heart like Your Word can. I pray that Your Word will go out with power so that all who hear it will come before You and believe You as their Lord and Savior.
For us who do believe, we thank You Lord for laying out Your rest. We thank You Jesus for being our High Priest. We have a Mediator who stands between us and God. We have someone who has taken the wrath of God. We have someone who pleads our case and prays for us. He intercedes for us because we are weak and prone to wonder. We get caught up in sin. Deliver us from these things so we can confess our sins, come to the cross again and hear you say that we are forgiven. Not any one sin but all our unrighteousness because Your sacrifice is eternal. Someday, we are looking forward to that final place of rest so we can enjoy it with You. Increase our faith and hope today so we can rest in the fact that we do not have to be in the terror of God because we have a High Priest. Continue to hold us fast for the sake of the advancement of the Kingdom of God; I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.