Lesson Six - According to Hebrews
Jesus as Pioneer of Our Faith
The problem which Hebrews addresses is that many Jewish Christians were leaving the church and returning to Judaism. They were returning for two reasons. The first reason was because the Church had entered into a time of persecution (which means Hebrews was written sometime after 64 CE when Nero began the first Christian persecutions) while the synagogue and its Jewish adherents were still protected by Roman Law. The second reason Jews were leaving was the theological issue which the persecutions raised.
The theological issue was, how could Christianity be the culmination of Judaism’s quest for the Kingdom of God, when rather than finding freedom, its adherents were finding persecution and death? In the Old Testament, persecution came about because of unfaithfulness. Faithfulness resulted in blessing. The writer of Hebrews then had to explain, to his Jewish audience how the new Jesus way was superior to the old Jewish way, in such a way as to offer hope in the midst of increasingly difficult times.
The Journey and Geography of Hope
I am indebted to Thomas Long in his commentary on Hebrews[i] for what follows.
2.The Journey to Hope Continues
The journey to hope continues on Earth. Jesus is the pioneer of our faith because he undertook the journey to come from heaven to earth in order that “he taste death for all of humanity.” Hebrews 2:9b
Jesus is superior to Moses because Moses was a servant while Jesus was the Son.
Jesus is superior to the earthly priests because he was sinless and so did not have to offer sacrifices for his own sins as did the priests in the Temple.
Jesus’ priesthood (The Melchizedek Priesthood) is superior to the Levitical Priesthood because his priesthood is eternal and theirs is temporary.
Jesus’ sacrifice is superior to the Temple sacrifices because his sacrifice does not need to be repeated but is good once and for all. It is also superior because it changes us from the inside out rather than merely being an exterior washing. Because of this interior cleansing we can have confidence that our hearts have been made clean and that we can draw near to God, hold fast to our hope and stir up one another in love.
Jesus’ new covenant is superior to the old covenant because it redeems (saves) people from the sins which were caused by the breaking of the old covenant (the Law)
[i] Thomas G. Long; Hebrews: Interpretation A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching; John Knox Press 1997
3.The Journey to Hope Concludes
The journey to hope concludes in heaven. Jesus has returned to heaven where he enters the true Temple, one not made with hands and appears in the very presence of God. And Jesus does not enter this Holy of Holies once a year but is there eternally putting away all sins forever.
Hebrews tells us that because Jesus is in heaven interceding for us we can “…draw near (to God) with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water, (holding) fast the confession of our hope without wavering for he who promised is faithful.” (Hebrews 10:22-23)
While in heaven we meet the great cloud of witnesses who demonstrate what faithfulness and hope look like, even though they did not receive what we have received in Jesus. And from them we are to take hope. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely,[a]and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)
Hebrews shows Jesus as the pioneer who undertakes the great journey of salvation; from heaven to earth and back again. Along the way he temporarily gives up his place in heaven, goes to earth and becomes not only the sacrifice for all of humanity but the priest who administers it, then returns to heaven to be in the very presence of God thus insuring our salvation. And because of this journey the way of salvation is open for us, and we can follow. We can be those who find hope even in the most difficult of times.