Category Archives: Hebrews

Christ our Great High Priest

 

The book of Hebrews is largely dedicated to establishing the supremacy of Christ’s person and the superiority of Christ’s work over against the Old Covenant for the purpose of exhorting Jewish professors of Christ from returning to the former system which had become largely corrupt by the time of this epistle’s writing. The author establishes the authority for his message on the prior revelations of the word of God and rests on Scripture alone to speak in defense of his message. In doing so, he relies on the familiarity of the Scriptures, which his readers likely had, allowing him to build off of them and show clearly the similarity and superiority of Christ.

Perhaps this is seen most clearly in the establishment of Christ as High Priest. Notions of Christ’s fulfillment of this priestly office can be seen from the very beginning of this epistle through the language of Hebrews 1:3 “After making purification for sins,” Hebrews 2:11 “For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source,” and Hebrews 2:17-18 “17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” While these passages offer hints of more to come, the real exposition on the priesthood of Christ is developed in chapter 5, beginning in verse 1,

1For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2 He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. 3 Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people. 4 And no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.

5So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him,

“You are my Son,

today I have begotten you”;

6 as he says also in another place,

“You are a priest forever,

after the order of Melchizedek.”

7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. 8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. 9And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, 10 being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.”

This discourse begins by providing a reminder of the Aaronic Priesthood established under the Old Covenant. Several passages present a helpful background to aid in this understanding, Exodus 28, Leviticus 9, Leviticus 16, Numbers 16; 18, 2 Samuel 7:13-14. The features of this older priesthood are enumerated by the author:

  • Chosen from among men
  • To act on behalf of men (in relation to God)
  • To offer gifts and sacrifices for sins
  • Beset by weaknesses; allows him to relate
  • Offers sacrifices for his own sins
  • Not self-appointed, but called by God

Interestingly, this passage follows the chiastic structure(1), named from the greek letter chi represented by an X, to better illustrate the point of superiority that the author is hoping to make. The use of this literary device, the chiasm, is meant to create a mirror of a particular idea or concept. Generally the most important point can be found in the middle of the “X”. This can be seen below(2):

A The old office of high priest (v.1)

B The sacrifice offered by the high priest (v.1)

C The weakness of the high priest (vv. 2-3)

D The appointment of the high priest (v. 4)

D` The appointment of Christ, the new High Priest (vv. 5-6)

C` The suffering of the new High Priest (vv. 7-8)

B` The sacrificial provision of the new High Priest (v. 9)

A` The new office of High Priest

As the passage transitions from the Aaronic priesthood (vs. 4) to the priesthood of Christ (vs. 5), we can begin to see the aforementioned similarities and superiorities, beginning with the appointment of Christ to the priesthood by His Father:

5So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him,

“You are my Son,

today I have begotten you”;

6 as he says also in another place,

“You are a priest forever,

after the order of Melchizedek.”

7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. 8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. 9And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, 10 being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.”

The features of this newer priesthood are enumerated by the author:

  • Christ’s Priesthood was an appointment to the priesthood by God the Father.
  • Christ’s Priesthood is grounded in His Sonship.
  • Christ’s Priesthood is based on the authority of God’s Word.
  • Christ’s Priesthood is eternal.
  • Christ’s Priesthood is “after the order of Melchizedek” not Levi (Aaron).
  • Christ’s humanity AND Divinity are essential to His Priesthood.
  • Christ’s Priesthood is not beset by “weakness”; instead His is marked by His impeccability.
  • Christ’s Priesthood is efficacious and salvific.

Jesus was declared to be priest on the divine orders of His Father and the author of Hebrews points out that this declaration was recorded in the older testament, specifically Psalm 2 and Psalm 110. This quotation is interesting because it grounds the authority of Christ’s office as High Priest in the Scriptures and again references Psalm 2:7 to show that just has His kingship flowed forth from His Sonship, so too does His priesthood.

The relationship between the Aaronic (Levitical) priesthood and Christ’s priesthood can best be understood as typical, meaning that the Levitical priesthood was a type pointing forward to the antitype or greater reality that is Christ’s priesthood. Christ was a man like Aaron, but the God-Man (greater). By establishing Christ as High Priest after the order of Melchizedek, we can observe another great reality, namely that His Priesthood was pre-Mosaic law (covenant). Melchizedek was both king and priest, providing a type for better understanding the relationship of Christ as Priest-King, bringing together both offices and fulfilling the prophecies of Psalm 110. The Melchizedekian priesthood will be further defined by the author of Hebrews in chapter 7 and following, but we may conclude with an observation by A.W. Pink. In his commentary on this epistle, he notes that the Aaronic priesthood was typical of Christ in an earthly fashion. i.e. Christ being both the priest and the sacrifice once for all, while the Melchizedekian priesthood was typical of Christ’s in a heavenly fashion, as He rules now as both Priest and King.

What a glorious Savior! He who serves as both the sacrifice and the Priest now seated at the right hand of the Father having begun His heavenly session to make intercession for His people. Would that we would understand how powerful and significant this is in our lives as believers.  May it draw us nearer to Christ and cause us to love Him more.

 

[1] A chiasm (also called a chiasmus) is a literary device in which a sequence of ideas is presented and then repeated in reverse order. The result is a “mirror” effect as the ideas are “reflected” back in a passage. Each idea is connected to its “reflection” by a repeated word, often in a related form. The term chiasm comes from the Greek letter chi, which looks like our letter X. Chiastic pattern is also called “ring structure.”

Read more: http://www.gotquestions.org/chiasm-chiastic.html#ixzz3OvjR4HZz

[2] Modified from George Guthrie, The NIV Application Commentary: Hebrews (Zondervan, Grand Rapids MI), 1998.

 

The Supremacy of Christ

 

1Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” Hebrews 1:1-4

In the majestic passage quoted above, the author of Hebrews, under the Divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, seeks to establish the supremacy of Christ on the basis of the revelation of God. While most Pauline epistles begin with a greeting of introduction and the establishment of Paul’s apostolic authority, the Author of this epistle begins with the authority of God in revealing Himself first by means of the prophets and “in these last days” by means of His Son. This calls to mind the Parable of the Tenants (Matthew 21:33-43) where God first sent the prophets, which were killed, and then sent His Son, Whom they also killed.

Having established the foundation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a fuller or greater revelation, that of the Son, in the second part of verse 2 we begin to see in what ways Christ is superior. First, we see that Christ has been appointed heir of all things. This is His Sonship. This is the Father granting inheritance to the Son. We may ask, what is included in this inheritance? The Author here has placed no limits upon this inheritance; it does include all things, namely the universe and all that is in it. Secondly, we see that it is through the Son that God has created the world. In John 1:3 we read, “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” Paul in his letter to the church at Colossae provides even more detail, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” Col. 1:16 So we may conclude with these apostles that it was through Christ and for Christ that all things were made. It was He that was in Genesis forming the universe ex nihilo.

In verse 3, having established the Sonship, eternality, and creatorship of Christ, we begin to see something of an introduction into the nature of Christ. The Divine Author of Hebrews purposes here to introduce the audience, of largely Jewish origin, to the supremacy of Christ as God. He begins by stating, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.” Here we see first that Christ is declared to be the radiance of the glory of God. Some commentators have described this as the relationship between the sun and the sun’s rays. We may speak of the sun in reference to the visible rays that warm our skin and brighten our path. In this sense, the sun and it’s rays are indistinguishable. Similarly, Christ radiates all that the Father is, namely His glory. “We have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.” John 1:14 Secondly, we see a related phrase that Christ is “the exact imprint of his nature”. This may be understood with the analogy of a ring or signet to a seal. As in past times where a letter or decree was sealed with wax and the ring of a king was impressed upon the wax seal to give it authority so that all would know that this word had come from the king. So it is too with Christ. “Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father.” John 14:9 Within these two phrases we see the unity between the Son and the Father, but likewise a distinction in their persons. Though distinctly One God, yet uniquely separate in their Persons. “I and the Father are One.” John 10:30

Continuing on in verse 3, which acts as a thesis statement for the book, the Author next asserts the sovereignty of Christ, not only acting as Creator but here described as Sustainer, “He upholds the universe by the word of his power.” Christ as sovereign ruler over His creation upholds the universe by His word. Just as creation was spoken into being (Gen. 1:3), here too it is the Word of God that sustains the universe. This again speaks to the eternality of Christ, “The Word was with God and the Word was God” (John 1:1) and certainly indicates that He has at no time handed the keys of His sovereign rule over creation to another. Meaning that through both His incarnation, as a babe in a manger, and His death in suffering at the hands of man but moreso under the wrath of God, He at all times was upholding the universe by the word of His power. Certainly this must give us reason to pause at the majesty of Christ, “Who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied [humbled] Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Philippians 2:6-7.

As though intending to press home the point of Christ’s supremacy even further into the consciences of His listeners, the Author next directs the Jewish mind to the Levitical priesthood with the following statement, “After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” Though merely a preview of the exposition to come regarding Christ as the Great High Priest, this introductory statement is sufficient to see the superior relationship between Christ and the high priest after the order of Levi, set forth under the Old Covenant, and given regulation through much of the book of Leviticus (note the special relationship between Leviticus and Hebrews, particularly as it relates to holiness, i.e. clean vs. profane). Christ made purification for sins as both the Priest and the sacrifice through His penal, substitutionary atonement on the cross, namely His death in the place of sinners suffering the punishment that they deserved. (see Lev. 16) though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” Is. 1:18

The posture of Christ is significant here, as seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high. This is a position of power and it is a unique activity for a priest, for the work of a priest was never finished under the Old Covenant as he continually made sacrifices. Christ, once again far superior, made the sacrifice once for all (Romans 6:10; Hebrews 7:27; 9:12; 9:26; 10:1; 10:10) and sat down, the purification for sins having been accomplished Christ now begins His heavenly session at the Father’s right hand to Mediate a new covenant which is much better than the old (Hebrews 9:15; 12:24). It is here that He makes intercession for believers, acting on their behalf in the presence of the Father. It is here that the Father sees His children through the perfected righteousness of Christ having cleansed their sins and restored the relationship. Christ now lives to make intercession for them (Heb. 7:25).

Finally in verse 4, the supremacy of Christ over the angels is introduced and will be expounded upon in the remaining verses of chapter 1, “having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” As will be shown by the Author, angels held a special place of reverence in the Jewish world. This can be seen in (Gen. 16; Ex. 3:2; Job 33:23, Matt. 1; Matt. 28:5; Luke 1; 2 Cor. 11:14; Gal. 1:8; Revelation). Angels, as divine ambassadors were believed to even play a role in the given of the Mosaic Law (see Acts 7:53; Galatians 3:19). So here, the Author makes a special mention of the superiority of Christ over these angelic beings. We should call in mind that Christ created the angels, sovereignly rules the angels, and as has been indicated here, is far superior to the angels.

The second part of this passage serves to magnify the name of Christ as excellent above all others. “At the name of Jesus, every knee will bow.” How precious is the name of Jesus, the name that He has inherited is far more excellent than man’s, as if that were in question, and far superior to angelic beings who minister in heaven to the Father and Son daily having witnessed the majesty of God first hand. God has called Him Son. (Psalm 2:7) “Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Phil. 2:9-10

“You shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21

“…so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.” John 20:31

From these verses in Hebrews Christ is:

  • The Revelation of God
  • The Heir of All Things
  • The Creator of the world
  • The Radiance of God’s Glory
  • The Exact Imprint of His Nature
  • The Sovereign upholding the Universe
  • The Greater High Priest
  • The Greater Davidic King
  • Superior over all heavenly beings

How then can we not worship this Christ who is set forth in the pages of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation and placed under magnification in these verses from Hebrews? How then can we fail to truly surrender to Him, knowing that all things are under His rule? How then can we drift from Him, knowing that it is He that is seated at the right hand of the Father? How then can we walk through this life in fear and anxiety, knowing that Christ upholds all things and that He lives to make intercession for the saints?

This is the Christ; the radiance of God’s glory and the exact imprint of His nature; the Messiah, Immanuel, the Son of God and the Son of Man. He is worthy of the worship due His name.

How then can we escape if we neglect so great a Savior?

Solus Christus!

 

 

The Gospel Hope of Lamech

 

28 When Lamech had lived 182 years, he fathered a son 29 and called his name Noah, saying, “Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.” 30 Lamech lived after he fathered Noah 595 years and had other sons and daughters. 31 Thus all the days of Lamech were 777 years, and he died.

32 After Noah was 500 years old, Noah fathered Shem, Ham, and Japheth.” Genesis 5:28-32

In a previous post, we looked at the Gospel Hope of Eve and her expectation that God would fulfill the promise given to her and Adam in the protoevangelion of Genesis 3:15.  In that post we noted that her expectation that God would fulfill his promise was initially toward her first born, Cain, though we noted a shift in her expectation to Abel at some point, before finally being reached in Seth, the seed through whom the Messiah would come.  Though speculative, it seemed reasonable to assume that Eve had faith in the promise of God to send a Deliverer or Redeemer, much like other OT saints (see Hebrews 11).

In the passage above from Genesis 5, we note a similar expectation through the words of Lamech, the father of Noah.  Recall that in the post concerning Eve mention was given to the significance of the meaning of names in the Old Testament and we find again that idea conveyed through the name of Noah, which sounds like the Hebrew word rest.  Lamech’s expectation for the fulfillment of God’s promise can be seen in the following verse, “Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.”  The word translated “relief” by the ESV is literally the word rest, which corresponding to Noah’s name and the expectation that he would be one to deliver the people from the “painful toil of our hands.”

To understand this better and see the connection with the protoevangelion we must turn again to Genesis 3:15, though this time in context with the entirety of the curse given to Adam, Eve, and the Serpent:

14 The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. 15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” 16 To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” 17 And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Genesis 3:14-19

Of particular interest to us in this post is the curse pronounced on Adam, “cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Notice here that the curse given to Adam is specifically related to the toil of the ground or land through the labor of his hands.  God would no longer provide ease and abundance through the fruits of the land, but now it would require painful effort on the part of man to overcome the obstacles of thorns and thistles, and through sweat, i.e. hard work, the land would yield harvest.

Now we can begin to see the expectation of deliverance from this curse in the words of Lamech, “Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.”  Clearly the first part of Lamech’s expectation is related to the final statement of God’s curse on Adam:

The Curse on Mankind:

“till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Genesis 3:19

Lamech’s Expectation of the Curse Reversed

“Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed” Genesis 5:28

It’s not difficult here to see an expectation for the reversal of the curse given in Genesis 3.  Lamech’s expectation is that out of the very ground that had been cursed would come one who would bring relief.  Like Eve before him, Lamech’s hope was in the fulfillment of God’s promise of a Redeemer who would crush the head of the serpent, though he specifically has an expectation of relief, literally rest, from the curse of the ground.  Further, he expects that this one from the ground will be his own child, Noah, who would bring about this rest.  Again, like Eve, we know that it was not through their immediate offspring that the fulfillment of God’s plan would come, but through the Promised One, Jesus Christ.

It is certainly understandable in both the case of Eve and Noah that their hope in the promise of God would be fulfilled in their lifetime, but that was not God’s plan.  His plan for a Redeemer would unfold through the covenant promise given to Abraham, a kind of reminder of Genesis 3:15, and then through the people of Israel, culminating in the birth of Jesus Christ.

The expectation of Lamech highlights an additional point worth noting, namely the ultimate Sabbath rest that comes in Christ alone.  The Sabbath principle is far more than the 4th Commandment that so many have abrogated from the other 9 commandments.  It is a principle rooted and grounded in the character of God, revealed in the days of creation, longed for in the expectation of Noah, further developed in the Mosaic Law with Sabbaths and Jubilee, and ultimately finding its destination in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 3 and 4 develops further the biblical theme of God’s permanent, Sabbath rest to which all other Sabbaths in the OT pointed, that comes only through Christ:

7 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, 8 do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, 9 where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. 10 Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ 11 As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’” 12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. 15 As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” 16 For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.

4 Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. 2 For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. 3 For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest,’” although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. 4 For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” 5 And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.” 6 Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, 7 again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” 8 For if Joshua had given them rest, Godwould not have spoken of another day later on. 9 So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. 11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” Hebrews 3:7-19 – 4:1-13

Clearly this passage is worthy of a separate study, but we may conclude a few things in relation to the expectation of Lamech.  From Lamech and the passage from Hebrews, we may observe the connection between the promised rest of God and the promised land of God.  We may conclude that it is only in Christ that believers may find their rest from not only the physical labors of their hands, but the spiritual labor against sin.  Through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, to all believers, by way of Christ’s obedient fulfillment of God’s law, we may rest from all efforts to earn our justification.  Thereby we may now experience God’s Sabbath rest, even though, as in the days of Noah, we also look forward with eager expectation to the fulfillment of God’s promise to bring about our eternal, satisfying rest from all the toil of our hands in a land, namely the new heavens and new earth, that God Himself will prepare.