THE DAY APPROACHING
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another so as to stir up to love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:23-25, NKJV). (Note: Neither the KJV, the ASV, nor the NASB capitalize the word “day” in this passage, though the NIV, the RSV, and the NEB do capitalize it). To what does “the day approaching” in this text refer?
By ignoring both the immediate and the remote contexts of the passage, it would be somewhat easy (as I think many have) to assume that “the day approaching” refers to the Lord’s day, the day when Christians are to assemble for worship, fellowship, and mutual encouragement in the living of the Christian life. But to understand the passage in this way would demand that on Monday Christians would encourage one another a little to be present for the services the next Lord’s day, on Tuesday they would provide a little more encouragement “to be at church” next Sunday, on Wednesday still more encouragement would be given to be present at the upcoming Lord’s day assembly, and so thoroughout the rest of the week. At best, this seems somewhat farfetched and impractical, though it is always good for Christians to exhort one another to be faithful in attending the Lord’s day assembly, especially those who have developed a habit of being irregular in their attendance.
A thoughtful consideration of the larger context of the book of Hebrews will show that it consists of a series of exhortations for the Hebrew saints to continue to hold fast to the covenant of Christ, to not revert to Judaism, and to be aware of a time/day approaching when their faith in Christ would be severely tried and they would be tempted to abandon Him. Showing the superiority of Christ to Moses (Hebrews 1:1 – 3:6) and the completeness of the new covenant (the New Testament) compared to the inadequacies of the old covenant (the Old Testament) (Hebrews 7:1 – 10:19), the book consists largely of exhortations for the Hebrew Christians (and by extension, for us today) to remain faithful to Christ at all costs (Hebrews 13:22).
Therefore, in the light of the book’s context, “the day approaching” seems to refer to a day when the faith of the Hebrew saints would be severely tried. For this reason they are admonished to “consider one another so as to stir up to love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together,” as some were doing. Why? Because in the assemblies much exhortation and encouragement would be given to withstand “the day approaching” and to remain strong and faithful even when their faith was sorely tested and they were severely tempted to abandon Christ.
Robert Milligan (1814-1875), a pioneer in the movement to return to the apostolic faith set forth in the New Testament, wrote:
“To me at least it seems perfectly obvious that the Apostle refers here to a day which both he and his brethren were looking for as a day that was then very near at hand: a day that was about to come on that generation, and try the faith of many. And hence I am constrained to think with Macknight, Scott, Stuart, and others, that the reference is most likely to the day of Jerusalem’s overthrow. Christ had himself foretold the near approach of that event (Matt. xxiv.34); he had also spoken of the signs of its coming and of the great calamity that would follow it (Matt. xxiv.4-41). No doubt, therefore, the Christians of Palestine were all looking forward with much anxiety to the time when this prophecy would be fulfilled. They would naturally speak of it as ‘the day;’ the day of trial; the day when seeing Jerusalem encompassed with armies, they would themselves have to flee to the mountains (Luke xxi.20-22)” (The New Testament Commentary, Vol. IX – Epistle to the Hebrews, Gospel Advocate Company, Nashville, Tennessee, 1956, reprint of the original edition issued in 1876, p. 284).
While other possibilities exist for the identity of “the day approaching” (including the day of judgment), I lean very heavily toward brother Milligan’s viewpoint in this matter—that for the Hebrew Christians “the day approaching” very likely referred to the destruction of the city of Jerusalem which occurred at the hands of the Romans in A. D. 70. The contents of the book of Hebrews show that the destruction of Jerusalem had not yet occurred when the book was written. The likely date of the book seems to be somewhere in the A.D. 63-69 time frame, thus adding to the plausibility of “the day approaching” being Jerusalem’s horrific destruction—a time when the faith of Jewish (Hebrew) Christians living in Jerusalem and its environs would be severely tested.
But the faith of Christians is under fire in every generation and there is always “the day approaching” when we each will be severely tempted to cast aside our faith in Christ. Therefore, we, like the first century Hebrew saints, need to heed the admonition “. . . not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together” whenever the people of God gather for worship, fellowship, and encouragement to remain faithful to the Lord at all costs. Those Christians who forsake the assembly are far more vulnerable to falling away when their faith comes under attack than those who are faithful in attending all the services of the church. In fact, their absence from the services of the church indicates that they are already in a severely weakened spiritual condition. They need to return to the services of the church, and be faithful in their attendance so that their faith can be strengthened. They need to remember the words of Peter: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (I Peter 5:8).
January 21, 2020