V. The Glorified Christ in the Epistle to the Hebrews
24. Made by Himself purification from sins
"God having spoken in many parts and in many ways formerly to the fathers in the prophets, at the end of these days has spoken to us in the person of the Son, ... having made by himself the purification of sins, set himself down on the right hand of the greatness on high." (Heb. 1:1-3)
In the Epistle to the Hebrews, the view of heaven is particularly frequent and strongly emphasized. The faithful are not seen as seated in heavenly places (cf. Eph. 2:6), but as wanderers on the way through the wilderness. But again and again, this letter gives a view of the glorified Christ. Here – and in three other passages (Heb. 8:1; 10:12 and 12:2) – Christ is seen explicitly at the right hand of God.
In the first of these passages (Heb. 1:1-3), we learn that with the coming of the Son of God a turning point occurred. Since the creation of man, over a period of around 4,000 years, God had repeatedly made communications to man – but always it was partial, incomplete, fragmentary. But when the Son came, God was fully revealed. This was a complete revelation and the end of the partial and fragmentary revelations that had gone before. This could only be done by the Son of God, for only He was the imprint of the essence of God and the radiance of His glory. This fact that God is now fully revealed is so extraordinary that the time when this happened is called "the end of days".
Now the Son is seated at the right hand of God or "at the right hand of majesty in the highest" (v.3). This fact here is particularly connected with the fact that He has "purified from sins". This expression emphasizes that He Himself has done it. No one else could cleanse from sins, but He has accomplished it. Since He is a divine person, it must be a perfect purification that He has effected (if it is not attributed to all, it is because it requires faith in the Son, for God cannot overlook it if one refuses to honour the Son).
So here we look into the open heaven and see the Son, in whose person God has given a final and complete revelation of Himself (v.1) and who has brought about a complete cleansing of sin for us. Sitting at the right hand of God emphasizes and confirms that it is a “fait accompli”.
It is worth noting that He has taken this place Himself. He has brought about the cleansing of sins Himself; He goes to heaven Himself and takes this place. It belongs to Him and is He is entitled to it. This is what the writer of this letter presents to us in order to lead us to worship this glorious Person who is far above all angels.
25. Crowned with glory
"But we see Jesus, who was made some little inferior to angels on account of the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; so that by the grace of God he should taste death for every thing. For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make perfect the leader of their salvation through sufferings.” (Heb. 2:9, 10)
Hebrews 1 presents Christ as the Son of God, Hebrews 2 presents Him as the Son of Man. He had to become Man in order to die (so that He could "atone for the sins of the people"), but also to become a compassionate and merciful and faithful High Priest (v.17). To become Man meant a tremendous humiliation for Him. But now He is the exalted Man, the glorified "Son of Man".
It had always been God's plan to subject the world to a man (Gen. 1:28). The fall of man was fatal; it implicated the whole of creation (Rom. 8:20-22) – but it could not thwart God's plan. The man to whom everything is to be subjected has been found (cf. Ps. 8). He has not yet taken over the reign, but He is already crowned.
Here on earth, we see disorder – or even an "order" that increasingly contradicts God's thought. And we see much misery. But this does not change the fact that Christ is already crowned! We gaze into heaven and see Him there surrounded by bliss and glory. It will not be long before He will also take over the rule of the universe.
26. A merciful and faithful high priest
"For which reason it behoved him in all things to be made like to his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things relating to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people; for, in that himself has suffered, being tempted, he is able to help those that are being tempted." (Heb. 2:17,18)
This view of heaven is particularly comforting. The higher the waves, the more this is the case. We are reassured by the words: "We have a merciful and faithful high priest”. He can save us completely, in any emergency situation. He is always ready and He intercedes for us (Heb. 7:25). The passage quoted above shows us:
- Christ has become "like to the brethren," that is, He has become man.
- This was necessary to enable Him to make atonement and to become our High Priest.
- He has accomplished the atonement once and for all. This work is finished. It is the basis for Him to continue His ministry as High Priest.
- He is glorified, but in spite his glorification, He is still Man.
- He was "suffering himself." He has experienced opposition, contradiction, rejection and hostility from sinful people. He knows and understands human weakness. He was "tired from the journey" (John 4:6) and slept on a pillow in a small boat, in a storm (Mark 4:38). He knew hunger (Lk 4:2; Mark 11:12) and thirst (John 19:30).
- He "is able to help". He is able to give us exactly the help we need in every situation.
With the last point, it is striking that He "can" or has the power (dynamai). This word appears nine times in this letter, but mostly as a negation, i.e. to show what was not brought about: The Law and the Old Testament priesthood could not take away sins, they could not make the worshippers perfect (Heb. 9:9; 10:1,11), and the great mass of the people of Israel could not enter the land (Heb. 3:19).
Only once is this word used positively by the Old Testament high priest: "being able to exercise forbearance towards the ignorant and erring" (Heb. 5:2). But even this passage shows the limitations of the Jewish high priest rather than his ability – for what exactly could he do? There is no mention of his being able to help, only of his being able to "forbear". And what is more, it then says: "since he himself also is clothed with infirmity". This means weakness in the sense of sin, for it goes on to say: "and, on account of this infirmity, he ought, even as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins”. What a contrast to what is said about our High Priest, the glorified Christ: It is a three-fold ability or capability (and of course He does not need to "sacrifice for Himself for sins", because He had no sins):
- He is able to help (Heb. 2:18).
- He is able to sympathise (Heb. 4:15) - the double negation reinforces the statement ("For we have not a high priest not able to sympathize with our infirmities”)
- He is able to save (Heb. 7:25).
The first two points remind us of the holy garments of Aaron "for glory and adornment":
- There were the two shoulder pieces, to each of which an onyx stone was attached. On each of the two stones were engraved six of the names of the tribes of Israel (Ex. 28:9-14). The words "Aaron shall bear their names on his two shoulders in remembrance before the LORD" illustrate the first point: Christ has the power to help.
- Then Aaron should also wear the breastplate. Here, the names of the sons of Israel appear as well, but with two differences. First, they were individually engraved here on one of the twelve stones each, and second, they were worn "on Aaron's heart": "And Aaron shall bear the names of the children of Israel in the breastplate of judgment on his heart, when he goes in to the sanctuary, for a memorial before Jehovah continually" (Ex. 28:29). Christ has compassion, He "is able to have compassion". We have a place on his heart.
This view of the glorified Christ is extremely comforting, especially when you feel the difficulties of the way.
The first two verses of Hebrews 8 give us a telling summary: "But the sum total of what we say is this: We have such a high priest, who has sat down at the right hand of the throne of majesty in the heavens, a servant of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord has established, not man". We learn from this:
- It is such a High Priest (just as He is described in the previous chapters: compassionate, strong, holy, innocent, immaculate, separate from sinners, one who never had to be replaced but could always remain, and who became higher than the heavens (cf. Heb. 7:20-27)).
- He sat down – in contrast to the high priest (and also the priests) in the Old Testament, who had to stand in order to carry out their ministry (Heb. 10:11). He has once and for all "atoned for the sins of the people" (Heb. 2:17). This atonement is the basis for his ongoing ministry as High Priest.
- He has been given the place of honour: at the right hand of God. In this way, God has demonstrated that He had accepted the work done on the cross.
- He is a servant of the true tabernacle – heavenly, sanctuary. He did not enter (once a year and under special arrangements) a man-made sanctuary, but into heaven itself (Heb. 9:24).
27. A firm anchor of the soul / Our forerunner
"Which we have as anchor of the soul, both secure and firm, and entering into that within the veil, where Jesus is entered as forerunner for us…” (Heb. 6:19,20)
In Hebrews 6 we are pointed once again of Christ in heaven, but here through a completely different picture, one that is unique in the New Testament: Christ as the forerunner.
We are still on the journey, but He the Lord Jesus is already there in heaven. His presence in the sanctuary is proof that all God's demands have been met. God is holy and it is "a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb. 10:31), but God has found a way for people to come near Him. The presence of the forerunner in heaven proves that God has accepted his work. Heaven has been unlocked for man: There is already a Man in heaven – and we belong to Him.
Then we learn that this forerunner is "high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec". So he holds the highest office. This is further proof that God has accepted his work. Only when He had "become the author of an eternal salvation" was He "addressed by God as high priest according the order of Melchisedec" (Heb. 5:9, 10).
His place there is not temporary, but permanent, eternal. He "has sat down at the right hand of God for ever" (Heb. 10:12).
For Israel, Christ is the fulfiller of God's promises, He is the one who will bring blessing to the earth in the future and who will reign as king-priest Melchisedec. For Christians, He is already today the High Priest who looks after their needs, assists them and detaches their hearts from the earth and connects them with heaven.
The presence of our forerunner in the sanctuary is the guarantee that we, too, will get there. This is the point of the expression “forerunner”: Others will follow!
This hope is an anchor for our soul. Sailors cannot see the anchor, but they know they can rely on it. So what does it mean in practical terms that we have this "sure and steadfast anchor of the soul that goes even inside the curtain"? The well-known Bible commentator Frank B. Hole once put it this way: "It is as if a transatlantic liner, before it has even left the English Channel behind, were already securely connected to New York by an anchor sunk in New York harbour".
The effect on us is twofold:
- Our hearts are calm and happy in the thought that our forerunner is already in heaven, and we Him, that it is thus proved that God has accepted the work of redemption, and that we shall one day follow Christ there as our forerunner.
- Knowing that our Forerunner is already in heaven, we are inwardly detached from earthly things (be it an earthly worship as with the Hebrews or be it material things as so often in our case).
28. A totally effective sacrifice
"But he, having offered one sacrifice for sins, sat down in perpetuity at the right hand of God, waiting from here on until his enemies be set for the footstool of his feet." (Heb. 10:12,13)
Again, we look into the open heaven, and again a whole new perspective opens up before our eyes. It is already the third reference in this epistle where Christ is seen in as sitting at the right hand of God. In chapter 1, He had taken this place as the Son of God, in chapter 8, He had done so as High Priest and servant of the true sanctuary, here He does so after the sacrifice has been accomplished.
Hebrews 10 provides an impressive description of the contrast between the Levitical sacrificial service (annually repeated sacrifices that made nothing and no one perfect) and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (accomplished once for all). The verse quoted above emphasizes the main contrasts: It is "one" sacrifice, it has been "accomplished", Christ has "sat down" and that "forever".
Christ had taken it upon himself to carry out the will of God (vv. 7.9), and this will included our sanctification (v. 10). Sanctification has just these two sides:
- Position: God has "sanctified" us as believers, that is, set aside or reserved us. He claims us for Himself, He declares us His own. The people of Israel were outwardly "sanctified" by certain rites and customs. Christians have been brought into a new position before God, based on the sacrifice of Christ.
- Practice: God wants us to live holy lives in all practical details as well (Heb. 12:4; 1 Pet 1:17).
This verse (Heb. 10:12) deals with the Christian position God has placed us in. The basis for this is neither our feelings nor our deeds, but the work of the Lord Jesus on the cross. What absolute assurance this gives us concerning our salvation! It was the will of God, a divine person had undertaken to carry out that will, and He sits "for ever" in the place of honour at the right hand of God!
This view of the glorified Christ is important for all Christians, but especially for those who have doubts about their salvation or eternal security. They may point to the glorified Christ and say: As long as He is up there – and He has sat down "for evermore" – I know that His sacrifice has been accepted, His mission carried out, my sanctification accomplished! His sitting at the right hand of God is the proof.
The "until" in verse 13 does not prove the opposite at all. It shows that a time will indeed come when He will rise, when His enemies will be defeated and become the footstool of His feet. The "forever" (eis to dienekes) means "uninterrupted". He never needs to leave this place in the sanctuary to perform sacrificial service. That is the point. Of course, He will rise once to appear on earth to defeat His enemies and establish His kingdom, but this does not alter the fact that His sacrifice has been accomplished "once and for all" (verse 10). As a result, and as proof of this, He takes this place without interruption. This gives us peace and safety.
29. Author and completer of the faith
"Therefore, ... let us also ... run with endurance the race that lies before us, looking stedfastly on Jesus the leader and completer of faith: who, in view of the joy lying before him, endured the cross, having despised the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider well him who endured so great contradiction from sinners against himself, that you be not weary, fainting in your minds." (Heb. 12:1-3)
So far, the Letter to the Hebrews has presented Christ as the object of faith and worship: the Son of God, the Son of Man, the perfect sacrifice, and the High Priest at the right hand of God. Now it presents Him as a model.
The writer wants to encourage the Hebrews to run the race. To do this, they should lay aside all obstacles: bad things (sins) and unnecessary baggage (burdens). The Christian race (agon) is a hard competition and not a leisurely walk. This was especially true of the Hebrews: they had been robbed and some had been taken captive, presumably for the sake of faith (Heb. 10:34). They had not yet "withstood to the death", but their life of faith was already in danger: growing weary in soul, going astray, lacking in the grace of God, slackened hands, paralysed knees, etc. (Heb. 12:3, 4, 12).
What could be more encouraging than to look to the glorified Christ? He is presented here as the one who had run the race before them (the "author of faith") and had already arrived at the goal (the "completer of faith"). He knew the discomforts and difficulties of the race like no other: "Consider Him who endured such great opposition from sinners against Him" (v. 3). But He had run "with perseverance". Nothing and no one, no resistance and no opposition could stop Him – not even the cross. He endured the shame associated with the death of the cross and even endured the cross and its sufferings!
And where is He now? At the right hand of the throne of God! He has reached the goal, and that goal is in glory – a tremendous incentive for all who are still running in the racecourse, also – and especially – for those who should be running, but for some reason have given up or have become discouraged and are therefore currently running in a half-hearted way, with limited energy.
One final note: This passage not only speaks of the glorified Christ, but specifically encourages us to look at Him, twice:
- "Looking unto Jesus" (v. 2).
- "Consider him..." (V. 3).
This line of vision is decisive for our race.
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