The Power of God
Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (13:20–21)
These verses are really a benediction and could stand without comment. Even Jesus’ own examples, perfect and powerful as they are, cannot in themselves enable us to follow in His footsteps. We need more than example. The writer calls on God to make possible the outworking of this truth in the lives of His people. To attempt to live the Christian life with the purest doctrine and the finest examples, but without God’s direct power, is to build with wood, hay, and straw (1 Cor. 3:12). We not only need to know God’s will, we need to have His power. We need the God of peace to equip us in every good thing to do His will.
So God gives us His ethics and He gives us the power to follow them, to live them out. Christian growth and obedience have nothing to do with our own power. Christian growth and obedience are by God’s power, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ.
The greatest display of divine power in the history of the universe was at the resurrection of Jesus Christ, when God brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant. God is the God of peace, in that He has established peace with man through the blood of the cross (Col. 1:20). By that cross an eternal covenant was made (cf. Zech. 9:11; Ezek. 37:26). So the blood of Jesus our Lord is eternally powerful (unlike the repeated, temporary Old Covenant sacrifices) and satisfactory to God, thus He brought Him up from the dead. It is the God of this power and the power of this God that enable those who love Him to do His will. “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God” (2 Cor. 3:5).
The thing we must contribute to the Christian life is willing yieldedness. All we have to do is open the channel of our wills and let God’s power work through us. “Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food, will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness” (2 Cor. 9:10). We can work out our salvation because God is at work in us “both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12–13). Because Christ does the work, He deserves the credit and praise, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
21 The prayer in v. 21a is a “wish prayer” expressed by an optative verb (as in 1 Th 3:11–13; 5:23; 2 Th 2:16–17; 3:16). It remarkably avoids using the author’s favorite term “perfect,” but that is what it is about; indeed, the verb translated “equip” implies making good what was previously imperfect. The purpose of being “equipped with everything good” (later manuscripts specified “every good work,” but the original text was more general) is not for the readers’ own benefit but to enable them to “do his will.” In this clause we see the typical NT dialectic between human responsibility to serve God and the divine grace that alone makes it possible, neither of which excludes the other (cf. Php 2:12–13). The second clause of the prayer makes the point even more explicit: what is “pleasing to him” is what he himself “works in us.”
“Through Jesus Christ” (note the full title in this more formal expression, as in the “creedal” statements of v. 8 and 10:10) serves both to specify the channel through which God’s grace flows to us and also to state the basis of the prayer (“through Jesus, to God,” as in v. 15). The fact that the phrase occurs at the end of the prayer makes it more natural to read the following doxology as an ascription of praise to Jesus, even though the terms (“glory for ever and ever”) are those traditionally used in praise of God (Ro 11:36; 16:27; Gal 1:5; etc.; in some other NT doxologies, Jesus is associated with God [as in Eph 3:21; Rev 5:13], while in others [e.g., 1 Pe 4:11] the syntax leaves it unclear whether God or Jesus is the subject). A doxology specifically to Jesus (cf. 2 Pe 3:18; Rev 1:6) suits our author’s virtual equation of the Son with God (see on 1:8, 10–12).
Prayer and Doxology (13:20–21)
20 Now may the God of peace, who by the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep,
21 fit you to do his will in everything that is good, as he brings to pass111 in us whatever gives him pleasure, through Jesus Christ; to whom be the glory for ever and ever.113 Amen.
20, 21 This prayer has the general structure of a collect in the third person, consisting of (a) the invocation (“Now may the God of peace”), (b) an adjective clause setting forth the ground on which the following petition is based (“who … brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus …”), (c) the main petition (“fit you to do his will in everything that is good”), (d) a subsidiary petition (“as he brings to pass in us whatever gives him pleasure”), (e) a pleading of the mediatorial merit of Christ (“through Jesus Christ”), (f) a doxology (“to whom be the glory for ever and ever”), and (g) the “Amen.”
That God is invoked as “the God of peace” may suggest that the community was troubled by disunity, which needed to be healed if the pleasure of God was to be wrought out in their midst. It is true that in the Old Testament “peace” has the fuller sense of well-being and salvation, but the Greek sense of the word would come more readily to our author’s mind than the Hebrew sense.
This is the only place in the epistle where the title “shepherd” is given to Jesus; but it is a title which comprehends the other rôles which are here assigned to him. Indeed, Markus Barth goes so far as to say, in a study of our author’s use of the Old Testament, that for him “exegesis is the endeavor to help people in need by telling them what the Bible says of their shepherd Jesus Christ.” The form of the title is derived from the Septuagint version of Isa. 63:11: “Where is he who brought up out of the sea the shepherd of the sheep?” The words in their original context refer to Moses—or, if the plural “shepherds” be read, to Moses and Aaron, in the sense of Ps. 77:20, “Thou didst lead thy people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.” Here they are applied to Jesus as the second Moses, who was brought up not from the sea but from the realm of the dead. (In the Exodus typology of the New Testament the “sea of reeds” which Israel crossed on the way out of Egypt is a token of the death and resurrection of Christ into which his people are baptized.)
This is the only reference to our Lord’s resurrection in the epistle; elsewhere the emphasis is on his exaltation to the right hand of God, in keeping with the exegesis of Ps. 110:1, 4, and the exposition of Jesus’ high priesthood.
Jesus was brought up from death “by the blood of the eternal covenant” (AV/KJV, RSV, NEB); that is to say, his resurrection is the demonstration that his sacrifice of himself has been accepted by God and the new covenant established on the basis of that sacrifice. The phrase “the blood of the eternal covenant” echoes 9:20, where Moses speaks of “the blood of the covenant” confirmed by God with Israel on the basis of the law. But now a better sacrifice has been offered, and the new covenant ratified thereby is superior to the older one in this respect among others, that it endures forever. (There may also be an echo here of Zech. 9:11, where God promises Zion that he will release her captives from the waterless pit “because of the blood of my covenant with you”; if so, it is but a verbal echo, but one may think of the rôle of the shepherd in the following chapters, Zech. 11:4–17; 13:7.)
The prayer, then, is that the people addressed may be spiritually equipped for every form of good work, and thus fulfil God’s will as he operates in them “both to will and to work for his good pleasure,” as Paul would put it (Phil. 2:13).
The adjective clause which concludes this prayer (“to whom be the glory for ever and ever”) is probably to be taken as an ascription of glory to God, the subject of the sentence (as is suggested by the punctuation of the RSV), rather than as referring to “Jesus Christ” as its immediate antecedent. Our author has already made it plain in v. 15 that it is through Christ that glory is to be given to God.
21 The pastor calls upon the God who has made this grand provision to put it into effect by equipping “you with every good thing” in order “to do his will.” “Every good thing” is a comprehensive description of all the “good things” (9:11; 10:1) brought by Christ’s high-priestly ministry. Thus, it includes cleansing from sin (9:14), a heart ready to obey (10:15–18), continual access into God’s presence for succor in time of need (4:14–16), and the promise of final entrance into the “Unshakable Kingdom” (12:28). God uses these “good things” provided by Christ’s doing the “will” of God (10:5–10) to enable God’s people “to do the will of God.” The people who “do the will of God” are those who live as if God’s saving power in Christ is available and his promise of entrance into the heavenly City is sure. God’s equipping of his people to do his will is further defined as “doing in us that what well pleasing before him.” This participial phrase reminds us that we do not and cannot live this type of life on our own. God does not “equip” his people in such a way that they no longer need him. He is continually “doing” or “accomplishing” (NIV) this life in his people as they continually rely on him and draw near through their High Priest. This life of trust in God’s power and promises (11:5–6), of filial awe and thanksgiving (12:28), of praise and brotherly love (13:15–16; cf. 13:1–6), is the only life that is “pleasing before him.” God’s people are not swayed by the opinion of sinful society, but motivated by God’s approval. By concluding with the comprehensive name/title “Jesus Christ” the pastor encompasses the totality of the eternal, incarnate, obedient, once-having-suffered-but-now-exalted Son. It is not only “through” or “by” him but “because of” him that God accomplishes his will in his people.47 In this way the pastor concludes by reminding his hearers that perseverance is God’s work. All of his exhortations for endurance are vain unless his hearers “draw near” and receive the grace available through Christ (4:14–16; 10:19–25).
To whom is “glory” to be ascribed “forever”? The pastor is probably attributing glory to “the God of peace,” who is the subject of these verses and the source of this blessing. The phrase, however, occurs immediately after the words “Jesus Christ,” through whom God has accomplished such a “great salvation” (2:3). This ambiguity reflects the deity of the Son and his close association with God the Father. The pastor has been establishing this association from the opening words of this sermon as fundamental to all he would say. Now, then, the pastor who began by affirming that God has revealed himself through his Son (1:1–4), concludes by reaffirming that this disclosure is nothing less than the all-sufficient “great salvation” accomplished “through Jesus Christ.” From beginning to end all is God’s work in Christ. This truth has been the burden of his sermon. Glory is due “forever” to this God and to his Son, who has become the “source of eternal salvation” (5:9). With this blessing and ascription of praise the pastor brings his final appeal in chapter 13, and thus the whole sermon, to a fitting conclusion. Yet the following verses retain their importance. Even in these seemingly mundane matters so typical of a letter closing the pastor does what he can to encourage his hearers’ wholehearted compliance with the will of God.
13:20–21 / The address the God of peace is a formula common in the Pauline epistles (e.g., Rom. 15:33; 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:11; Phil. 4:9; 1 Thess. 5:23; 2 Thess. 3:16). God is further addressed as the one who raised Jesus from the dead, although in the original the phrase our Lord Jesus does not occur until the end of the address (i.e., the last words of v. 20), just prior to the first petition, in a climactic position. This passing reference, in the midst of a calling upon God in prayer, surprisingly constitutes the only explicit mention of the resurrection of Jesus in the entire epistle (although of course the resurrection is presupposed in the references to the ascension that are so important to our author). The words that form the immediate object of brought back from the dead are the great Shepherd of the sheep, language that finds a nt parallel in the reference to “the Chief Shepherd” of 1 Peter 5:4 (cf. “shepherd of the sheep” in the lxx of Isaiah 63:11) and the words of Jesus in John 10:11 (cf. Mark 14:27).
Through the blood of the eternal covenant is a pregnant phrase that at once alludes to the earlier, detailed description of the sacrificial meaning of Christ’s death (chaps. 7, 9–10) and to the accompanying powerful argument about the inauguration of a new covenant (7:22–8:13). The author’s choice of the adjective eternal is deliberate. For if the old covenant gave way to a new covenant, assurance is needed that the new covenant is definitive and not itself merely a transitory reality. This is not to deny that ot language is utilized here. For our author, the new covenant established by Christ is none other than that “everlasting covenant” spoken of in Isaiah 55:3, Jeremiah 32:40, and Ezekiel 37:26. This is the “better covenant” of which Christ has become mediator (cf. 7:22; 8:6f.); and with the concept of an eternal covenant we may recall the “eternal redemption” mentioned in 9:12.
The actual petition is that this great God, who has already done so much, would now meet the needs of his people by supplying them with everything good for doing his will, and remarkably that he would at the same time work (lit., “doing”) in us what is pleasing to him. The shift to the first person pronoun us provides a sensitive identification of the author with the readers. In that the readers are called to do the will of God, and God does that will in us, the passage is reminiscent of Philippians 2:12f. It is to be noted that the agency of that activity of God in us is expressed: through Jesus Christ. This is in complete accord with the view of Christ and his work throughout the book (cf. 7:22). Most of the nt doxologies are directed to God (e.g., Rom. 11:36; 16:27; Gal. 1:5; Eph. 3:21; Phil. 4:20; 1 Tim. 1:17; Jude 25), and only a few, like the present one, are directed to Christ (e.g., possibly 1 Pet. 4:11; 2 Pet. 3:18; Rev. 1:6). This doxology serves as the climactic ending which corresponds to the exalted Christology set forth in the opening chapter of the book and, indeed, the Christology that constitutes the basis of the exposition in the intervening chapters. In light of the treatise to which the author is now putting the final touches, this doxology to Christ is both appropriate and moving. Although the Amen is formulaic, it is also the only fitting response to things so wonderful.
21. equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
In the immediately preceding verses (vv. 18–19), the author requests prayer for himself. Now he offers a prayer for the people he addresses. What a moving prayer! The wealth of theology and language in this benediction that virtually concludes his epistle compares favorably with the beauty and fullness of the first few verses of the introduction with which the author begins his epistle. The author is a literary artist and a masterful theologian.
In the first part (v. 20) of the benediction, note the following points:
- “God of peace.” The writer puts the subject God first. He describes God as “the God of peace.” That is meaningful, for he is the one who creates peace in the hearts and lives of people. Peace comes from God. Note the author does not pray, “May the peace of God,” but “May the God of peace.” God, then, is the peacemaker who is able to dispel distrust and dissent. And God grants the gift of peace to his people, so that they in turn are able to effect peace among their fellow men. Paul prays these words—“the God of peace”—rather frequently in benedictions at the conclusion of his epistles (see Rom. 15:33; 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:11; Phil. 4:9; 1 Thess. 5:23; 2 Thess. 3:16). The formula, therefore, seems to have been quite common in the early church.
- “Brought back from the dead.” God brought Jesus back from the dead, says the author of Hebrews. The doctrine of Jesus’ resurrection is fundamental to the Christian faith, for one of the requirements for holding the office of apostle was to be a witness of the resurrection (Acts 1:22). In their preaching, testifying, and writing, the apostles proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus. Even though Paul was not a disciple of Jesus, as were the other apostles, he encountered the resurrected Jesus on the Damascus road. Therefore, in his writings Paul teaches the resurrection and at the same time affirms his apostleship (see Gal. 1:1).
The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews mentions the resurrection of Jesus once, in the benediction. Indirectly he includes this doctrine when he introduces the topic of Christ’s exaltation at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven (1:3). He writes about the “great high priest who has gone through the heavens” (4:14) and he supposes that the readers will understand that Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to heaven. And in his summation of fundamental Christian doctrines, he lists the resurrection of the dead (6:2). Last, he alludes to the possibility of God’s raising Isaac from the dead (11:19) and the actuality of women receiving the dead who were raised to life (11:35). He cannot claim to be a witness of Jesus’ resurrection. As a second-generation believer, he heard the gospel from the immediate followers of Jesus (2:3). The author, then, briefly states that God raised Jesus from the dead and links this reference to Jesus’ office.
- “Shepherd of the sheep.” The words “the great Shepherd of the sheep” remind us of Jesus’ teaching that he is the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:11; also see Isa. 63:11). In effect, the metaphor of the shepherd who dies for his sheep is equivalent to that of the high priest who offers himself as a sacrifice for his people. Especially the adjective great is telling, for the writer of Hebrews calls Jesus the great high priest (4:14). The two concepts, then, complement each other, although as Guthrie observes, “There is a tender aspect to the shepherd figure which is not as vivid in the high priest.” Peter depicts Jesus as the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4). This great shepherd shed his blood and laid down his life for his sheep—in other words, his people—to obtain for them eternal redemption and to establish with them the eternal covenant that God had promised.
- “Blood of the eternal covenant.” Through the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, God announces his intention to establish an everlasting covenant with his people (Isa. 55:3; 61:8; Jer. 32:40; 50:5; Ezek. 16:60; 37:26). This covenant is everlasting because it is sealed in blood—to be precise, the blood of the Messiah. In the messianic prophecy of Zion’s king who enters Jerusalem on a donkey (Zech. 9:9; also see Matt. 21:5 and parallels), God promises his people deliverance “because of the blood of my covenant” (Zech. 9:11).
Two major themes dominate the epistle: the high-priestly work of Christ, summarized in the expression blood, and the covenant that is eternal. In this verse, once again and for the last time these themes are highlighted. God’s covenant with his people will remain forever. That covenant has been sealed with Christ’s blood which was shed once for all (9:26; 10:10).
- “Our Lord Jesus.” These three words—four words in the original—appear last to receive all the emphasis in the verse. A literal translation of the verse is, “Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord” (NASB).
In addition to using the given name Jesus, which calls to mind the earthly ministry and humanity of Christ, the author of Hebrews designates him “Lord” (2:3; 7:14). Although the title Lord occurs infrequently in Hebrews, its use in the Christian world was common, for it served as a brief confession of faith (for example, see 1 Cor. 12:3). In the benediction at the end of his epistle, the author wants to emphasize the sovereignty of Jesus. As in the introduction where he briefly points to the priestly and kingly offices of Christ (1:3), so in his benediction he combines in one sentence a reference to the priesthood and kingship of Jesus.
In the second part of the benediction (v. 21), we note these considerations:
- “May God … equip you.” The first part of the benediction consists of a summary of what God has done in Christ; the second reveals what God is doing in Christ’s people. In this section the author utters a prayer in behalf of the readers and asks God to equip them to do his will. The verb to equip actually means to make someone complete. It connotes the act of restoring—that is, perfecting—something. Some translations have the reading “may the God of peace … make you perfect” (NEB; also consult KJV; RV; ASV). God strengthens man so that shortcomings may be overcome. He supplies us with every good thing so that we may be able to do his will.
A plaque with simple wording adorns a wall in our family room. Every member of the family can testify to the truthfulness of the wording. Here is the text:
The will of God
can never lead you
where the grace of God
cannot keep you.
- “May [God] work in us.” In preceding verses the writer encourages the reader to live a life that is pleasing to God (11:5–6; 12:28; 13:16). A person who lives such a life is commended by God himself and is rewarded (2 Cor. 5:9–10). But man looks to God for help, direction, and wisdom. And because of the eternal covenant he has made with us through Jesus Christ, he grants us assistance. The writer of Hebrews prays that God may work in us to do that which pleases him. And Paul, writing to the church in Philippi, formulates the human and the divine in salvation. Says he, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Phil. 2:12–13).
Why is God willing to work in us? The author is almost repetitious in the wording of this benediction. He spells out that through Jesus Christ—note the combination of the two names (also see 10:10; 13:8)—God himself works in us and equips us to do his will. Through Jesus Christ, therefore, we are in God, and God works in us (John 17:21).
- “To whom be glory.” Translations vary, because in the original Greek it is not clear whether glory ought to be attributed to God or to Jesus Christ. Some commentators think that because God is the subject in the benediction, the author means to say that God should receive the glory. Moreover, in greetings and benedictions glory is given to God (Rom. 11:36; 16:27; Gal. 1:5; Eph. 3:21; Phil. 4:20; 1 Tim. 1:17; Jude 25). But some of them ascribe glory to Jesus Christ (2 Tim. 4:18; 2 Peter 3:18; Rev. 1:6; 4:11). In the benediction in Hebrews, the flow of the sentence seems to indicate that Jesus Christ should receive the glory. Obviously the formula itself is the stock phrase “glory for ever and ever. Amen.” And, therefore, the writer may not have intended a clear choice. For him they are the familiar words at the conclusion of a benediction. Amen, so let it be!
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1983). Hebrews (pp. 450–451). Chicago: Moody Press.
 France, R. T. (2006). Hebrews. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, p. 193). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Bruce, F. F. (1990). The Epistle to the Hebrews (Rev. ed., pp. 387–389). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
 Cockerill, G. L. (2012). The Epistle to the Hebrews (pp. 717–719). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
 Hagner, D. A. (2011). Hebrews (pp. 250–251). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of Hebrews (Vol. 15, pp. 429–432). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.