Hebrews 5-9

photo credit:  via photopin
photo credit: via photopin

Monday, October 20, Hebrews Chapter 5

We learn first the role of the High Priest for the Hebrew people from Aaron on.  Often the position was filled by men of the caliber of Moses, sometimes not.  Since we are not sure when this letter was written, we do not know who was High Priest at the time.  All of their names are recorded with the last one being Phannias ben Samuel from 67 to 70 AD and the destruction of the Temple.

The description, however, is of the perfect High Priest, that is, Yeshua the Messiah.  This whole idea of the priesthood of Jesus has been criticized from several angles, the easiest being that he was a descendant of David, a king, not Aaron the priest.

The Old Testament contains hundreds of promises regarding the coming Messiah, but none of them mention the specific role of priesthood.  During the days of the Maccabees a couple of centuries before Jesus the roles of King and High Priest were united, but the idea did not linger in the thinking of the Jewish people and was not a common notion in Jesus’ day.

Yet, the author of Hebrews directly regards Jesus as the High Priest.  Why?  The High Priest was the only person who could enter the Holy of Holies, the dwelling place of God and only after a week of numerous cleansings and sacrifices.

But Jesus is the Son of God, therefore the perfect High Priest.  He can approach God on our behalf in a way that the priesthood never could.  He is our Perfect Mediator between our sinful selves and the sinless God.

The author also writes,  In another place God declares, “You’re a priest forever in the royal order of Melchizedek.” MSG  We first meet Melchizedek in Genesis 14:17-20.  After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and his allied kings, the king of Sodom came out to greet him in the Valley of Shaveh, the King’s Valley.  Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine—he was priest of The High God—and blessed him: Blessed be Abram by The High God, Creator of Heaven and Earth. And blessed be The High God, who handed your enemies over to you. MSG  For ever after, Melchizedek connected the King and the High Priest in Jewish thinking.  Psalm 110:4 says of the Messiah, God gave his word and he won’t take it back: you’re the permanent priest, the Melchizedek priestMSG

Tuesday, October 21, Hebrews Chapter 6

The author wants to turn to some more complex issues, starting with the problem of a follower of Jesus giving up and returning to the previous life.  In verse 4, the author says it is impossible for an apostate to return to Jesus.  This is one of the difficult passages.  Theories abound.  The two main camps are that once a person is saved through Jesus it is impossible to become an apostate.  Therefore, the author must have been talking about those who lied about being a follower.  The opposite position is that anyone can backslide into the old life and can never return to Jesus.  I have stated both sides in harsh terms and there are many variations on both.

The word impossible refers to repentance.  It is impossible to repent a second time is what he seems to be saying.  However, when the statement is taken in the context of the New Testament as a whole, it seems the author really meant it is difficult to repent a second time.  Jesus never gave up on Judas, even after the kiss in the garden.

On the other hand, there is a sliding scale to consider.  A person who sins is said to back slide.  We know that daily repentance for our sins in a necessary part of being a faithful follower.  Consider that sins can fit somewhere on a scale from 1 to 10 with 10 being the worst possible.  If the sin is a white sin, we place it at 1 on the scale.  As I backslide farther and farther along the scale until we reach 10, I have become an apostate.  If I can repent from 5 or 7, why not 9 or 10?  God wants was to repent so why would He make it impossible beyond a certain point?

The real problem is expressed in verse 8:  But ground which produces nothing but thorns and thistles is of no value and is bound sooner or later to be condemned—the only thing to do is to burn it clean. Phillips  If I know the joy of Jesus and then turn my back on him, I will probably never repent, preferring the darkness of my sin.

The author goes on to assure his readers that God is fair and just.  He will not condemn us if we work to stay faithful, even as we backslide.  There is a caution included that we should not become lazy; we need to continue to run the good race.

The oath of God is in reference to the sacrifice made by Abraham of his son.  When God substituted a ram for the son, He also made a promise to Abraham.  He said, “I have sworn by myself — says Adonai that because you have done this, because you haven’t withheld your son, your only son, I will most certainly bless you; and I will most certainly increase your descendants to as many as there are stars in the sky or grains of sand on the seashore. Your descendants will possess the cities of their enemies. CJB

We should remember that in the days of Abraham people still made human sacrifices to placate the gods.  The God of Abraham instituted a substitute blood sacrifice until the time of His own Son’s sacrifice.  As Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son, so God was willing to do the same.

Wednesday, October 22, Hebrews Chapter 7

As mentioned in chapter 5, Melchizadek was a king who acted as High Priest for Abraham setting the pattern for the two offices to be combined.  It is also important to remember that God made a covenant with Abraham, and therefore with Israel.  A covenant is a contract binding on both parties.  God promised to provide a number of things (security, food, shelter, etc.) in exchange for the people of Israel remaining faithful to God.

As we know, faithfulness to God is problematic, so God instituted a system of blood sacrifices to make restitution for our failures.  At the same time, He vested Aaron with the power to supervise the sacrifices and to represent all of Israel in the worship experience.  Aaron was the first High Priest, Moses the first King and Miriam the first prophet; it was a family affair.

To make sure the descendants of Aaron, Levites, were free to do the work of the Temple, God also set up the tithe.  Every male was required to pay 10% of their income to the Temple.

There are several hundred pages of details in the worship of the Temple, but that is the basic structure.  A person gave up a perfect animal as a sacrifice to ask God to pardon his sins.

The problem is easy to spot; after I make a sacrifice, I go out and sin again.  We humans do that, some more than others.  Why did God bother with a couple of thousand years of the Temple system when He knew it was ineffective?  Why did he not go right to the Sacrifice of the Messiah?

The people were not ready.  They had to rise up and fall down many times and be given lesson after lesson by Elisha, Isaiah, Micah, and a host of others.  They were hard lessons but God never deserted his people.  He continued to nourish and build up the tiny nation.

The times were not ready.  God waited for the Roman Empire to establish a unity of language and understanding that made the spread of the Good News a sure thing.

Part of the preparation was the development of the Temple worship.  It became so much a part of Judaism that understanding the Messiah was easier; it was not such a big step.  Even for the Greeks who worshiped many gods, God had led them to a point in their understanding that a man who was also God and who died but still lives was not difficult to understand.  Probably easier for them for than an American or European of today.

Melchizedek was another forerunner of the Messiah, both in being king and priest and in being timeless.  The Old Testament always described the origins of important people, their linage.  But nothing was said of Melchizedek so the understanding was that he was forever, at least in a figurative sense.  That is why verse 3 reads:  He had no father or mother and no family tree. He was not born nor did he die, but, being like the Son of God, is a perpetual priest. Phillips

Psalm 110, a Psalm of David, describes David as the forerunner of the Messiah.  In that description is the promise that the King will also be the High Priest.  You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek. NIV

Thursday, October 23, Hebrews Chapter 8

This Jesus, this Messiah, is the Heavenly High Priest serving in the perfect Heavenly Temple.  There is no longer a need for daily sacrifices at the earthly Temple.  The wording here, by the way, tells us that the author was writing while the Temple still existed, that is, before 70 AD.

The old Temple worship system was given to Moses based on a copy of the Heavenly Temple.  But now that the Messiah is in the Heavenly Temple the old one is no longer needed.  The sacrifice made by the Messiah is perfect for all humans for all time.

The long quotation is from Jeremiah 31:31-34.  God gives us four promises:  (1) the Law will enter our beings, will become internal; (2) we will be able to be with God as children with their parents; (3) ignorance of sin will disappear as will sin itself; (4) all our sins will be forgiven.

The imperfect will be made perfect.

Friday, October 24, Hebrews Chapter 9

Each of the items listed in this account of the Temple had symbolism relating to the Messiah.  The lamp was the menorah, the seven-branched lamp (not the nine of Hanukkah) that God said represents the light to the nations.  Israel was not to conquer nations with force but with the Spirit of God.  Zechariah 4:6:  This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty. NIV

The Bread of the Presence was also in the Holy Place.  It represents the Manna with which God fed his people during the 40 years of wandering in the desert.  It also stands for God being with us, being in our midst.

The third item in the Holy Place was the Altar of Incense.  The author of Hebrews placed this Altar in the inner room, but it was actually in the outer room right next to the curtain separating the two rooms.  The author was not giving a complete description of the Temple, but rather a listing of similarities with Jesus.

Incense served many purposes.  It was a reminder of the Judgment and Justice of God.  It was another element that brought the people closer to God.  It served as a carrier of prayers and of God’s answers.  It cleansed the Temple of the Evil One.  Jesus takes on all these roles.

The Holy Place was the outer room of the Temple.  The inner room was the Holy of Holies, the dwelling place of God.  In the Roman world there were many gods and each had idols made so that people could see what the gods looked like, except the God of Abraham.  He specifically prohibited idols, but did request a room be made for Him.

While we know that God is everywhere at once, the idea of the Holy of Holies was to remind his people that he was with them and would never leave them.  Inside that room was the Ark of the Covenant.  The one used in the film, Raiders of the Lost Ark, is about as accurate as any we can imagine based on the description.  As the name suggests, the Ark was the physical representation of the binding agreement between God and His Chosen People.  Today, Jesus is the Ark.

The Ark itself was taken away sometime around 600 BC when Babylon captured and destroyed the Temple.  It has not been seen since then and the gold was probably melted down for Nebuchadnezzar’s treasury.  When the Temple was rebuilt a century later the Holy of Holies was left empty, trusting that God would dwell with them anyway.

Also in the Holy of Holies was the gold jar containing the man, Aharon’s rod that sprouted and the stone Tablets of the Covenant. CJB   These were also lost to Nebuchadnezzar.  Each represented the power of God and His actions to deliver His Chosen to the Promised Land.  All have been replaced in that sense by Jesus.

The daily business of the Temple was blood sacrifice to compensate for sins.  The blood sacrifice of Jesus replaces all that.

Because Jesus died, we have to “read his will”.  The new will changes things for the rest of us.  Jesus the Messiah replaces every aspect of the Temple.  Everything in, on and about the Temple still exists in the Heavenly Temple; it exists in the person of Jesus.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

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