Sunday, June 3, 2012

Christology in Hebrews

Christology in Hebrews
Christology is the study of Christ, and this study can never be complete without a thorough study of the epistle of Hebrews. Hebrews presents Christ through several motifs. Throughout the epistle, Christ is shown as the creator, sustainer and revealer of and to creation. The author of the epistle also portrays Christ as human and divine - showing Christ in his hypostatic union. Therefore, Hebrews portrays Christ as eternally preexistent - as creator and sustainer of creation, as a suffering sacrifice and as the priestly king.
Christ as Preexistent Creator and Sustainer
The author begins Hebrews 1:1-3b by stating:
God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. [Bold added]

This section refers to Christ the Son of God and expresses Christ as the preexistent creator and sustainer of the world, and the revealer to the world in the last days. The phrase “through whom also He made the world” shows Christ as pre-existing the creation of the world and time itself. This concept continues in Hebrews 1:10-12 where the author portrays Christ as the one who created time and all of creation. It states, “You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands” (Heb 1:10). The phrase, “in the beginning,” presupposes Christ existed before time was even created. Secondly, the author continues to express this idea of Christ’s eternality through an inclusio which begins in verse 1:10 and ends in verse 1:12. Here, Christ is shown to be the One who “will remain,” and states in Hebrews 1:12b, “But you are the same, and your years will not come to an end.”  In other words, Christ the Son of God did not have a beginning and was before the beginning and will continue till the end and even beyond the end, because He is eternal.
            Another Christological reality found in these verses is showing Christ as creator of creation. As mentioned earlier in verse 10, Christ created both the physical creation or realm, and the spiritual realm “the heavens” which are the “work of his hands” (Heb 1:10).  This concept is an important one since later Christ is understood by the author as also being a high priest who serves in tabernacles created not by men, but in a tabernacle that was made by Him (Heb 8:2; 9:11). Moreover, this idea crosses over to chapter 3 where Christ is compared to Moses. Both build houses (or houses of worship) and both were faithful; Moses was faithful as a servant but Christ was faithful as the Son of God (Heb 3:1-6). In other words, Christ created this spiritual tabernacle, and Moses’ tabernacle along with the priesthood of Aaron were nothing more than “copies” or “shadows” of this heavenly tabernacle(Heb 8:5).  Finally, this idea of God creating things is expressed in Hebrews 11:3A which states, “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God.”
These verses express Christ as not just the creator, but also as the sustainer or the one who “upholds all things by the word of his power” (Heb 1:3b). The phrase, “word of his power” can also be understood as a powerful creative or directive word. As it states in BDAG, ῥῆμα is a dative that in this context conveys the idea of “Command(ment), order, direction of God.[1] Thus, Christ is continually directing creation, sustaining it until the end of time.  Also this passage is conveying the idea that Christ is Lord over all creation and has power, authority and dominion over it. This concept is expressed in Hebrews 2:8, showing that everything and all things are in subjection to Christ.
Christ as a Suffering Sacrificial Servant
This section expresses Christ’ humanity while the first section portrayed His divinity. First, we see Christ’s sacrifice is first alluded too in Hebrews 1:3B which states, “When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,” While this section shows Christ as being exalted and in a position of authority, it is important to notice the phrase, “He had made purification of sins.”  First, Christ becomes the God-man the incarnation. Hebrews 2:7 states, “You have made him for a little while lower than the angles; you have crowned him with glory and honor.” The idea is that he is now able to die for he became flesh. But interestingly, similar to Hebrews 1:3b Christ still receives the “glory and honor” in the end. This concept of Christ as the suffering servant is expressed in greater detail in Hebrews 2:9,10 where the author states:
But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings. [Bold added]

In other words, Jesus became a man and died and suffered so that he could bring salvation to sinful humanity, who in the following verses are called the brothers of Christ (Heb 2:11-14). Furthermore, this passage explains the reason why Christ is eternally crowned with glory and honor, because of his sacrificial death and suffering. In verse 14, the epistle clearly states another expression of Christ’s humanity by explaining the fact that Christ came in the flesh and in blood, just as we are flesh and blood (Heb 2:14).  This suffering and sacrifice resulted in Christ rendering Satan powerless and enabling those who are his brothers to overcome the slavery of sin. In the end this whole process of suffering and sacrifice was so that Christ could die, being a “propitiation for the sins of people” that He, then overcoming sin, is glorified at the right hand of the father(Heb 2:17). Finally Christ suffered and was tempted, yet He never sinned in order that he could become our help in time of our need. The ideas conveyed in Hebrews up to this point is leading up to Christ as being the perfect and complete High Priest.
Christ as the Perfect and Eternal High Priest/King
As shown previously, Christ is the preexistent eternal creator and sustainer of all things, and He is both entirely human and entirely God at the same time. He was he who suffered and was made to sit in a position of honor at the right hand of God, which He did for the purification of sins. These points are a summary of Christ’s main role as the perfect High Priest. The author seems to portray Christ as a high priest through two types: Moses, and Melchizedek.
First, Hebrews shows Christ as a high priest who is faithful to God and to those who are as Hebrews says his brethren (Heb 2:17, 3:2,6,14;10:23). His faithfulness is the reason why each Christian (the Brethren) can hold to his confession in Him (Heb. 10:23).  Secondly, because of the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, He is the mediator of the brethren (8:6;9:15;10:12). In other words, Christ is each Christian’s priest whose complete sacrifice of death allows each brother who partakes of his confession to:
1.      Be freed from the fear of death, and the slavery of sin (2:15-17; 9:14; 10:17-22).
2.      Have Christ’s aid and sympathy for them when they (Christians) are tempted or in weakness (2:18; 4:15-16). He ministers to the saints in these times of need (6:10).
3.      Have a direct ability to enter into the perfect tabernacle(house) of God where Christ reigns and is High Priest(1:3;2:9;3:1-6;4:14-16).
4.      Possess a High Priest who intercedes for them (7:25).
5.      Be able to finally offer praise and thanks, through this high priest(13:15), who equips each Christian for every good work(13:21).

All of these are realities that each Christian is able to obtain through and in Christ because of His death and suffering, resurrection and ascension to the role of High Priest.
            Moreover, the author of Hebrews is arguing that Christ is a completely perfect high Priest, like Melchizedek. This is not saying that Christ was Melchizedek but that He was not from the line of Aaron, but rather Christ is the righteous “King of peace” who was without a father or mother or genealogy, nor having a beginning or an end (7:2b-3). This is not to say that Christ did not have a mother as in Mary; but rather, that Christ is preexistent and has no beginning and He will have no end. In addition, Jesus was made a High Priest. Hebrews 5:5-6 states:
So also Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a high priest, but He who said to Him, “You are my son, today I have begotten you”; just as He says also in another passage, “You are a Priest forever according to the Order of Melchizedek.”

 Christ was made a high Priest by God the father. The author reiterates this concept by stating that Christ was appointed by the oath of God’; as stated, “The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind You are a Priest forever”(Heb 7:21) In other words, Christ is, from this point on, eternally the perfect priest of the new and better covenant (Heb 7:23-28).   This is proven by the fact that Christ is holy, innocent, undefiled, and because He is continually interceding for Christians as their mediator (Heb 7:22-28). He continually does it because he has overcome the power of death and can now serve as God’s faithful Son over God’s house.
 In conclusion, Christ is the perfect High priest because He is a part of a complete covenant that can save; because unlike the priests of old, who had to perform a sacrifice to cleanse themselves of sin, Christ was holy and pure did not need a sacrifice for Himself. Rather, He was the sacrifice (Heb 9:11-15). In the end it is Christ’s death and ascension to High Priest that enables believers “through his own blood” to be able to enter “the holy place once and for all having obtained eternal redemption” (Heb 9:12). As the author of Hebrews states, “let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” because we have a faithful High priest (Heb 10:22).   In the end this eternal suffering faithful son of God, Jesus Christ, is the perfect High Priest who mediates and intercedes for the sins of the brethren. He is indeed “the great Shepherd of the sheep” (Heb 7:25; 13:12), who is there in their time of need and weakness (2:18; 4:15-16;6:10).

[1] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (3rd ed.; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 905.

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