When I was a toddler, my biological father would pick me up at 12:00 to go to his house until 4:00 on Sundays. Then he would get me back home so I could attend evening services. Why? Because one is “not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together” (Hebrews 10:25). While there is nothing wrong with attending a Sunday evening service or even requiring such attendance from a toddler, sincere Christians and elderships cite this passage in disciplining unruly Christians who miss services. I’ve even seen this text thrown around in discussions surrounding COVD restrictions, with some suggesting that churches who opt for online services are “forsaking the assembly.”
Most recently, elders in Tennessee sent a letter to a member of their church excommunicating them for missing church and having an unscriptural relationship.
Is this what Hebrews 10:25 teaches? Does this passage grant elders the authority to demand perfect attendance from Christians? Did the writer of Hebrews have Sunday service in mind?
Hebrews 10:25 is a warning to the church to not forsake the eschatological regathering of Israel, not an encouragement to attend a Sunday worship service.
The Purpose of Hebrews
Before we get into the specifics of Hebrews 10:25, it’s best we understand the overall flow of the letter to the Hebrews.
The very first two verses of Hebrews say,
God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.Hebrews 1:1–2
The Hebrews writer identifies himself as living in the last days. This is significant for several reasons, but for the purpose of this essay, we will just notice one: the last days were the time in which God promised to regather Israel and Judah into one body through the Messiah, the son of David. This is a major theme of the prophets, especially Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea. One major passage which explicitly mentions the last days is Hosea 3.
For the sons of Israel will remain for many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred pillar and without ephod or household idols. Afterward the sons of Israel will return and seek the LORD their God and David their king; and they will come trembling to the LORD and to His goodness in the last days.Hosea 3:4–5
Another major text is Joel 2. Peter specifically applies Joel to the events surrounding Pentecost. Joel begins chapter 3,
For behold, in those days and at that time, When I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem…Joel 3:1
“In those days” is the last days Peter talks about, and “at that time” is the day of the Lord from Joel 2:31. Peter and the other writers of the New Testament saw themselves as fulfilling God’s promises of restoration through their gospel in the last days.
Later in Hebrews, the author says that Jesus was crucified at the ends of the ages, which is another way of talking about the last days.
Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.Hebrews 9:26
The consummation of the age was the concern of the disciples in their questioning of Jesus in Matthew 24:3. It is also something Jesus spoke about in Matthew 13:39-40. John, while not mentioning this event specifically, said that the axe was already laid to the root of the tree and that Jesus had the last tool of the harvest in His hand.
The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.Matthew 3:10–12
The references above, coupled with John’s promise that the kingdom was at hand, show that John, Jesus, and the writer of Hebrews all understood themselves to be living in the last days, the consummation of the ages. This is further seen no less than twice in Hebrews 10.
not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.Hebrews 10:25
What day did the writer have in mind? Read on. After speaking of vengeance and judgement for several verses, he writes,
For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. FOR YET IN A VERY LITTLE WHILE, HE WHO IS COMING WILL COME, AND WILL NOT DELAY.Hebrews 10:36–37
Notice that they would “receive what was promised” when He would come “in a very little while.” The thing that was promised, what was always promised to Israel, was her land promises. We can trace this back to Abraham, and it is the subject of many prophecies.
The collection of promises which speak of Israel returning to the land under the Messiah is known as the New Exodus or the Second Exodus.
The primary source for this expression is Isaiah 11.
Then it will happen on that day that the Lord Will again recover the second time with His hand The remnant of His people, who will remain, From Assyria, Egypt, Pathros, Cush, Elam, Shinar, Hamath, And from the islands of the sea. And He will lift up a standard for the nations And assemble the banished ones of Israel, And will gather the dispersed of Judah From the four corners of the earth.Isaiah 11:11–12
The New Exodus is the focus of much of the New Testament writer’s attention. It is hard to single any one author out because it is prevalent in all their writings, but Luke and Mark notably spend considerable amounts of time drawing these connections. Consider, for instance, Acts 15. In Acts 15, the apostles and elders of the church at Jerusalem hold a conference to decide whether Gentiles should be circumcised. James makes an interesting statement while drawing his conclusion:
After they had stopped speaking, James answered, saying, “Brethren, listen to me. “Simeon has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name. “With this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written, ‘AFTER THESE THINGS I will return, AND I WILL REBUILD THE TABERNACLE OF DAVID WHICH HAS FALLEN, AND I WILL REBUILD ITS RUINS, AND I WILL RESTORE IT, SO THAT THE REST OF MANKIND MAY SEEK THE LORD, AND ALL THE GENTILES WHO ARE CALLED BY MY NAME,’ SAYS THE LORD, WHO MAKES THESE THINGS KNOWN FROM LONG AGO.Acts 15:13–18
James understood their ministry to be the fulfillment of these promises of restoration which were made to Israel in the prophets. There are many other passages to which we could turn, such as Ezekiel 37 and Zechariah 14, but this will do for now. An extensive study of these and related texts would go a long way in showing the dependence the New Testament authors had on the Exodus theme.
In Hebrews, this theme is just as prevalent, especially in chapters 2-4.
Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.Hebrews 2:14–15
Now Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later; but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house—whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.Hebrews 3:5–6
Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end, while it is said, “TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS, AS WHEN THEY PROVOKED ME.” For who provoked Him when they had heard? Indeed, did not all those who came out of Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief.Hebrews 3:12–19
Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it. For 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.Hebrews 4:1–2
Therefore, since it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly had good news preached to them failed to enter because of disobedience, He 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.” For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that. So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience.Hebrews 4:6–11
Already Hebrews 10:25 should make more sense to us. The great gathering he has in mind in chapter ten is the eschatological regathering of Israel into the “rest” of God in fulfillment of the promises of a New Exodus in the Hebrew Scriptures. Notice the strong emphasis on staying firm unto the end, something Jesus told them to do in Matthew 24:13.
These themes of Exodus continue throughout the book, but this will do for now.
Abraham’s Land Expectations
The restoration of Israel meant a return to the land. This explains Jesus’ third beatitude: “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the land” (Matthew 5:5). The land which Jesus, and other New Testament writers and speakers, had in mind was a heavenly country/ kingdom. The two go hand in hand. To say that the kingdom of God was at hand was to say that the New Exodus/ return to the land was at hand. The son of David, the Messianic King, fulfills the type of Moses in regathering the people into the kingdom. This would be in fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham and his descendants, such as in Micah 7.
Who is a God like You, who pardons iniquity And passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession? He does not retain His anger forever, Because He delights in unchanging love. He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities under foot. Yes, You will cast all their sins Into the depths of the sea. You will give truth to Jacob And unchanging love to Abraham, Which You swore to our forefathers From the days of old.Micah 7:18–20
There is a strong connection between the forgiveness of sins and the giving of the New Covenant, something the Hebrews writer deals with extensively, but I’ll let you make those connections.
The Hebrews talks about these expectations of Abraham in Hebrews 11.
By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.Hebrews 11:9–10
All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.Hebrews 11:13–16
Chapter eleven ends interestingly:
And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect.Hebrews 11:39–40
So, to sum up the above, the land that Abraham was ultimately interested in was a heavenly country, what the writer calls a better country. This is the Heavenly Jerusalem of both Galatians 4:26 and Revelation 21. He then says, “That apart from us they would not be made perfect.” By this he means that the departed saints would not partake in these promises without the living saints.
With this in mind, notice the end of chapter 12.
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel. See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven. And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, “YET ONCE MORE I WILL SHAKE NOT ONLY THE EARTH, BUT ALSO THE HEAVEN.” This expression, “Yet once more,” denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.Hebrews 12:22–29
After saying that the departed saints would not receive the promises without the living saints, the writer then says that they had arrived at the very city for which Abraham looked. This city, according to the author, is synonymous with the kingdom of God, something Jesus said would come before some of His disciples would die (Mark 9:1). This agrees with the statements made in chapter ten concerning the “approaching day” and “the very little while.” In the above passage, the writer even says that had come “to Jesus.” This will be significant in the following sections.
Finally, in chapter 13, the author writes,
Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.Hebrews 13:12–14
Again, they were to “go out to Him.” This is the assembling the author talked about in Hebrews 10:25, not Sunday service.
The Assembling of Ourselves Together
Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.Hebrews 10:19–25
“Entering the holy place” and “drawing near” is their gathering into the presence of God. This is the eschatological gathering of Israel into God’s rest, another way of talking about the land promises. Further clarity can be brought to this discussion by examining the word translated “assembling together.”
The word is ἐπισυναγωγή (episynagōgē). It is used one other time in the New Testament as a noun: 2 Thessalonians 2.
Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.2 Thessalonians 2:1–2
Is Hebrews 12 and 13 not about the gathering together to Christ in the New Jerusalem? The Jerusalem the Hebrews writer said they had arrived at in chapter 12? I believe it is. This is the gathering they were forsaking by not enduring to the end. Let’s check out the verb form of this same word.
In Matthew 24:29-34, Jesus is answering questions about the end of the age, which we’ve already seen was coming upon the saints in the first century (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:11). In this stunning passage, He says,
But immediately after the tribulation of those days THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED, AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, AND THE STARS WILL FALL from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with A GREAT TRUMPET and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other. Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door. Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.Matthew 24:29–34
Apparently, the Hebrews writer had already begun to see the things that warranted his conclusions about the imminence of the events of which he wrote. Earlier in Matthew 24, as we already noticed, Jesus says that it would be those who endured to the end who would be saved (Matthew 24:13). What would happen if they didn’t endure? They would forsake the assembling/ gathering of themselves to Christ in the kingdom of God.
This passage from Matthew 24 comes alive when we see the source text: Isaiah 27:12-13.
In that day the LORD will start His threshing from the flowing stream of the Euphrates to the brook of Egypt, and you will be gathered up one by one, O sons of Israel. It will come about also in that day that a great trumpet will be blown, and those who were perishing in the land of Assyria and who were scattered in the land of Egypt will come and worship the LORD in the holy mountain at Jerusalem.Isaiah 27:12–13
“The holy mountain” is a theme which began in Isaiah 2. The holy mountain is, of course, Mount Zion, and it is the same mountain under discussion in Hebrews 12. It is no coincidence that the gathering to Mount Zion in Isaiah 2 takes place in the last days of Judah and Jerusalem. This great trumpet being blown marks the time when Israel would be restored. This is why both Jesus, Paul, and John appeal to the great trumpet imagery in their sermons and letters when speaking of the salvation of the elect.
With all the above in mind, it is hard to reach any other conclusion than the one we’ve set out to prove: the assembly of Hebrews 10:25 is not an assembly on the first day of the week but is the eschatological regathering of Israel as foreseen by the prophets.
Now that we’ve got that, let’s talk about Sunday.
Whenever the Doors are Open
Christians should attend every service. It is natural for any follower of Jesus to want to commune with other believers, recharge their spiritual batteries, learn more about God, and collaborate in making the world a better place. It is important to understand, though, that attendance, no matter how beneficial to the believer, is not a legalistic requirement of the saints. It is, however, a matter of conscience, and, thus, it is necessary for many. The reason it is not a legalistic requirement is threefold: (1) there is no such thing as a subscribed weekly worship service, (2) there is no passage which demands attendance to such a service, and (3) elders have no authority to bind such a service upon the congregants. While I will not labor to prove these last three points, I will point you to an excellent resource if you wish to pursue the matter further.
For lessons on the so-called worship service, click here: https://freedominchrist.net/articles-on-instrumental-music/
For lessons on the authority elders have, click here: https://freedominchrist.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Obey-Them-That-Have-the-Rule-Over-You_.htm.pdf
In this article, we have worked to establish the context of Hebrews 10:25. I believe we have sufficiently shown with the evidence provided that this is not demanding that Christians attend every service, VBS, gospel meeting, etc. Instead, in light of the entire book of Hebrews, it is about the eschatological gathering of Israel. Koester, in his comments on Hebrews 10:25, pointed this out as an option. I believe his comments will make a good close to this article.
Both the noun (2 Macc 2:7; 2 Thess 2:1) and the verb (Matt 23:37; 24:31; Mark 13:27; Luke 13:34) were used for the eschatological ingathering of Israel. Since the context refers to the coming Day of the Lord and since the listeners understood that they already shared in the powers of the age to come (Heb 6:5), they may have understood their gathering to anticipate the final ingathering of God’s people. The assembly is the earthly counterpart to the heavenly “congregation” (ekklēsia) of God’s people (12:23; cf. 2:12).Koester, Craig R. Hebrews: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Vol. 36. New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008. Print. Anchor Yale Bible.