Perfect, without blemish, Jesus is the reality thousands of years of animal sacrifice pointed to. Jesus completed and fulfilled the first covenant, cut in blood between God and God’s people.
Now, Messiah, having completed his mission, can take His seat on the royal throne of heaven, and rest His foot on restored creation, joining heaven and earth, the spiritual and physical realms, in a sacred whole.
It Is Finished
The writer took great care in explaining the magnificent truth he was presenting to his audience. What he was propounding was a radical departure from everything they understood as true. This was the core issue, the reason the readers of the Hebrews’ epistle were drifting from the faith. That Jesus was the complete and final sacrifice
did not seem true, it did not feel true, that one sacrifice for all time and eternity given by one man (no matter how sacred and pure) could be enough for all people everywhere, let alone even for one other person.
The draw of Jerusalem, of God’s Holy Habitation, the massive white-marble-and-sheets-of-gold temple Herod the Great had built, with its colossal golden menorah, flames leaping from every cup, causing the temple to shine like the sun, the gold catching and refracting the rays of light . . .
The high priest in his magnificent raiment, gleaming white turban, the great chestplate of gold and gems, the immense Altar of Sacrifice, kept burning day and night, and the worshippers coming with their sacrifices as squadrons of priests wielded their sanctified knives and the blood flowed like rivers of forgiveness . . .
It was in their bones and sinew, woven into the fibers of their souls.
How could they not offer sacrifices for their sins?
Did God not say they must?
And you shall bring to the priest, as your guilt offering to the Lord, a ram without blemish from the flock, or its equivalent, for a guilt offering. The priest shall make atonement on your behalf before the Lord, and you shall be forgiven for any of the things that one may do and incur guilt thereby.Leviticus 6:6-7 (NRSV)
They had put their faith in Jesus, they were believers. But they were also Bible-believing Jews, who knew their scriptures well. These were the faithful who had received Christ when they had recognized the One Whom they had pierced, and had been cut to the quick.
Now, walking with the Lord, taking in the teaching of the apostles while also faithfully keeping the festivals, their prayers, their study of the scriptures, and bringing offerings to the temple, they were torn. Their family and friends had pled with them, argued with them, and finally ostracized them—as the Law required of apostates. To those of Jewish faith, to worship a man was blasphemy, and to eschew the Levitical sacrificial system was heresy.
Jewish converts groaned under heavy opposition and even persecution from their community. It had to have been terribly painful for them to be turned out of their synagogues, to be barred entrance to the temple, to be turned away from every Jewish home, for the faces of all their loved ones to turn away every time they came near.
It is no wonder they felt that tug on their hearts to return to their roots.
But the writer, inspired by God through the divine power of the Holy Spirit, called out to them through this letter. The old ways are over and gone, the old covenant has been made null. Do not lose what Christ has done for you! Anchor your souls in the sacrifice that has cut the new covenant! Look to the High Priest Who has made atonement for you forever!
The Priest Is Sitting!
And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins.
But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, “he sat down at the right hand of God,”
and since then has been waiting “until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.” For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying,
“This is the covenant that I will make with them
after those days, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds,”
he also adds,
“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”
Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.Hebrews 10:11-18 (NRSV)
He sat down.
The Levitical priests were always standing because their work was never done, but Jesus was able to say “It is finished.” That is why He sat down. Jesus has permanently, for all time and eternity, achieved for you and for me God’s forgiveness of our sin, and has broken down all the barriers between people and God.
They had received this when they had first heard the gospel. The two very last sentences in the Gospel of Mark, the earliest Gospel to be published, Peter’s gospel, say,
So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.
And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it.Mark 16:19-20 (NRSV)
Later, Paul also wrote of this glorious truth in a letter that was circulated years before the writer of Hebrews set pen to papyrus.
God put this power to work in Christ when [God] raised him from the dead and seated him at [God’s] right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.
And God has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.Ephesians 1:20-23 (NRSV)
All things under His feet.
Both Paul and the writer of Hebrews referenced an ancient, symbolic custom in which the conquering king would place his foot on the necks of his vanquished enemies, here described.
When they brought the kings out to Joshua, Joshua summoned all the Israelites, and said to the chiefs of the warriors who had gone with him, “Come near, put your feet on the necks of these kings.” Then they came near and put their feet on their necks.Joshua 10:24 (NRSV)
God’s word in heart and mind.
Then, the writer quoted from the fiery prophet Jeremiah, whose oracle spoke of a time when God’s people would have God’s words alive within them. The people had always understood that time to come at the remaking of the entire cosmos, when they inhabited the new heavens and earth, and when all the world would stream to Jerusalem to worship Almighty God.
But, the writer was saying, that time is today! By the power of God, you have the Spirit of Christ Who lives within you!
It has taken ten chapters for the writer to reach this point, and it is a turning point, which we will take a look at tomorrow.