“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).
The changing world
The Lord has ushered in a new year and, as Rev R Bredenhof said in a sermon on this text, we can expect changes: “The circumstances of your family might gradually change. Your work situation becomes different. There’s a shift in church life. There can also be serious changes in our health, our financial state, or the lives of those we love. We can’t predict any of these things, so we might have to completely revise our plans. What’s more, in this year the world will keep changing too. Governments will fall and be replaced. Economies might struggle. Nations will go to war against other nations, and disasters will befall certain cities and regions.” [I]
Dr J De Jong[ii] once said, if we look around and judge our time “with an open Bible then we can see that the signs of which Christ spoke concerning the close of the age are being fulfilled”. In Matthew 24 “Christ speaks of wars and rumours of wars, of widespread apostasy and unbelief, excessive opulence and luxury, and a spirit of revolution far exceeding anything appearing in previous generations”. Dr de Jong added that “we can expect greater and more dramatic cosmic signs and wonders to appear before the age draws to a close”.[iii] Those were his words about twenty years ago and we continue to see the evidence around us daily.
For example, just this week Gatestone Institute reported (with pages of evidence appended): “Anti-Christian hostility is sweeping across Western Europe, where, during 2019, Christian churches and symbols were deliberately attacked day after day.” The Institute had “reviewed thousands of newspaper reports, police blotters, parliamentary inquiries, social media posts and specialized blogs from Britain, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy and Spain” which shows “that roughly 3,000 Christian churches, schools, cemeteries and monuments were vandalized, looted or defaced in Europe during 2019 — which is on track to becoming a record year for anti-Christian sacrilege on the continent”.[iv]
Add to this the widespread aggressive promotion of LGBT , the mass immigration of Muslims and Hindus into western countries, the introduction of euthanasia and unrestricted abortion, the campaign to destroy marriage, the sexualisation of society, etc. In short, the unrelenting steady erosion of western Christian culture. Then there are ominous signs within ‘our’ reformed churches [v] (more on that in a following article).
In amongst all this change and uncertainty Christ is and remains an anchor for the soul, both sure and steadfast (6:19) and, says Rev R Bredenhof, whereas a ship’s anchor goes down into the seabed, our anchor goes up into the heavens, even to Christ.
He is our steadfast Rock, immovable, for “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).
Exhortation for the Hebrew Christians
That was certainly a text to instil much-needed comfort back when this letter reached the Hebrew Christians. They were surrounded by enemies. In chapter 10 we read how they were robbed of their goods. Some, we glean from chapter 13, were imprisoned; the others are exhorted to remember them. In verse 7 they are told to remember their leaders—”the pastors, or elders or bishops of the Hebrew church” who “spoke the Word of God to them”.[vi] At first the Hebrew Christians endured the hardships. At least, we read that they “joyfully accepted the plundering of [their] goods” (10:34). But over time their faith waned as their leaders became martyrs and Christ still hadn’t returned.
Yet they are exhorted to remember these leaders (vs 7) because they remained steadfast in their faith right to the bitter end. How could they do that? Because Jesus Christ doesn’t change. And the word ‘Jesus’ and ‘Christ’ used here both refer to His mediatorial work. He is always faithful to His promises. And therefore their leaders could face death confident that Christ, having accomplished His mediatorial work, would welcome them into heavenly paradise. Christ is the unchangeable Saviour. He paid for all our sins, redeemed us from the power of Satan, established a covenant of grace with us, turns all things to our wellbeing and will come again to usher in a renewed heaven and earth.
Exhortation for us
That is immense comfort, also for us today. Much, even shocking things, may happen in our lives. Frightful events can occur in our surroundings and in society. Disturbing developments can happen in church. Just look at church history – an unbroken chain of deformation, decay, self-willed worship; but each time again reformed and renewed through God’s Word and Spirit. [vii] We need not despair; Christ rules over all creation as head of His church and He is our Rock, completely trustworthy—the same yesterday, today and forever.
That doesn’t mean we can sit back and relax. In God’s covenant with us there is always promise and obligation accompanied by threat. Just think of the seven churches of Asia Minor. They disappeared after a while. Yet also therein Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. He remains faithful to His Word, for He cannot deny himself (2 Tim. 2:13). Hence the exhortation for His saints to be steadfast and immovable (1 Cor. 15:58) just as He is.[viii] And as Rev R Bredenhof puts it: “The Lord is our helper, unchanging, constant and certain” and directs us to look to Him “the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:2).
Jesus Christ the same yesterday
For the Hebrew Christians it must have seemed like just yesterday that Jesus hung on the cross. Moreover, says Rev R Bredenhof: “Just yesterday, it seems, was the marvellous day when He rose from the grave. Just yesterday, He ascended into heavenly glory at his Father’s right hand.
But even before all that, who did Christ show himself to be? We don’t find him walking around in the Old Testament, but we know that He’s there. ‘These are the Scriptures that speak of me,’ said our Lord about the Law and the Prophets and Psalms. On those pages, promise after promise pointed to his coming. Every one of those sacrifices and ceremonies anticipated what He would do when He came. And already long before He set a fleshly foot on earth, Christ was the reason God showed favour to his people—though his name wasn’t yet known, Jesus was the sure basis for God’s covenant of love with Israel.
Let’s go back further. Even before the Old Testament and before Genesis 1, who did Christ show himself to be? Think of the name that is ascribed to him in Revelation: He’s the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. That takes us back to a time we can’t even imagine, a time not recorded in calendars or history books. Like Psalm 90:2 says of the LORD, ‘Before the mountains were born or [before] you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.’ Even before time began, this Christ was exalted in power and dominion, in faithfulness and grace! These are the ‘yesterdays’ of our Saviour—the infinite stretch of times past when Jesus was ever the same.”
Hebrews 13 also refers back to that “cloud of witnesses” of chapter 11 who, despite the hardships and persecutions, lived by faith. Rev Bredenhof adds: “Whether in life or death, all these saints bore witness to one thing: the unchanging character of Christ. It was the Son of God who enabled them to live as they did, to be faithful, to persevere, to work, to believe—even in the most trying times…
It was Christ who enabled all those nameless believers to conquer kingdoms, to administer justice, to shut the mouths of lions, and to quench the fury of the flames. All of them are witnesses, witnesses to the glory of the Saviour! For even if Christ wasn’t with them in person, He was with them in Spirit and power. Through them He made great things happen, year after year.”
It’s this Christ who gathers defends and preserves His church through the ages. Both in church history and in our personal lives we have all experienced His goodness and mercy. We can entrust ourselves to Him because he is faithful to His covenant promises. He gives us confidence for today for He remains the same today as he was in the past.
Jesus Christ is the same today
Yes, our Lord, who has shown His faithfulness towards His people in the past, continues to care for them today. He cares for you and me and all who place their trust in Him and love and obey Him. Moreover, having taken His rightful place at God’s right hand, he has authority over all things. Says Rev Bredenhof:
“The love that brought him down to earth is a love that continues today, strong as ever. Because Christ is in heaven on our behalf. Sitting at God’s right hand, He still has the human body He once lay down to save us, and you can see the wounds He once suffered for our sins. Christ is and He remains the reason the Father will forgive. He is and He remains the reason that the Father will hear our humble prayers and answer.”
He grants us His Word and Spirit to guide and renew us so that each day we might honour and serve Him according to His Word. Each new day is a gift to praise and rejoice in Him and to seek His kingdom as He commanded. To quote Rev Bredenhof: “Here then, is our calling for today and every day: Christ, having redeemed us, also renews us by his Spirit, and makes us ‘heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him’ (Q&A 1).
Our Lord said don’t worry about all kinds of things about tomorrow … ‘but seek first God’s kingdom.’ No matter what else is going on, this is what’s right in front of you, today: the cause of God’s Kingdom, your calling to build the church, to delight in God, to be a part of the Lord’s purpose on earth!”
Jesus Christ is the same forever
That may seem a tall order when the world is in turmoil and Satan does not let up in his attempts to remove the vestiges of Christianity, to destroy Christ’s church, to promote false doctrine, to lull us into placing our trust in the things of this world, to lure us away from God through ungodly media and entertainment, to cast doubts about Him and His Word in our minds and to stimulate us to sin. Who can possibly stand against all that? Yet our Lord Jesus Christ enjoins us to go forward in His strength, placing our trust in Him alone. Events and experiences may lead us to become despondent, just as it did to those Hebrew Christians, but we must look to the Lord and know that He sees us in our every need. As Rev Bredenhof concludes:
“Listen to how the author encourages these Christians—these believers, remember, who were getting tired, who were even thinking of turning back. He exhorts them: ‘Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us’ (12:1).
We keep running, because in Christ we know where the journey’s going: ‘Here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come’ (13:14). This world and everything in it will soon pass away. Its idols will crumble. Its glories will fade. Its wealth and privilege—all forgotten. So also will this world’s sorrows and pains, temptations and anxieties and struggles—none of these things will last! So we do not seek a passing city, but the one that is to come.
And on that day when the holy city descends from the sky, won’t it be good to know that our Saviour will yet be the same? If we have believed in him, and have faithfully done his will, there will be nothing at all to fear.
For on that day He’ll be the same as He was from before the beginning—full of power and glory. On that day He’ll be the same as He was during his ministry, and then during his suffering on the cross—He’ll be full of compassion and love. On that final day, He’ll be the same as He was during all our years here on earth—full of mercy and truth. Just as Christ has been our faithful Saviour, so Christ will be, forever and ever!”
[ii] The late Dr Jack De Jong was professor at the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary, Hamilton.
[iii] “What’s Next? Some remarks at the Dawn of the New Millennium” (revised version of an address given to CanRC churches in 1999), Clarion, January 4 2002, pp. 9-10.
[v] See also https://defenceofthetruth.com/en/2019/07/what-led-to-the-changes-in-the-reformed-churches-in-the-netherlands-gkv/ and https://defenceofthetruth.com/en/2019/08/impressions-of-the-gkv-rcn-and-self-evaluation/
[vi] John Brown, Hebrews, Banner of Truth, London, 1862 (rep. 1972), pp. 686.
[vii] Rev. Joh. Francke, “Christus’ onveranderlijke presentie” (Christ’s unchanging presence) in his book of meditations: leven tot in eeuwigheid (life forever), Boersma, Enschede, 1973, pp. 30-33.