I have had a longtime love of the book of Hebrews. Some of my favorite verses in all of Scripture come from that book in fact (Hebrews 12:1-2 tops that list). I took a book study course on Hebrews when I was in college years ago and loved it. I have several commentaries and felt like I knew the book pretty well and had a pretty good understanding of it in fact.
A lot of that changed about three years ago, when a good friend of mine (that would be the occasional commenter known here as “E”) started asking me some honest questions about my opinions regarding Melchizedek. I offered up my opinions, but it wasn’t enough to satisfy some of the issues; and I shelved the niggling points of disturbance away for some other day to think about.
A few weeks ago, I ordered a CD set called What About the Sacrifices? from First Fruits of Zion. I was intrigued by the study topic as I have certainly had more questions than answers about the sacrificial system these days. A literal reading of many of the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament indicates that there will be sacrifices offered in the future in accordance with God’s will and plan. A more careful reading of Acts shows disciples continuing to worship in the Temple and continuing to observe the times of prayer (Acts 3 for instance) as well as Paul and several believers in Jerusalem offering sacrifices there as believers (Acts 21:17-26). Most believers either don’t realize what this means in regards to what we have been taught about the OT sacrifices; or else they have decided to dismiss it in some manner as a “misunderstanding” of some kind. There might be other rationalizations as well, but I am only giving a sample.
In any case, I thought the teaching would be an interesting way to learn more about the subject. I certainly trust the folks of FFOZ as I have used some of their materials before and I have always found them to be thorough and truthful and honest to a fault. Their recent travails over their decisions regarding “One Law” theology are a testament to their integrity in my opinion. So I ordered the teaching and sat down to see what they had to say. With my Bible and online study tools at hand, I began to see a whole new world in the book of Hebrews.
The sacrifices and offerings are only “lawful” within the Temple structure itself. This is God’s design for them. The writer of Hebrews is careful to point out and explain that Jesus’ ministry is different than the ministry of the Levitical priesthood on earth. In fact, the writer of Hebrews is writing at a time when the Temple sacrifices are still going on based on his use of present tense to describe them.
It would be impossible to catalog all that I have gleaned so far, and I am still re-listening and processing these things against God’s Word, but here are a few highlights for now that I have gotten from my study alongside their work.
Jesus’ ministry and sacrifice are based on a principle deeply rooted in Jewish thought that the righteous can suffer on behalf of the unrighteous. This understanding tends to be assumed by most of the New Testament writers, but the author of Hebrews spells the theology out for us a little more.
For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers
– Hebrews 2:10-11
Jesus’ ministry was further found in his identification with us as human beings subject to death. He had to be like us in order for his suffering on our behalf to be effective. The writer also makes comparisons between Jesus and the angels in the first few chapters that make a lot more sense in regards to the Melchizedek imagery. I may have to elaborate on that in another post.
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 16For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted – Hebrews 2:14-18
You might recognize this concept from Paul’s writings in Romans. The penalty of sin is death and Jesus has destroyed that penalty through His own death as a sinless man. Jesus’ sacrifice for sin is depicted in Hebrews as a sacrifice in the heavenly tabernacle. Without getting too technical or detailed; understand that sacrifices on earth in the Temple were designed to bring the offerer nearer to God, as one would be unable to enter His presence without them. In the same way, Jesus sacrifice allows us to enter God’s presence in Heaven itself.
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near 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.
– Hebrews 10:19-22
Going back to the earlier chapters of Hebrews, the writer seeks to relate our situation to that of the nation of Israel in the desert after they were redeemed from Egypt. He does this because God has not changed (Hebrews 13:8) and still deals with His children in the same way that He always has and will.
Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. 2For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.
6Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, 7again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted,
“Today, if you hear his voice,do not harden your hearts.”
-Hebrews 4:1-3; 6-7
This is a crucial piece of the argument. The Hebrew concept here involves the difference between hearing and hearing. Hearing means that you can acknowledge that something has been said; maybe even repeat it back because you heard it physically. Hearing means that you have indeed heard it as evidenced by the fact that you are actually responding to what you heard in obedience (see verse 6). This is the crucial meaning behind Jesus’ statements about seeing but never seeing and hearing but never hearing that we find so often in the Gospels. This is a struggle that many have trouble with as they equate the very notion with “salvation by works” or something along those lines. To be perfectly clear, obedience is not in our natural selves. The Bible is perfectly frank that our own nature is rebellious to the core. God desires to give us a nature that is willing to obey through His Spirit, but He doesn’t force Himself on anyone. We don’t “work” our way to God. He works within us and works through us and gives us a new heart that desires to follow Him. Otherwise it would be foolish for Him to say, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” as He did in Jeremiah 29:13 and Proverbs 1:20-33 would simply be a cruel joke.
This model of obedience to instruction was a primary characteristic of Jesus’ ministry as further described in Hebrews chapter 5:
7In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. 8Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. 9And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, 10being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.
– Hebrews 5:7-10
I know there are some who wish the Bible didn’t talk this way, but it is folly to pretend it isn’t there and it is irrational to try and allegorize it away. Read this passage from Isaiah 50:4-7 and see how this obedience was anticipated in the life of the Messiah in prophecy.
The Lord GOD has given me
the tongue of those who are taught,
that I may know how to sustain with a word
him who is weary.
Morning by morning he awakens;
he awakens my ear
to hear as those who are taught.
5 The Lord GOD has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious;
I turned not backward.
6 I gave my back to those who strike,
and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard;
I hid not my face
from disgrace and spitting. 7But the Lord GOD helps me;
therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like a flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame.
There is a whole other interesting avenue to get into (actually several), including Melchizedek and the ministry of angels in the heavenly temple, but I think I will save it for another post. Tell me what you think?