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13 September 2019

The Exaltation of Jesus in the book of Hebrews

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Threaded through the epistle to the Hebrews is the transition of the Son from one status to a far higher one, his elevation as a result of his death and resurrection. This theme is integral to the Author’s doctrinal proposition: The “Word” spoken in the Son is vastly superior to all preceding revelations, whether “spoken” in angels, Moses, Aaron, or in the rituals of the Levitical system. The goal is to encourage Christians to hold tight to their confession and not to regress to an outdated system and risk apostasy (cp. Hebrews 2:1-4; 6:1-3).
The “perfection” of Jesus is due to his faithful obedience unto death. God vindicated him when he raised the Son out from among the dead and exalted him to sit at the “right hand of the throne of majesty.”
(Hebrews 1:1-3) - “Whereas in many parts and in many ways of old, God spake unto the fathers in the prophets, at the end of these days He hath spoken unto us in his Son––whom he hath appointed heir of all things, through whom also he hath made the ages; Who being an eradiated brightness of his glory and an exact representation of his very being, also bearing up all things by the utterance of his power, purification of sins having achieved, sat down on the right hand of the majesty in high places” [The Emphasized Bible].
In the past, God spoke to his people by the prophets; however, in these “last days,” He has spoken, “in a Son.”  The comparisons are not to denigrate prophets, angels or Moses, but to stress the far greater majesty of the Son by demonstrating how he surpasses even the most glorious figures of the past.
This Son was “appointed” heir of all things and sat down on the right hand of God because he “achieved the purification of sin.”  His installation as heir and high priest was based on his self-sacrificial death.  The Greek verb tenses in the opening passage point to specific events in the past.
Becoming Superior to Angels – (1:4–2:4)
As a result of his exaltation, the Son “became superior to the angels, having inherited a more distinguished name,” that is, “Son” (Hebrews 1:4).  To inherit means to receive something that results in a change in condition or status.
The Author continues, “for to which of the angels said he at any time, You are my Son, I this day have begotten you, and again, I will become his father, and he shall become my Son?” The quotations are from Psalm 2:7 and 2 Samuel 7:14. The latter was first applied to David when Yahweh promised him the kingship of Israel.
This day” translates the emphatic adverb sémeron; it points to a specific time when the Son was appointed the king over all things. At no point did God ever say such a thing to an angel but, only, to one designated His “Son.”
Because the Son “loved righteousness and hated lawlessness,” God “anointed him with the oil of exultation beyond his partners.”  The Author finishes his opening paragraph with another comparison of the Son to the angels, citing Psalm 110:1, “but to which of the angels has he said at any time, Sit at my right hand until I make your foes your footstool?” Since Jesus was appointed to rule, a position no angel ever received, he is superior to the mightiest and highest of the angels.
The Author concludes the first comparison with an exhortation not to drift away from the things that Christians received from the Son. He warns that “if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” (2:1-3).
The Author refers to a Jewish tradition that Moses received the Torah from the hands of angels (Acts 7:53; Galatians 3:19). This does not denigrate the Law or the events at Sinai but emphasizes the superiority of the word spoken in one who is a “Son.” If the word given by angels includes severe penalties for disobedience, how much worse will it be for anyone who violates the word of the Son?  This also prepares for the next comparison with Moses.
The Perfection of the Son – (2:5-18)
All things have been subjected beneath the Son’s feet and God “left to him nothing un-subjected.”  But for now, not yet, do we see all things subjected to him but we see “Jesus made some little less than angels; by reason of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, to the end that by the grace of God in behalf of every one he should taste of death.”
As previously, the relevant verbs are in the past tense and we are told when this marvelous transition occurred:  when the Son “tasted death.”  Only then was he “crowned with glory and honor” because of the “sufferings of death.”
In the very next verse, we are informed that God determined to perfect or “complete” the Son “through suffering.”  The need for the Son to attain “perfection” points to a change or transition in his status achieved through “suffering.”
Elsewhere, the letter makes clear that the sufferings of Christ occurred in his trial and execution; in other words, in his death.  Likewise, in Hebrews 2:14-15, the Son was able at a specific point in time “to paralyze him who held the dominion of death, the Devil” through his death. This released all those who “by fear of death were all their lifetime liable to bondage.”
The Son “was obliged in every way to be made like unto the brethren so that he might become a merciful and faithful high–priest.”  The Greek verb has the basic force of “become” (ginomai), a change in rank, a becoming.
Becoming Superior to Moses
(Hebrews 3:1-6) - “Wherefore, holy brethren, partners in a heavenly calling, attentively consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Jesus, as one faithful to him who made him: as Moses also in all his house. For of more glory than Moses has this one been counted worthy, by as much as more honor than the house has he that prepared it. For every house is prepared by someone, yet God prepared all things. Even Moses, indeed, was faithful in all his house as an attendant, for testimony of the things which would be spoken; but Christ as a Son over his house, whose house are we if the confidence and boast of the hope we hold fast throughout firm.”
The Author now compares Jesus to Moses, demonstrating the superiority of the former to the latter. Implicit is the Son’s superior office and word.
This comparison is appropriate.  In the opening paragraph of Hebrews, the Author compared the Word spoken in the Son to the earlier revelations given in the prophets. Although Moses was the chief representative of the Old Testament prophets, he was also more honored than the others; God spoke to him face-to-face, not through visions and riddles (Numbers 12:8). This greater rank of Moses serves to emphasize the vast superiority of the Son over all things and persons that preceded him, including Moses.
As our “apostle,” Jesus is the one sent from God to deliver His final revelatory Word.  As our “high Priest,” Christ represents us to His Father and makes intercession for us.
The description of Jesus as “one faithful” along with the reference to Moses as “also in all his house” is an allusion to Numbers 12:7 from the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament (“My servant Moses is not so; he is faithful in all my house”).
Moses was the only one in Israel to whom Yahweh spoke “mouth-to-mouth,” not via intermediaries, symbols or visions.  Hence, initially, Jesus is set on a par with Moses, arguably the most pivotal and honored figure in Israel’s history. God also spoke face-to-face with the Son.
In Jewish tradition, Numbers 12:7 demonstrated that Moses received greater honor and rank than the angels.  Since Hebrews 1:6-14 presents the Son as superior to the angels, and since Hebrews 2:1-4 warns that disobedience to the Son’s Word requires a greater degree of punishment, it is logically necessary to prove the superiority of the Son over Moses.
The keywords “faithful,” “priest” and “house” allude to a prophecy from 1 Samuel 2:35 where God promised to one day “raise me up a faithful priest; according to that which is in my heart and in my soul will he do. Therefore, will I build for him an assured house.” Jesus is now presented as that same promised “faithful priest” set over God’s “house” (cp. Hebrews 10:1-14).
But there is a difference.  Jesus is worthy of far more honor than Moses, just as the one who prepares a house is worthy of more honor than the house. The Son is closely associated with the builder, God. Christ has been set over God’s house, but Moses was a servant in it.
The Greek verb kataskeuazō in verse 3 more correctly reads, “prepared,” not “builder.” The term was used for supplying vessels and furnishings to prepare a household for habitation. The description is not of Jesus as the builder and architect, but of the one who prepares and completes the household for occupation.
Moses was an “attendant” in God’s house “for a testimony” of the word that “would be spoken.”  As God’s faithful attendant, Moses served as a witness to the word that would come later.  Put another way, this portrays the preparatory function of the Old Covenant revelation, including the Law given at Mount Sinai.
In this paragraph, “house” refers not to God’s Tabernacle or Temple but, metaphorically, to the living community of God’s people, the church.  Jesus is “over His house whose house are we” (verse 6). Believers “are” (present tense) his household as long as they hold fast their “confidence and boast of hope.” A key warning of the book is repeated; the necessity to hold firmly to our confession (2:1-4).
Learning Obedience – (5:5-9)
The Son, in “the days of his flesh,” offered up supplications to the one who was able to save him out of death.  Most likely, this description refers to the prayers of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Though he was hearkened to by reason of his devoutness, yet still, “even though a son, he learned obedience from what things he suffered.” In this way, he was “made perfect” or complete.
Once again, the Author presents a Christ who was “made perfect” in his sufferings.  Because of this, the Son also “became to all those who obey him Author of everlasting salvation.” His present exalted status is based on his past obedience unto death.
Becoming a Priest Forever – (6:18 – 8:6)
Christians are reassured that they have “a mighty consolation…an anchor of the soul, both secure and firm,” because their forerunner, Jesus, entered the interior through the veil.  This same Jesus, thus, “became a high priest forever according to the rank of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 6:18-20).
As the church’s everlasting high priest, Jesus “became a surety of a better covenant” than that of the Levitical priesthood (Hebrews 7:22).  This appointment occurred when Jesus “sat down on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens” because of his resurrection and exaltation.  As high priest, “according to the rank of Melchizedek,” the Son attained “a more distinguished public ministry” than the Levitical priesthood. This was because he had become the “mediator of a better covenant” based upon “better promises” (Hebrews 8:1-6). Threaded in this section is the idea of the Son “becoming” something “better.”
A Better Tabernacle and Sacrifice – (9:1 – 10:14)
Jesus “approached as high–priest…through the greater and more perfect tabernacle,” one not made-by-hand. Moreover, he entered it “through his own blood entered once for all, having discovered everlasting redemption.”
The mention of “blood” does not indicate that the Son’s death was especially bloody but, instead, stresses the actuality of his death; the pouring out of his lifeblood.  Jesus died a very genuine human death.
This new covenant is vastly superior to the old one because through the “blood of the Christ, who offered himself unspotted unto God through an everlasting spirit,” it can and does purify our conscience from dead works so we can render divine service to God.  The “blood of Christ” indicates that Jesus was able to enter the greater Tabernacle “once for all” because of his obedient death.
The Author claims that, in contrast to the Old Covenant with its animal sacrifices, it was necessary for the heavenly counterpart of the Tabernacle to be established “with better sacrifices than these,” namely, the death of the Son.  A direct result of his death was the entry of Jesus “into heaven itself” to be “manifested before the face of God on our behalf.”
Because of the superiority of the Son’s sacrifice, Jesus has no need to “offer himself often,” unlike the Levitical priests with their repeated animal sacrifices. Instead, Jesus, “once for all, upon a conjunction of the ages, for a setting aside of sin through means of his sacrifice,” offered himself. Thus Christ, “having been offered once for all for the bearing of the sins of many,” will appear a second time, “apart from sin,” to those who ardently wait for him.
Believers have been made holy “through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”  Unlike every other priest who must “stand daily publicly ministering and continually offering the same sacrifices,” Jesus “offered one sacrifice for sins evermore,” after which he “sat down on the right hand of God” to wait until his foes are made his footstool.  By the “one offering” of his death, the Son “perfected for evermore those who are being made holy.”
What About Hebrews 13:8?
Jesus Christ, yesterday and today, is the same even unto the ages.” This is often cited as evidence of Christ’s unchanging eternal nature. But this reading misses a central point of the letter and disconnects the clause from its context. Central to its theology is not the Son’s eternal reign or status, but his exaltation as a consequence of his faithful obedience and suffering.
The Author instructs his readers to “be mindful of those who are guiding you, who indeed have spoken to you the word of God.”  His point is the constancy and reliability of Jesus Christ.
Christians can have confidence and hold fast to him because he is the same Jesus that was sacrificed for the purification of their sins and proclaimed by the Apostles. It is a testament to the character of this Jesus that the exalted Christ is the same person as the one who endured suffering and, thereby, learned obedience.
He is the same Jesus who “received a fellowship of blood and flesh…in order that through death he might paralyze him that held the dominion of death...Whence he was obliged, in every way to be made like unto the brethren” (Hebrews 2:14-17). 
Summary
The epistle to the Hebrews presents a consistent picture of the Son who was exalted to the right hand of God because of his faithful obedience.  God has spoken fully to his people in “these last of the days” in His Son, the one who “achieved purification of sins” and, thus, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty in heaven (Hebrews 1:3). In doing so, he BECAME our high priest from that day forward. He accomplished this “in the days of his flesh” when God “perfected” him through suffering.
Because of the obedience of the Son, God delivered him “out of death” by resurrection; thereafter, Jesus “passed through the heavens” and was appointed a perfect high priest for the sake of his people.
In this epistle, the “perfection” and exaltation of Jesus are accomplished through his faithful obedience unto death.  God vindicated this sacrifice when he raised the Son from the dead and exalted him to the “right hand of the throne of majesty.”
The Author of Hebrews bases the exalted status of the Son, not on metaphysical speculations about his eternal nature, but on the historical events of the obedience, death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus.

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