The term Christology means the doctrine of Christ. The person of Christ and His work are inseparable, for the one imparts value to the other. The Epistle to the Hebrews is particularly rich in this respect; its primary purpose is to insist on the absolute and unrivalled supremacy of Christ our unique Saviour and Lord. Correspondingly, it solemnly warns its readers that to abandon Christ and His salvation is to guarantee eternal judgement.
The letter addresses the spiritual needs of a community of Hebrew Christians just prior to the fall of Jerusalem. They had endured considerable opposition and persecution for their faith in Christ, but several factors had combined to tempt some to revert to Judaism. Christ had not returned, and opposition had intensified. The response of the writer is to present Jesus, the Son of God, to them in a manner unrivalled in the rest of the New Testament, so that the noontide blaze of His radiance might eclipse all rival attractions. In this brief survey, we will broadly follow the sequence in which the Holy Spirit presents the person of Christ.
Chapter 1 makes a formidable contribution to our subject, and especially the opening verses. Christ is revealed as Prophet, Priest, and King. The God who spoke piecewise through the prophets has now fully and finally spoken to us in His Son.1 So doing, He has ushered in the last times, the era of fulfilment. Later, there will be emphasis on the supersession of the entire Mosaic dispensation, for by contrast all that the Son has done is stamped as eternal.
Whilst Christ is here introduced as the ultimate Prophet, there is a clear categorical distinction from all previous prophets. The eternal Son embodies, as well as articulates, the divine word, Heb. 1. 2, for He is the Word-become-flesh. Only in union with Him can others become sons of God, and enjoy the destiny that waits such, 2. 10.
The Son is appointed ‘heir of all things’. This probably echoes the language of Psalm 2 verse 8, ‘Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession’. Further, Jesus, the last Adam, will have all things put under His feet, Heb. 2. 5-9.
The eternally pre-existent Son of God is the creator of the world, 1. 2. The world created by Him is the world that will be redeemed through Him. He is ‘the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature’, v. 3 ESV. Radiance shines forth from a source of light. Christ is one with the Father in possessing the divine glory - the supreme revelation of God to men.2 The ‘exact imprint’ denotes a perfect correspondence of the Son with the Father, so that the Son is eternally the image of God. Moreover, He upholds all things by the word of His power, implying that He dynamically sustains and carries the cosmos forward to its purposed consummation.
With marvellous succinctness the writer states that in His incarnate state the Son ‘made purification of sins’, 1. 3 RV. This is the recurrent theme, and its bold statement immediately implies the supersession of the Mosaic dispensation, because He has achieved what no former sacrifices could ever do. The climactic statement is that ‘He … sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high’, v. 3 NKJV, cp. Ps. 110. 1, signifying both the completion of His great work, and His enthronement in the seat of utmost honour and authority.
Thoughtful readers ponder why the writer expends significant effort on contrasting Christ with angels.
The reasons probably lie with the speculative tendencies of certain strands of 1st-Century Judaism to elevate archangels to supreme positions in the messianic kingdom.
Christ’s implied superiority over angels is, however, clear from the opening verses of the Epistle. They are stated to be ‘ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation’, v. 14 ESV. Further, in chapter 2 sovereignty over the world to come is committed not to angels but to man. Here Christ is seen as the Man par excellence to whom Psalm 8 applies. During the days of His flesh, the incarnate Son became ‘for a little while … lower than the angels’, 2. 9 ESV. On account of His suffering of death, He has been ‘crowned with glory and honour’, exalted far above angels, Heb. 2. 8, 9. It was fallen human beings, not angels, that He came to deliver, and through His suffering, death, and resurrection He conquered Satan -the most exalted of rebellious angelic beings, 2. 14.
The towering figure of Moses has had a unique hold on serious Jewish minds. Many pious souls sought a truer experience of the ideals of the covenant established through Moses. But to imagine that this could somehow be combined with Christianity would be to mix mutually exclusive possibilities, 10. 18. The writer allows that comparisons may be made between Moses and Christ, 3. 1, 2. Yet, Moses served a house that was part of creation, whereas God is the builder of all, and here the reference to Christ is unmistakable, v. 4.
Chapter 3 goes on to emphasize the fact that the wilderness years were no golden era to be emulated, 3. 12 - 4. 13. Even the Canaan-rest which the nation entered under Joshua fell far short of the eternal sabbatical blessedness that is the portion of all those who rest in the promises of God, 4. 9.
Finally, as regards Moses and his covenant, had not Jeremiah announced that a new covenant was to be brought into force, clearly implying the temporary and provisional nature of the former? Heb. 10. 16; Jer. 31. 31.3
Aaron, Israel’s high priest, occupied a unique position alongside Moses as the people’s representative in the presence of God. Law and covenant were inextricably linked, Heb. 7. 11, 12, because the giving of the law necessitated a system of forgiveness by way of blood sacrifice, if God in His holiness was to dwell amongst His people.
As a major departure, Melchizedek, the ancient king-priest of Salem, Gen. 14. 18-20; Ps. 110. 4, is taken to be a type of the Lord Jesus, both in terms of what is said and what is not said. Significantly, Melchizedek means first King of Righteousness and, second, King of Peace (cp. Salem), Heb. 7. 2.4In rabbinical fashion, the writer finds that the silence of Genesis in respect of Melchizedek’s ancestors suitably points to Christ, the eternal King-Priest. Further, the illustrious patriarch Abraham implicitly acknowledges the superiority of Melchizedek, by paying tithes to him and by being blessed by him, vv. 6, 7. By extension, the as yet unborn Levi acknowledged the superiority of the priesthood of Melchizedek, v. 9.
The introduction of a King-Priest of a different order and from the tribe of Judah eclipses the Aaronic priesthood, combines the offices of ruler and priest, and validates the Lord Jesus as the heir of the rich promises to the house of David. Once again, the prediction of Psalm 110 verse 4 during the era of the Aaronic priesthood points to its limitations and impermanence, cp. Heb. 7. 11.
We have noted already in respect of prophets and angels that Christ excels them all. Similarly in respect of priests and their sacrifices. The sinfulness of the people meant that under the Mosaic covenant, a priest’s job was never done, for there would always be fresh guilt to be atoned for. The whole system cried out for something better.5
So, Christ by His one unique self-offering brought about perfection. For the believer, this means the unspeakable blessing of permanent access to God, free from an accusing conscience, 10. 19-22.
As regards Christ, it conveys that His atoning sacrifice is complete, final, and forever, vv. 11-18, ‘for by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified’, v. 14 ESV. So doing He became the mediator and surety of the new covenant: He guarantees the perpetual benefits of the covenant on behalf of His people.
By enduring the cross and despising the shame, 12. 2, He became the perfect Exemplar of the enduring faith that His people are called to demonstrate.
The way into the divine presence of old was beset by barriers blocking the approach of the worshipper. There were indeed many priests and unnumbered animal sacrifices, but only one could enter the Most Holy place on the annual Day of Atonement.6 Despite the elaborate rituals, Israel stood distant from their God. The typology surrounding this most solemn day lies at the heart of the argument of Hebrews.
Christ in full spiritual intelligence and moral perfection willingly offered a single offering, functioning in the realm of the divine, 9. 14, so procuring eternal redemption. The efficacy of this unique self-offering stretches both backwards and forwards in time, v. 15, as indeed it needed to do, ‘for it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins’, 10. 4 NKJV.
Following the typology, Christ has entered once-for-all into the presence of God on the basis of His self-oblation. So doing He is our forerunner, 6. 20, guaranteeing our arrival there too. And it is from thence that He will soon appear to call His waiting people to Himself, so consummating their salvation, 9. 28. Further, on account of the ‘perfection’ explained earlier, even now every one of His people can enjoy access through the veil, right into the immediate presence of God.7
What about His temple? Christ’s priestly service on His people’s behalf is performed in the sublimely glorious heavenly sanctuary - of which the Mosaic tabernacle was but a pale earthly copy and shadow.
The manifold riches of Christ’s person add surpassing value to His intercessory care and support of His people. Hebrews repeatedly highlights His qualifications for priesthood.8 All that He is, He is for His people, 9. 24b. May we enjoy the ministration of His grace to us as we, in our turn, run with endurance the race that is set before us.
Divine speech is an important sub theme in the Epistle.
Mark 9. 2-10; 2 Pet. 1. 16-18; cp. Acts 26. 13.
For contrast between old and new covenants see further 2 Corinthians chapter 3. See further, P. T. O’Brien, ‘The new covenant and its perfect mediator’, in J. Griffiths (ed.), The Perfect Saviour, IVP, pp. 13-34.
This is the biblical order, righteousness … peace. The one derives from the other.
‘Better’ is a keyword: Heb. 6. 9; 7. 19, 22; 8. 6; 9. 23; 10. 34; 11. 16, 35, 40; 12. 24.
Heb. 10. 20; Matt. 27. 51.
Heb. 4. 14-16; 5. 7; 7. 25; 13. 20.
Your Basket Is Empty