Jesus -- Who He Is
"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever," (Heb. 13:8).
Unfortunately, some verses in the Bible have been subjected to such blatant misuse, when the verse is quoted, your first thought is the misapplication of it. This verse has been pressed into the service of the doctrine of non-stop apostolic miracles. Those who believe that the miracles performed in the apostolic era continue today may quote this verse as part of their case.
Stop and think about this. If you had no previous thought of modern miracles, and you just looked at the verse - would you immediately say to yourself, "Here it is plainly. Jesus is working miracles through gifted people today, just like in the time of the apostles?" I doubt you would have that impression, just looking objectively at the verse. The verse says nothing about miracles. The context has nothing to do with miracles. Absent prejudice, there would be no reason to read Hebrews 13:8 and draw any conclusion about miracles in our time.
The context of the verse has to do with the activity and perseverance real faith produces. Start with Hebrews 11 and observe: Real faith is described in Heb. 11:1; Real faith is illustrated in the rest of the chapter. Real faith is seen in activity or behavior in chapters 12 and 13. Real faith in the life of a child of God means - running the race set before us; enduring chastening; being diligent lest we fall short of the grace of God; serving God acceptably with fear and reverence; letting brotherly love continue; holding marriage is honor and offering the sacrifice of praise to God, etc. These things are apparent when you read Hebrews chapters 12-13 without any prejudice in favor of miracles. These three chapters are not about expecting miracles today, they are about living by faith today. This section is about the activity and perseverance real faith produces in people.
Next, notice the wording of the text: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever." This is not telling us what Jesus does; this is telling is who Jesus is and the enduring nature of who He is. That may seem to be a technical kind of argument, but if the grammar of the sentence means anything - it says Jesus Christ "is," not Jesus Christ "does." It is certainly true that what Jesus does is based on who He is; but this verse does not attempt to specify anything Jesus does (in the past or present). It says, "Jesus Christ IS..."
This verse cannot mean that whatever Jesus caused or did in the past, He must be causing or doing today. And it is not necessary to leave the book of Hebrews to confirm or illustrate this. There are some things Jesus did in the past, He is definitely not doing today (see Heb. 7:27, 9:12, 9:26-28, 10:10). This is one of the vital arguments made by the Hebrew writer; in contrast to the repetition of the sacrifices under the Levitical system, Jesus offered Himself ONCE. Now do you see, if Heb. 13:8 means that whatever Jesus caused or did in the past, He must be causing or doing today - we have a serious conflict with one of the primary premises of the book of Hebrews.
So we now get to the necessary matter of what the verse means. It means that who Jesus is, in His character and person, is not subject to change. This truth ties in to the theme of Hebrews and the theme of this section. He is better than the angels and better than the old priesthood. And our trust (as Christians) is directed to One who is perfectly stable and dependable. Our faith has a real basis and should produce obedience in our daily behavior, now and forever.
Albert Barnes notes on the text:
The evident design of this independent proposition here is, to encourage them to persevere by showing that their Savior was always the same; that he who had sustained his people in former times, was the same still, and would be the same forever. The argument here, therefore, for perseverance is founded on the "immutability" of the Redeemer. If he were fickle, vacillating, changing in his character and plans; if today he aids his people,and tomorrow will forsake them; if at one time he loves the virtuous, and at another equally loves the vicious; if he formed a plan yesterday which he has abandoned today; or if he is ever to be a different being from what he is now, there would be no encouragement to effort. Who would know what to depend on? Who would know what to expect tomorrow? For who could have any certainty that he could ever please a capricious or a vacillating being? Who could know how to shape his conduct if the principles of the divine administration were not always the same? At the same time, also, that this passage furnishes the strongest argument for fidelity and perseverance, it is an irrefragable proof of the divinity of the Savior. It asserts immutability - sameness in the past, the present, and to all eternity but of whom can this be affirmed but God? It would not be possible to conceive of a declaration which would more strongly assert immutability than this.
(From Barnes' Notes on the Bible, Hebrews 13:8)
By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 8.7; July 2001