Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Reading Through Hebrews #2 (4.14-7.28)

cornerstone tim to hebI am continuing my devotional read through of the New Testament. I am reading  the anonymous, but certainly Paul influenced, letter to “the Hebrews accompanied by The Cornerstone Biblical Commentary. The Hebrews commentary is written by J. Ramsay Michaels. This section focuses on Jesus as the better high priest. Jesus has superior qualifications to be the high priest that brings people into the presence of God. I am posting from my reading in the New Testament accompanied by various commentaries on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the book are in blue.

4.14 transitions into the next main section of Hebrews which makes the case that Jesus is a superior high priest. Believers must "hold fast" to their confession of Christ because he is the only one who has taken on and overcome our weaknesses and impurities and thus provides us access into the very presence of God. He can do this because Jesus has superior priestly qualifications, to those of the Levitical priests. He was directly appointed by God, he has experienced all the human issues caused by sin and weakness, and he is the perfect sacrifice and the eternal source of salvation.

Whatever the “test” or “temptation,” the one thing at stake is faithfulness, whether in Jesus’ case or ours. Jesus’ “sinlessness” here does not in any way qualify or limit his true humanity. It is not some abstract perfectionism, which we as humans cannot hope to emulate. It is, on the contrary, something this book explicitly calls us to emulate. To say that Jesus “did not sin” is simply to say that his faithfulness to God did not give out. Hebrews 4.14-5.10 365

5.11-6.20 is a parenthesis in which the author deals with a problem (lack of maturity) that needs to be dealt with before he can continue explaining Jesus' superior priesthood. The problem is that his audience has become lazy hearers who are immature in faith (5.11-14). He urges a solution: Move on to maturity by reading and applying the Word (6.1-3). If they don't respond appropriately they will stay immature, they will be fruitless, subject to severe discipline and may completely miss God's rest (6.4-8). If they respond well, their maturity will produce fruitful service, hope, experience of God and His promises and a stable assurance based on Jesus’ work as our High Priest (6.9-20).

Conversion or repentance that does not “produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matt 3:8; Luke 3:8, NIV) is not a rebirth but an aborted birth. So the author of Hebrews is unable to say, “Go back and try it over. Maybe you’ll get it right the next time.” There is no next time. The aborted birth, or apostasy, makes any real birth or transformation “impossible.” The question of whether the person in question was ever really “saved” or “converted” is moot, for salvation depends on the “end,” on how it all turns out, not on how it began. Hebrews 5.11-6.12, 375

Hope “leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary” in the person of Jesus, and in no other way, “entering” (6:19) and leading us in because Jesus first “entered” (6:20) on our behalf. Here again we glimpse Jesus as God’s “perfect leader,” being the first to “enter into God’s rest,” and as “the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him” (5:9). Hebrews 6.13-20, 379

Now the author returns to his discussion of Jesus' superior priesthood to that of the old covenant. His point is If Melchizedek is greater than Levi (1-10) and the priesthood he pre-figured is better than the Levitical & supersedes it (11-19) then Jesus’ priesthood is superior to Levi’s and replaces it (20-28). First he introduces Melchizedek with a focus on the eternal nature (Psalm 110.4) of his priesthood. He then makes the point that since Melchizedek received tithes from and blessed Abraham, his priesthood must be superior to that of Abraham's descendants, the Levites. He then cites Psalm 110 to show that the announcement of a superior priesthood necessitates a radical change in the law that initiated that priesthood. Finally he shows that Jesus' priesthood fulfills that call for a superior priesthood because it is eternal, saving and complete while the Levitical priesthood was temporary and weak.

What then was his point? Not that the Son of God did not become a human being but that his identity as Son is not dependent on his physical birth or human ancestry. As God’s Son, there is indeed “no beginning or end to his life,” and the same was true of Melchizedek... His priesthood neither begins nor ends with his death on the cross. It is an eternal priesthood, a point the author will develop in more detail in the remainder of the chapter. Hebrews 7.1-10, 385

At the end of the day, Jesus’ status as High Priest rests on his victory over death (2:14; 5:7) and his exaltation to God’s right hand (1:13). Hebrews 7.11-19, 386

Although the chapter is widely remembered as the “Melchizedek” chapter in Hebrews, only the first ten verses are really about Melchizedek. His sole function is to put the old Levitical priesthood in perspective, heralding a new priesthood and with it a new covenant in the person of Jesus. Once he has served his purpose, we hear nothing more of him. Hebrews 7.20-28, 388

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