Friday, April 25, 2003

Gleanings from Hebrews

Jesus and the New Covenant(5)

This marks the second division of a series that introduces the Book of Hebrews. To start at the beginning, click here.

One very central tenet in Hebrews is the superiority of Jesus and the New Covenant over Moses and the Old. This second section of Gleanings from Hebrews will cover this central message.

Jesus: The Great High Priest

This subject of the high priest hood of Jesus Christ is one of the most significant and subtle of anything the author of Hebrews has to say. We can introduce this topic by looking at Psalm 110 and seeing the the author does with it, and what its significance is to us:

The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at My right hand Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.” The Lord will stretch forth Your strong scepter from Zion, saying,“Rule in the midst of Your enemies.” Your people will volunteer freely in the day of Your power; In holy array, from the womb of the dawn, Your youth are to You as the dew. The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, “You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek.” (Psalm 110:1-4, NASB)

The Psalm begins with a reference to the coming Messiah as the coming King, "Sit at my right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for your feet." He will wiled a strong scepter and rule in the midst of His enemies. His people will gladly follow Him.

But then the Psalm takes this curious turn and declares Messiah to be an eternal priest. This is indeed strange. Stranger still is this reference to Melchizedek. This priesthood of Jesus is a theme that the author to the Hebrews weaves and develops throughout the letter. Every chapter from 1 through 10 mention Jesus has a high priest or a great high priest. Chapters 7-9 formally develop the basis of that priesthood, and chapter 10 develops its meaning for us.

So the author has placed Jesus above Moses and the prophets. He has established Him as our kinsman. He has seated Him at the right hand of God upholding all things by the word of His power. Now He tackles the superiority of Jesus' priesthood over the system of priests in the tabernacle. It is the author's toughest job.

It is easy to establish Jesus' right to be king. The gospel of Matthew traces Jesus' lineage through Joseph back to David and Solomon. It establishes Jesus' legal right to the throne. The gospel of Luke traces Jesus' lineage through Mary back to David and his son Nathan. It establishes Jesus' blood right to the throne as the Son of David. David was from the tribe of Judah to whom the right of kingship belonged:

“The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes, And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. (Genesis 49:10)

But can the king be a priest? There is a legal and biblical problem here. Consider the case of King Uzziah:

But when he became strong, his heart was so proud that he acted corruptly, and he was unfaithful to the Lord his God, for he entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense. Then Azariah the priest entered after him and with him eighty priests of the Lord, valiant men. They opposed Uzziah the king and said to him, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron who are consecrated to burn incense. Get out of the sanctuary, for you have been unfaithful and will have no honor from the Lord God.” But Uzziah, with a censer in his hand for burning incense, was enraged; and while he was enraged with the priests, the leprosy broke out on his forehead before the priests in the house of the Lord, beside the altar of incense. Azariah the chief priest and all the priests looked at him, and behold, he was leprous on his forehead; and they hurried him out of there, and he himself also hastened to get out because the Lord had smitten him. King Uzziah was a leper to the day of his death; and he lived in a separate house, being a leper, for he was cut off from the house of the Lord. And Jotham his son was over the king’s house judging the people of the land. (2 Chronicles 26:16-21)

Uzziah trespassed the boundary of kings and priests and suffered at the hands of the Lord for doing so. Simply put, the priesthood belongs to the sons of Aaron. Aaron was from the tribe of Levi. How was Jesus the king to also be priest?

Psalm 110 contains two bits of information that solve this. Here is what Hebrews says:

This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham as he was returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, to whom also Abraham apportioned a tenth part of all the spoils, was first of all, by the translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then also king of Salem, which is king of peace. Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, he remains a priest perpetually. (Hebrews 6:19-7:3)

Psalm 110 speaks of the "Order of Melchizedek," which Hebrews argues is different from what one might call the "Order of Aaron." Melchizedek was King of Righteousness, King of Peace, and Priest of the Most High God. That is the path by which we must understand Jesus' priesthood. But why should we bother making this connection? Perhaps we should look for a King from the line of Aaron. Hebrews explains:

For the one concerning whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no one has officiated at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests. And this is clearer still, if another priest arises according to the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become such not on the basis of a law of physical requirement, but according to the power of an indestructible life. (Hebrews 7:13-16)

The "law of physical requirement" is being descended from Aaron. However, the priest according to the Order of Melchizedek is a priest forever. When Jesus conquered death, He showed that He had an "indestructible life." He can, therefore, be a priest forever. All the sons of Aaron eventually die.

And besides, Psalm 110 declares the the Lord has "sworn and will not change His mind. You are a priest forever." Hebrews proceeds to argue from this oath:

For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever. (Hebrews 7:26-28)

Jesus never sinned and, therefore, never needed to make an offering for Himself. After the Law, which appointed the sons of Aaron, came the oath that promised this future high priest. The oath appoints Jesus who is perfect forever.

So Jesus is the Eternal King and the Eternal High Priest. He the mediator of a covenant far superior and brighter than the old. This is the basis of our salvation:

The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers because they were prevented by death from continuing, but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:23-25)

Monday: Jesus the Final Offering

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Thursday, April 24, 2003

Gleanings from Hebrews

Jesus and the New Covenant(4)

This marks the second division of a series that introduces the Book of Hebrews. To start at the beginning, click here.

One very central tenet in Hebrews is the superiority of Jesus and the New Covenant over Moses and the Old. This second section of Gleanings from Hebrews will cover this central message.

Jesus: Our Kinsman

If my brother and I had lived in the times of the Judges of Israel, we would have responsibilities towards each other. 

  • If my brother had to sell his family property to pay his debts, I would have to work to buy it back.
  • If my brother had to sell himself as a slave, I would have to do all I could to redeem his freedom.
  • If someone killed my brother, it fell to me to find his killer and avenge his blood.

All these responsibilities would have come from the blood relationship. As kinsman and we would have had responsibilities to seek the welfare of our close relatives. 

This kinsman-redeemer concept is central to the drama in the Book of Ruth and a key factor in understanding why Jesus became a man.

The Apostle John wrote, "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14, NASB) The author of Hebrews tells us why:

But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings. For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, “I will proclaim Your name to My brethren, In the midst of the congregation I will sing Your praise.” And again, “I will put My trust in Him.” And again, “Behold, I and the children whom God has given Me.” 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. For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham. Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted. (Hebrews 2:9-18)

Note the following, "Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same." He became our kinsman and took on the responsibility for our welfare. He paid the debt, redeemed us from slavery, and will avenge our blood:

When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also. (Revelation 6:9-11)

He knows our frame and is able to help in human specific ways. There is no temptation that we face that He did not face. His being made like us enables Him to be our high priest in things pertaining to God, giving us direct access to the throne of grace. Eventually he will bring us to perfection:

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Friday: Jesus, Our High Priest

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Wednesday, April 23, 2003

No Hebrews Today

However, I invite you to re-visit an earlier post and read the comment trail.

Why did Job's friends attack him so viciously? Why did the Judean leadership accuse Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Satan? The answer is, in part, because new evidence challenged a deeply held worldview. Either the hearer had to adopt a new worldview or the facts had to give.

In the case of Job's friends, the world view could be represented by this sylogism:

  • If a man sins, God will bring suffering.
  • Job is suffering
  • Job has sinned

The logic of their world view was faulty, as the mistake in their sylogism clearly shows. There are other reasons that God brings suffering besides sin. However, until his friends saw this, they were accusing him of specific sins like taking bribes. The evidence of Job's integrity demanded that their world view change. They could not change their world view, so they attacked Job's integrity with imaginations.

In the case of the Jewish leadership, they could not refute Jesus' miracles, but they could not accept His assertion of equality with God. So they too, had to change the facts to keep their wordlview. Jesus did not heal and deliver people by the power of God, but by the power of the devil. I present this particular case in more detail here.

The comment trail in the above referenced post reflects the tenacity with which we can hold on to a world view. Of course, you will have to decide who is clinging.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Gleanings from Hebrews

Jesus and the New Covenant(3)

This marks the second division of a series that introduces the Book of Hebrews. To start at the beginning, click here.

One very central tenet in Hebrews is the superiority of Jesus and the New Covenant over Moses and the Old. This second section of Gleanings from Hebrews will cover this central message.

Jesus: The Builder of the House

I have posted the following verses several times in this series, already. But it is time to look at it again:

Since that time no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, for all the signs and wonders which the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt against Pharaoh, all his servants, and all his land, and for all the mighty power and for all the great terror which Moses performed in the sight of all Israel. (Deuteronomy 34:10-12, NASB)

No one in the Old Testament history of God's people was greater than Moses. From the Lord through Moses came the Law and the Tabernacle and the Covenant. He was there to oversee the birth of a nation from a band of slaves. The very laws of Christian societies are, in part, based on the Law of Moses.

But the writer to the Hebrews, tells us that Jesus outshines Moses. This, after all, is one of the principle themes within this book. The old was a shadow of the new, which shines more brightly.

Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession; He was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was in all His house. For He has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house. For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. 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 3:1-6)

Jesus is "worthy of more glory than Moses, by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house." Moses brought the Law to the children of Israel. Jesus authored that Law. Moses could say, "Here is what the Lord says, 'Do not commit adultery.'" Jesus said, "You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery,' but I say to you..." Jesus' authority came from His own being. Moses could write of "eternal statutes." Jesus said, "Heaven and earth may pass away, but my words will never pass away." Jesus is the builder of the house in which Moses served as a servant.

Moses mediated the covenant of Law and the Tabernacle, but it was just a model of a heavenly reality that Jesus entered:

Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister in the sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices; so it is necessary that this high priest also have something to offer. Now if He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law; who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, “See,” He says, “that you make all things according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain.” But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises. (Hebrews 8:1-6)

According to the Law of Moses the priests "serve a copy and shadow of heavenly things." Jesus, however, is "a minister in the sanctuary and the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man."

To recap: 

  • Jesus is the Greater Word
  • Jesus is the Greater Mediator

Thursday: The Greater Kinsman

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Monday, April 21, 2003

Gleanings from Hebrews

Jesus and the New Covenant(2)

This marks the second division of a series that introduces the Book of Hebrews. To start at the beginning, click here.

One very central tenet in Hebrews is the superiority of Jesus and the New Covenant over Moses and the Old. This second section of Gleanings from Hebrews will cover this central message.

Jesus: The Greater Word

The opening of Hebrews contains an incredible description of Jesus the Messiah:

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. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they. (Hebrews 1:1-4, NASB

Moses was great because God knew him face to face. And one time Moses asked to see God's glory, but the Lord could only have His goodness pass before him.

The Lord said to Moses, “I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight and I have known you by name.” Then Moses said, “I pray You, show me Your glory!” And He said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.” But He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” (Exodus 33:17-20)

The prophets frequently wrote, "The Word of the Lord came to me." They were the Lord's spokesmen. They saw visions and communicated them. The Lord spoke to His people through them. But with Jesus, things are very different:

  • Moses and the prophets were made, but the Son is He through whom God made the world -- and them.
  • Moses could only see God's goodness, rather than His glory, but the Son is the "radiance of His glory."
  • Ezekiel described his vision of the throne of God as "the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord." (Ezekiel 1:28) What he saw was two steps removed from reality, but the Son is the "exact representation of His nature."
  • The "Word of the Lord" came to the prophets, but the Son "upholds all things by the word of His power."
  • Moses instituted the sin and guilt offerings and the other prophets called the people to repent, but the Son "made purification of sins."

The Son sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. He has inherited a more excellent name than the angels. In an earlier series, I demonstrated how Jesus taught in a way no other teacher would dare to teach. His life and His power and His Spirit gave credence to His message or it would have been long forgotten. To study His life in the gospels is to see the nature and character of God more clearly than ever before.

The opening words of Hebrews are an unambiguous statement of Jesus' divine nature. They also carry a responsibility:

For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will. (Hebrews 2:1-4)

The Rabbis have a name for the logic the writer to the Hebrews uses here. It is KAL V'CHOMER, or "light and heavy." The idea is that "if this light thing, how much more this heavy thing." The author of Hebrews says, "If the word spoken through angels proved unalterable." This is the light thing. he then says, "how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?" This is the heavy thing. The good news is that it is salvation that we neglect at our peril. The Son who is the "radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature" is also the One who "made purification of sins." Through the Son we have the clear message and the provision for our sin. Our life consists of embracing this great salvation. It is to our peril to neglect it; To put it off; To account it of little value.

I would be tempted to say that the Son, Jesus, is the last word. In fact, however, He is the eternal word. He is the living word greater than all the words spoken by prophets and angels.

Tuesday: Of Builders and House Managers

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