Category Archives: Hebrews

Dull of Hearing

 

Following the context of the declaration of Christ as High Priest that we looked at in a previous post, the author of Hebrews now switches his attention to the spiritual apathy of his audience. Before he continues his exposition on the typological relationship between Melchizedek and the Lord Jesus Christ, he feels compelled to address the dullness of hearing that is plaguing the Jewish Christians to whom he is writing.

11 About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” Hebrews 5:11-14

In verse 11, the flow of discussion concerning the high priestly office of Christ, particularly in His fulfillment of the Melchizedekian type, “About this we have much to say” is interrupted sharply by the author, “and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.” His comment here is not a reference to the difficulty he faces in explaining the relationship between Christ and Melchizedek, rather the difficulty lies in his hearers grasping the teaching because their spiritual ears have become dull.

It may help our understanding of the message of Hebrews by noting the cultural difficulties that the Jewish Christians were facing at this time and the purpose and motives of the author. For lack of a better term, the time period between Christ’s earthly ministry (~30-33 AD) and the destruction of the temple (70 AD) could be considered a transitional period, i.e. from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant, keeping in mind that much of the Judaism of the patriarchs had been corrupted into a system of works righteousness by the time of Christ. Many of those to whom this epistle is addressed were in danger of slipping back into their former Judaic practices. The author of Hebrews has set out to declare the superiority of Christ over the types and shadows that pointed forward to His coming, namely through the administration of the Old Covenant. With this in mind, the slip back into Judaism was an abandonment of the reality of Christ in favor of the types and shadows with which they had become accustomed. Therefore, when we arrive at such a declaration of Christ as High Priest, superior over the Aaronic priesthood and typological of the Melchizedekian priesthood, we can see how this would have been a radical doctrine for the first century Jews to grasp, particularly if they had become apathetic in their Christian faith. What had been hidden in the Old Testament types and shadows, namely Christ, was now revealed through His ministry (Luke 24). Before the author of Hebrews can expand upon what he has introduced, it is of necessity that the hearers of his message become spiritually attuned to what he has to say if there is to be any hope of understanding.

Spiritual ears to hear is a pervasive theme, particularly in the gospels. In Mark 4:9 we read of our Lord’s declaration, “he who has ears to hear let him hear” The use of hearing in Hebrews draws the reader back to Hebrews 1:1 and has been used in each of the two previous exhortations, 2:1 and 3:15 as an admonition to listen carefully.  There is an ever present danger of those who have been exposed to the hearing of God’s Word for years, yet it now fails to move them.

We turn by way of exhortation to the expectation of progress that the readers of the epistle were to have had, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God.” The Christian faith knows nothing of the status quo; nothing of drifting or stagnation. No, indeed it is faith marked with progress, growth in both knowledge of God and practical wisdom and application of this knowledge. Simply stated orthodoxy leading to orthopraxy, or right doctrine for right living.

Concerning the expectation of becoming a teacher, the author of Hebrews is not writing about the official teaching capacity of those who have been called to this church office, rather the expectation is that all believers must be teachers. This is the fulfillment of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) and is not limited to a select few who have the gift of teaching. We are called to teach our neighbors, teach our children, our friends, all those with whom God brings into our path. That is the expectation that the author is carrying forward to his audience in beginning his exhortation, but they had failed in this regard and now required to be taught again “the basic principles of the oracles of God”. This phrase will be further defined in the subsequent verses but is referred to here as milk as opposed to solid food.

God’s Word contains both milk and solid food so it’s important for us to not denigrate milk in favor of meat, as both are necessary to good health. Though a baby is unable to digest meat, limited early on to only milk, there is an expectation that he will one day be eating solid food.  Still the balance of milk in his diet is necessary. So too in our spiritual appetite for God’s Word. There are foundational teachings of Christ and the gospel that are milk, which we never progress beyond but instead prepare us for the digestion of meat.  In this context the meat seems to refer, at least in part, to the understanding of Christ as High Priest after the order of Melchizedek.

The Apostle Paul, writing his epistle to the Romans, likewise uses the phrase “oracles of God” in reference to the advantages that the Jews had, Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. Romans 3:2 Here it would seem, as in our passage from Hebrews 5, that the oracles of God refers to the entire corpus of the Old Testament revelation. Oracles in both case is a translation of the Greek word logion related to the word logos and is also found in Acts 7:38 in reference to the oracles of God received by Moses at Sinai and 1 Peter 4:11 in reference to the oracles of God be spoken by those who serve in that capacity. We can see then in general it has reference to the revelation of God, particularly that which has been inscripturated.

Continuing the contrast between milk and solid food we read, “for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” Those who are content to ingest only the milk of the Word are as children, unskilled (literally untrained or inexperienced) in the word of righteousness. This particular phrase, much like the oracles of God, will be further illumined in subsequent verses, but would seem to follow along the lines of the contrast that’s being made. Those who feed on solid food have their senses (powers) of discernment trained by constant practice and are able to distinguish good from evil. Therefore, they are skilled in the word of righteousness. This would seem to imply that this particular phrase has in mind an ethical or moral behavior that flows directly out of an understanding of biblical doctrine. In other words, righteousness here can be a reference to both the believer’s justification and their subsequent righteous actions to discern good from evil. The author’s use of the phrase, “to distinguish good from evil” should bring to mind Genesis 3:22, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil.” Being skilled in the word of righteousness is far more than an intellectual assent, it is putting into practice what God has revealed through the power of the Holy Spirit causing us to be more like Christ.

As this passage continues to unfold, it will lead into one of the most difficult and controversial passages in the Bible that is at the heart of Hebrews 6. For now, the message of this passage of Hebrews is so closely related to the post on the anti-doctrinal movement of evangelicals that I once again want to draw from Pilgrim’s Progress and Christian’s encounter at the foot of the hill with Simple, Sloth, and Presumption. This section from Bunyan’s work is included below:

I saw then in my dream, that he went on thus, even until he came at the bottom, where he saw, a little out of the way, three men fast asleep, with fetters upon their heels. The name of the one was Simple, of another Sloth, and of the third Presumption.

Christian then seeing them lie in this case, went to them, if peradventure he might awake them, and cried, you are like them that sleep on the top of a mast, Prov. 23:34, for the Dead Sea is under you, a gulf that hath no bottom: awake, therefore, and come away; be willing also, and I will help you off with your irons. He also told them, If he that goeth about like a roaring lion, 1 Pet. 5:8, comes by, you will certainly become a prey to his teeth. With that they looked upon him, and began to reply in this sort: Simple said, I see no danger; Sloth said, Yet a little more sleep; and Presumption said, Every tub must stand upon its own bottom. And so they lay down to sleep again, and Christian went on his way.

Yet he was troubled to think that men in that danger should so little esteem the kindness of him that so freely offered to help them, both by awakening of them, counseling of them, and proffering to help them off with their irons.

In a similar fashion, the hearers of the epistle to the Hebrews had fallen into the trap of slothfulness which is in opposition to doctrinal progression and depth of understanding. Their slothfulness in turn led to their satisfaction of a simplistic understanding of God’s Word. Following on, they had come to presume upon their salvation and as we will see in the unpacking of Hebrews 6, this has eternally dangerous consequences. May the warning bell of this passage ring loudly in our ears and may God grant us the desire in our hearts for solid food, that we may be skilled in the word of righteousness and have our senses trained by rightly applying God’s word in every area of our lives unto the obedience of faith.

 

 

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!