Subscribe now

Article

More in this category:

Understanding Hebrews

January 2008 | by Don Fortner

Understanding Hebrews

 

The central doctrine of the epistle to the Hebrews is Christ’s eternal priesthood and his finished sacrifice for the redemption and salvation of his people. The book of Hebrews stresses the infinite importance and efficacious power of Christ’s sin-atoning blood in obtaining eternal redemption for us, in purging the conscience, and in opening to us the heavenly sanctuary.

The key word in the book of Hebrews is ‘better’. One purpose of Hebrews is to show us that Christ is ‘better’ than all who came before him. He is better than the prophets, better than the angels, better than Moses, better than Joshua, and better than Aaron.

He is surety of a better covenant, established upon better promises, giving a better hope. Christ our Saviour is better than the tabernacle, the altar, and the mercy-seat. He is a better sacrifice – offering better blood, giving us a better access to and better standing before the holy Lord God. In all things Christ is better than all others. He is infinitely better.

Better than the prophets

Christ is better than the prophets (Hebrews 1:1-4). Each of the prophets gave us a partial revelation of God and his purpose. Reading the prophets and studying their messages, we turn from them thinking (as they intended), ‘This is not the final word. There is more to be revealed’.

Christ is the perfect, complete, full and final revelation of God. The prophets were mere messengers. Christ is the message. The prophets were mere men. Christ is the creator, ruler, redeemer, and saviour of men. The prophets were sinners in need of atonement. Christ is the atonement.

By his one sacrifice, ‘he purged our sins [and] sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high’. His work was finished and accepted.

Better than the angels

Christ is better than the angels (1:4–2:18). The angels are creatures of God. He is the Son of God (v.5). The angels were commanded to worship the Lord Jesus Christ as God the incarnate Son – even as in his humiliation he took upon himself the form of a servant and came into the world (v.6).

God never commanded an angel to sit with him on his throne. But when Christ had finished his work of redemption as our substitute, God said, ‘Sit thou on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool’ (vv. 7-13).

Christ is one with the Father, in every way his equal. But the angels are ‘all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation’ (v.14). The angels serve those who will inherit salvation, but Christ is the Lord and Saviour of these heirs (2:6-18).

He visited the earth in human flesh, being made a little lower than the angels, that he might taste death for every one of his elect – every one of the many sons (children) that he will bring to glory (v.10).

They are sanctified by him and he calls them brethren (v.11). They are the children the Father gave him to redeem, the seed of Abraham on whom he ‘took hold’ that he might save them (vv. 13,16).

Better than Moses and Joshua

Christ is better than Moses (3:1-19). Moses, of course, represents the law of God. He was a servant in the house. Christ is the builder and the master of the house. God’s elect, his church and kingdom, are his household (3:6).

In this house Moses was a servant for a season. But Moses could not bring the children of Israel into the land of promise because he represented the law, and the law cannot save. It cannot give rest. Moses had to die in the wilderness.

Joshua was raised up to take his place and to lead Israel into Canaan, for Joshua was a ‘type’ of Christ. But Christ is better than Joshua (4:1-16). As Joshua brought Israel into the typical land of promise – the land of blessedness, bounty and rest – so the Lord Jesus Christ brings God’s elect into eternal rest by his omnipotent grace. As Israel’s enemies were conquered by the hand of God in Joshua’s day, so our enemies were conquered by God our Joshua, the Lord Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:13-15).

Better than the Sabbath

Christ is better than the Sabbath (4:9-11). The Old Testament Sabbath was, like everything else in Old Testament worship, typical of Christ who is our true Sabbath. The Sabbath rest of faith in Christ was typified (1) by God ceasing from his works of creation and resting on the seventh day, and (2) by Israel finding rest in Canaan.

As the Lord God ceased from his works, so also sinners enter into rest when they cease from their works and trust Christ alone for acceptance with God.

Just as surely as Christ our Substitute has entered into his rest in glory, so also a vast multitude of sinners in this world must also enter into his rest. They must enter because God ordained it, and because Christ has obtained it for us.

Better than Aaron

Christ is better than Aaron (4:14–7:28). Beginning at the end of chapter 4 and going through chapter 7, the Holy Spirit tells us that the Lord Jesus Christ is our great high priest, and that he is better than Aaron because he has a better priesthood than Aaron’s ‘typical’ priesthood in Israel.

‘Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need’ (4:14-16).

Our Lord Jesus Christ is a priest who is both God and man – a priest who is touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but who can also do something about our infirmities. He is a priest upon a throne, the throne of the universe, God over all and blessed for ever. But, wonderfully, his throne is a throne not only of omnipotence but also of grace.

He bids sinners come boldly to his throne in every time of need, assuring us that we shall obtain mercy and grace to help. He is our everlasting priest, whose priesthood is unchangeable – he is ‘made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek’.

A better hope

Because Jesus is our priest, accepted by God for ever, the God of glory has confirmed by his own oath and decree that the elect have everlasting acceptance in Christ. He has given us a ‘better hope’ through grace (7:19) – ‘Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus …’ (6:17-20).

All Aaron could do was offer typical sacrifices and carry out ceremonial cleansings. Christ is an altogether better priest. His work is neither typical nor ceremonial, but real and sure.

He is a priest who is ‘able to save unto the uttermost all who come to God by him’ (7:25). For he who is our great high priest is not from the house of Levi but is the omnipotent Lion of the tribe of Judah (7:14).

A better covenant

Christ is the surety and mediator of a better covenant (8:1-13). The old covenant was a conditional covenant of law and works. In that covenant the whole weight of responsibility lay upon the shoulders of men.

By contrast, the new covenant, of which Christ is the surety, is an unconditional covenant of pure free grace. In this covenant nothing depends upon men. In this covenant the whole weight of responsibility was laid upon the shoulders of one who is mighty – our great surety, the Lord Jesus Christ.

This new covenant of grace is that of which Jeremiah spoke (Jeremiah 31:31-34). We shall consider it further next month.
 
Don Fortner

To be concluded