COMMENTARY ON THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS
A Word of Warning and of Comfort
by Rev. Bassam M. Madany
Hebrews 9:15 - 28
The recipients of this letter were of Jewish background and had thought that the OT regime was perfect and final. The Holy Spirit led the author of the letter to show the perfect nature of the NT regime which was inaugurated by Jesus the Messiah by his coming to our world, and his atoning death on the cross.
1. While the Messiah is the Mediator of the New Covenant, his atoning death has an absolute value in that it affected those who had lived before him in the days prior to his coming as well as those who live after his first coming. All the ceremonies and institutions of the OT times had a symbolic meaning and function. They pointed to the fact that the salvation of human beings was going to be accomplished at the coming of the Messiah, the Savior and his work of salvation.
2. Jesus the Messiah had to die in order to become the Mediator of the New Covenant. The Jews who were the contemporaries of the apostles of the Messiah did not understand the necessity of the death of the Messiah as they had drifted away from the pure teachings of the OT Scriptures. During his earthly ministry, the Messiah reminded the people that the spiritual leaders of Israel had substituted mere human traditions for the Word of God. During the OT times, the covenant, or testament was not inaugurated without the shedding of blood. For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats , with water, scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, Saying: "This is the blood of the covenant which God has commanded you." 9:19,20 Everything in the Law of Moses pointed to this basic truth: Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
3. The Messiah inaugurated the New Covenant (NT Age) through the shedding of blood, not the blood of others, but his own blood. If the temporary and imperfect regime (covenant) was inaugurated with blood, how much more necessary was the shedding of blood for the inauguration of the perfect and final regime or covenant? The Messiah inaugurated the New Testament Age by his pure blood and did not have to repeat his sacrifice as the priests of the OT times used to do. But now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. 26b And unlike the high priests of the Jews in the OT times, Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us. 24 Just as every human being is born and then dies after a short or long life, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him, He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation. 28 Truly this new regime is a glorious regime; it is the duty of every human being to believe in the one who inaugurated it, i.e., in Jesus the Messiah, the only Savior of mankind.
Hebrews 10: 1 - 10
We have learned the following important points in our study of the first nine chapters of this epistle:
1. The priesthood of the Messiah is greater than the levitical priesthood according to the teaching of Psalm 110.
2. The New Covenant (Testament) which was inaugurated by the Messiah is greater than the Old Covenant which was initiated during the days of Moses according to the teachings of Jeremiah.
3. The sacrifice of the Messiah is greater than the sacrifices of the OT. He offered himself as a sacrifice, once and for all, for the sins of the world. The OT sacrifices had to be repeated often. We notice how the inspired author of the epistle is emphasizing in chapter 10 the supremacy of the Messiah over all those who came before him, i.e., over the prophets and messengers of the OT regime. His sacrifice was superior and greater than the sacrifices of the OT.
4. The regime as set forth by the Law of Moses and which regulated the way of worship was a temporary regime. It was a shadow of the perfect and final regime which was inaugurated by Jesus the Messiah. The Levitical system was originated by God as well as everything which was connected with the sacrifices and the way of worship. This does not mean, however, that it was to be valid continually throughout the ages of history. The OT regime was preparatory for the complete and perfect regime which was going to take its place at the coming of the Messiah. Had the OT regime been complete and perfect, it would not have been necessary to repeat the many sacrifices. The worshipers would have stopped offering such sacrifices, For then would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins. 10:2 But the very fact that the sacrifices were being offered continually was a clear indication that the OT regime was not perfect. It is evident that the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away the sins of people. God taught his people during the OT times, through symbols and ceremonies, that the forgiveness of sins was going be accomplished on the basis of the redemptive work of the Messiah, i.e., through his vicarious death on the cross.
2. The regime of the Messiah is final. It was not easy to write about the disappearance of the Levitical system or the method of worship which used to take place within the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. But the inspired author quoted from Psalm 40 showing the truthfulness of his teaching concerning the superiority of the Messiah and his new covenant (regime) over all the OT prophets and the system under which they lived. (Psalm 40: 6-8)
a. God had prepared a better regime (covenant) than the OT one, by sending His only begotten Son to take our human nature. The life of the Messiah was in perfect harmony with the will of God. The Messiah took upon himself our sins and atoned for them by his death on the cross.
b. God did not look upon the blood of the animals which were used in the sacrifices as if it were able to atone for the sins of mankind. The animal blood played a symbolic role as it pointed to the blood of the redeemer, Jesus the Messiah who was to shed his blood on the cross. Thus, the error of those who wanted to forsake Christianity and return to Judaism was very great. Such people showed by their intention or action, that they were refusing God's final and perfect system. Why should anyone return to the symbol when the True One has come? And why should anyone imagine that the blood of animals was able to bring them close to God and make them righteous? After all, it was the Messiah, as the Lamb of God, who offered himself once and for all as a perfect sacrifice for the sin of the world. Should anyone forsake him to go back to the imperfect and outmoded system?
1. The OT priesthood acknowledged, through its works, that it was a temporary and imperfect system. The author of the letter described the service performed by the priest during his daily ministry. He told us about the animal sacrifices which were offered according to the method God appointed in the Law. In themselves, these sacrifices and offerings were unable to lift the sins of human beings. Thus, they were not perfect sacrifices and the system or regime was not a final one. What was then the purpose of those sacrifices? They taught us this important lesson: And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission. (9:22) The author taught that Jesus the Messiah shed his blood before God as a sacrifice to atone for the sins of all believers. And since the OT sacrifices were of an educational nature, they were repeated continually from the days of Moses until the days of the Messiah.
2. Jesus the Messiah, who is the high priest of the New Covenant, accomplished his work of redemption and sat at the right hand of the Father for ever. During the OT times, the priests used to accomplish their ministry first in the Tabernacle of the Congregation, and later on in the Holy Temple which was built in the days of Solomon the Wise. They ministered to God while standing and they offered their sacrifices from day to day. But Jesus the Messiah, as the high priest of the New Covenant, offered himself as a sacrifice, once and for all. His offering was of limitless value and he sat after finishing his work at the right hand of God, thus showing that he had accomplished his work of redemption and atonement in a complete and perfect way. From that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. 10:13, 14 Therefore the Messiah is quite different from the priests of the OT times.
Since this was a very important subject, the author quoted from the OT books in order to show that his teaching was in harmony with the teachings of those inspired books. He specifically quoted from the prophecy of Jeremiah where the Holy Spirit spoke about the coming of a new and final age. The prophecy of Jeremiah centered on the coming of a new age in which the light of a new covenant would shine. The Messiah was the One who would inaugurate the new regime. Whereas the laws were written on tablets of stone and on parchments during the OT times, God was going to write his laws on the hearts of people through the work of the Holy Spirit.
God is ready to forgive the sins of all those who accept the conditions of the New Covenant, i.e., of all those who believe in Jesus the Messiah and in his perfect sacrifice on the cross, for the atoning of their sins and transgressions. This is the great gift of the New Testament age: the forgiveness of sins based on the merits of Jesus the Messiah which he earned by his sufferings on the cross, his atoning death and his mighty resurrection from the dead. Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin. Therefore, there is no longer any need for the Levitical priesthood during this NT age. For what was symbolized by that priesthood (i.e., the work of the Savior, the Messiah) has been accomplished. There is no need to resurrect the old regime. This is the summary of the doctrinal part of the Letter to the Hebrews.
Hebrews 10: 19 - 39
We begin now our study of the second part of the letter where the author deals with the application of the teachings of the Letter in the lives of the believers.
1. It is our duty to come to God according to the way established in the New Testament Age in order to receive the strength to walk on the path of true faith. The author pleaded with the believers to come to God directly placing their confidence in the high priest of the New Covenant, i.e., in Jesus the Messiah. The high priest in the OT times used to enter the holy of holies once a year to offer sacrifices on his own behalf as well as on behalf of the rest of the people. But the great privilege of NT believers is that they can come directly to God without a human priest. It is their duty and responsibility not to allow any person to divert their attention from their noble goal, since the One who promised to receive the believers is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.24, 25.
2. It is not enough to have a mere intellectual knowledge of the truths of the gospel. We notice this very strong warning: For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins. What the author is talking about is the danger of not having a genuine, experiential knowledge of the truth. This is a very strong warning to all those who hear the Good News of Jesus the Messiah, and who show a mere intellectual agreement with it, without allowing its wonderful truths to accomplish their saving work within their hearts. The person who has experienced the salvation of the Lord and truly receives the teachings of the Gospel, does not actually do these sad things as mentioned by the author of the letter.
3. The necessity of arming ourselves with faith and finishing our Christian struggle. The believers who were of Jewish background had received the Messiah as their savior and thus suffered severe persecutions. They were aware of the fact that the author of the letter himself had been imprisoned for the sake of the Messiah. Having believed and suffered all these things, why should they think about going back to Judaism, now that they are closer to the End, i.e., to the return of the Messiah? They must remember this very important Biblical truth which was given to God's people in the OT times through the prophet Habakkuk: For yet a little while, And He who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, my soul has no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul. God is pleased with the believers who stand firm in their faith and not with those who go back on their faith. The believers' life is based on faith from beginning to end. For the just shall life by faith.
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