V. The Glorified Christ in the Epistle to the Hebrews
24. Purified Himself from sin
"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 being transported to heavenly places (cf. Eph 2:6), but as wanderers on the way through the desert. 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 we learn that with the coming of the Son of God a turning point occurred. Since the creation of man, over a period of 4,000 years, God had repeatedly made communications to man - but always it was partial, incomplete, fragmentary. But when the Christ came, God was fully revealed, no longer fragmentary, but final and complete. 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 honor the Son).
So here we look into the open sky 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 noticeable that He has placed Himself in this place. He has brought about the cleansing of sins Himself and He goes to heaven Himself and takes this place. He belongs to Him and is entitled to Him. This is what the writer of this letter tells us 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 honor; 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 shows the Son of God, Hebrews 2 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 a human being meant a tremendous humiliation for Him. But now He is the exalted man, the true "Son of Man".
It had always been God's plan to put the world under one man (Gen 1:28). The fall of man was fatal; it swept away the whole of creation (Rom 8:20-22) - but it could not thwart God's plan. According to Psalm 8, the man to whom everything is to be subjected has been found. 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. 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 behooved 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 - and all the more so when the waves roll in: "We have a high priest. He can save us completely, from any emergency situation, He is always ready and He works for us (Heb 7:25). The passage quoted above shows us:
- Christ has become "like the brethren," that is, He has become man.
- This was necessary so that He could make atonement and 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 of all the glorification, He is still a man.
- He was "suffering himself." He knows and understands human weakness. He was "tired from the journey" (Jn 4:6) and slept on a pillow in a small boat that swayed (Mark 4:38). He knew hunger (Lk 4:2; Mk 11:12) and thirst (Jn 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 to show what was not able to do: The Law and the Old Testament priesthood could neither take away sins nor 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" (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 talk 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 triple 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 have compassion (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". These included 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 (Exodus 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 wear the breastplate. Also here the names of the sons of Israel appear, but with two differences. First, they were individually engraved here on one of the twelve stones each, and secondly, 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" (Exodus 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 heat of the desert.
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 was described in the previous chapters, so compassionate, strong, holy, innocent, immaculate, separated from sinners, one who never had to be redeemed 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 signaled and proved that He has 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 He is the servant of the "true tabernacle".
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 reminded once again of Christ in heaven, but here in the New Testament a completely different and unique picture: Christ is in the Holy Place, as a forerunner. We are still on the journey, but He is already there. His presence in the Holy Place is the proof that His work has been accepted by God. It is the guarantee that we too will get there. Our hope is an anchor of the soul. As the well-known biblical interpreter Frank B. Hole once put it: "It is as if a transatlantic liner, even before it has even left the English Channel, were already safely connected to New York by an anchor sunk in New York harbor.”
The effect on us is twofold:
- Our hearts are calm and happy in the thought that our forerunner is already in heaven and that we will one day follow Him there.
- For this we are inwardly detached from earthly things (be it earthly worship as with the Hebrews or be it material things as often with us).
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 to our eyes. It is already the third time that Christ is seen in this epistle 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, now He does so after the sacrifice has been made.
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 (done once for all). The verse quoted above emphasizes the main contrasts: It is "one" (numeral) 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 (v. 7.9), and this will include our sanctification (v. 10). What an absolute certainty this gives us in terms of our salvation! It was the will of God, a divine person had undertaken to carry out this will, and He sits "forever" 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 safety. 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 change the fact that His sacrifice has been done "once and for all" (verse 10). As a result, and as proof of this, He takes this place without interruption.
29. Beginners and perfectionists 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 Epistle to the Hebrews has presented Christ as the object of faith and worship: the Son of God, the Son of Man, the accomplisher of the perfect sacrifice and the high priest at the right hand of God. Now it shows Him as an example.
The writer wants to encourage the Hebrews to run the race. To do so, they should remove all obstacles: bad (sins) and unnecessary baggage (burdens). The Christian race (gr. agon) is a hard competition and not a walk in the park. This was especially true of the Hebrews: they had been robbed, and they had been prisoners, probably for the sake of faith (Heb 10:34). They had not yet "resisted to the blood", but there were obstacles and dangers: tired, weary in their souls, going astray, suffering the lack of God's grace, flaccid hands, paralyzed knees, etc. (Heb 12:3.4.12).
What could be more encouraging than a glance at the glorified Christ? He is presented here as the one who had walked before them (the "beginner of faith") and had already reached his destination (the "perfecter of faith"). He knew the discomforts and difficulties of the race like no one else: "Consider him who endured such great opposition from sinners against himself" (v.3). But He had run "with perseverance". Nothing and no one, no resistance and no contradiction could stop Him - not even the cross. He endured the shame of the death on the cross and even the cross and His 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 those who are still running in the racetrack, also - and especially - for those who were supposed to be running, but for some reason gave up or became discouraged and therefore are currently running on a low flame and not with all their energy.
One final remark: this passage not only speaks of the glorified Christ, but expressly invites us to contemplate Him, and to do so twice:
- "Looking unto Jesus" (v.2)
- "Behold the..." (V.3).
This line of vision is decisive for our race.
More to come soon
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