Understanding Jesus as High Priest.

Against the background of pictures and stories of the incredible suffering of women and children during the AB war, which have been milling around in my mind, I listen to my Father: “Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God – humble yourself as you recognize this adjective ‘mighty’ – I show some small glimpses of My might and power in the thunderstorm, in the lightning, earthquakes, sea storms, hurricanes, tsunamis – but even more out there in the outer space – heavenly bodies 100’s of times the size and power of our sun – and all under my control. That is a small picture of My power but I wield that power in the case of each one of My children – in a special way of care and wisdom, fitting each one of you – which you will never completely understand while here on earth – except seeing it through the terms grace and love – that is My attitude with which I deal with each one of you. So just receive that, walk in that through the power and love of the Spirit, and leave the bigger picture to Me”.

So now we are moving into the meat of the book of Hebrews. It is perhaps easy to lose the way of the melody line as we move forward with complex arguments, especially what the writer is trying to show with his focus on Jesus’ role as the perfect high priest. Having read up to 7:20, let me pick up on a few thoughts that should keep you on the ‘road’, as you navigate the complexity of the argument.

The main theme of the letter has been taken from 2:1, that the readers should be careful not to drift away. In this case the drifting was mainly longing for and moving back to their Hebrew roots, especially the role of the law and the High Priest and thus losing the main focus of Christianity which is Jesus (the author and perfector of our faith). The writer has gone to great lengths to illustrate this, using the work of Moses and the rescue from Egypt and the subsequent apostasy of the Israeli’s in the desert, through unbelief and hardening of their hearts. This reaches a sort of climax in the early vv of ch 6, where it almost appears that he is suggesting that one may lose your salvation.

He then pulls up short with the statement in 6:9 where he speaks encouragingly to the Christian readers that he is “confident of better things in their case’ Now note what are the better things he is confident of? Things that accompany salvation. there can be no greater truth than that anywhere in the whole story of God. That is, in fact, what the whole bible is about, not so? So now he continues with this theme picking up on the role of Jesus, that author and perfector of our salvation (2:10). He is firstly focusing on Jesus’ role as high priest, who is the only one who can bring perfection (7:11) and is “able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them”.

His argument is based on a few threads 1. The certainty of God’s promises on which it rests. This certainty is guaranteed because of the oath that God made when he affirmed the promise. Added to this the statement in Numbers 23:19 where God is depicted as one who will never change His mind. 2. He uses this mysterious Melchizedek to make the point that Jesus’ High Priesthood is far superior to that of the Aaronic priesthood, because it did not come by inheritance and the law (which he incidentally reminds us is unable to make us perfect v 19) and also because it is based on his ‘everlasting life’ v 24.

So the undeniable conclusion is that Jesus IS able to save completely and the only qualification we need, according to this vs 7:25, is that we should draw near to Him. These are the stem and branches, now you can add the foliage by studying the passage again in he light of this guidance.

Finally just a friendly request. Can you please keep your comments relevant to the book and passage which we are busy reading together. More insights, an observation of something you have spotted in addition or how something else falls into place etc I am giving general guidelines and would love to see you finding how things fall into place in that part of the book or fitting into the bigger picture of the melody line. And then also what you have heard Jesus to say to you personally from the passage. This will show me whether you guys are understanding and following what I’m trying to lead you to and we will encourage other readers to listen critically to the passage.

For me personally, I have found this whole emphasis on Jesus as High Priest a bit remote as it relates so clearly to the fundamental faith of the Jews. Nevertheless, listening to Jesus’ voice in this, I have gained a reassurance of the certainty of God’s promise to me again that I can take sincerely to heart.

God’s Swears to Keep the Promise, for Our Assurance.

Fellowship – this word has been ringing in my mind.

“I have told you to seek Me, to seek Me first and My kingdom and righteousness. I have said that if you seek me I will be found of you (I will allow you to find Me) – but actually I have been seeking you all your life – I have been behind the scenes, orchestrating everything in your life – but giving you free-will allowing you to stumble and fall and get up again (like a baby learns to walk) – but all the while I am there inviting and encouraging you to come closer to Me – remember the parable of the lost sheep? My attitude is to always to seek – so when I say ‘seek Me first’, it is against the background of My seeking you – and desiring fellowship with you. The key to your heart is deep within you and you need to open it from the inside – and as you do that I can flood my love and grace in to you and draw you close to my bosom where I can hold you secure and have continual fellowship with you. Remember to stay close to My word because that is where fellowship with Me starts.”

So I focus today on the short piece in Hebrews 6:13-20. This section acts like a bridge joining the section which opens in verse 2:1 where the writer introduces the warning about ‘drifting away’ and has continued with this danger up to 6:8, illustrating it with the long example of the Israelite’s disobedience in the desert. In 6:9 He seems to suddenly take a breath and recognize that not all the readers fall into this category hence “we are confident of better things in your case”.

Now from 6:13 his emphasis is moved to giving those readers an assurance of the security of their faith. The main source of assurance is Jesus, who is portrayed very much in His role of high priest, using this illustration chiefly because of the readers’ desire to move back (and drift away) into the Jewish faith and rites of the law. The writer has already alluded to this important picture in 2:17,18 and 4:14 – 5:6. In the next section He going to expand on that in great detail from ch 7 – 10, but before that we have his link piece from 6:13 – 20.

So why don’t you read this piece and decide which is the ‘flower’ verse among he foliage, telling us what the message is here.

Here it is then: 6:18 God did this so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be encouraged. OK do you see the pronoun he is now using? We. The writer is now including himself on the inside for the first time. Up till now he has been speaking in second person terms – ‘we say this to you’. So what are the two things which we can hold fast to, where God doesn’t lie and which will make our hope secure?

It starts with the promise (13:1), which refers to the great promise of Genesis 12:1-3 which is the basis of the whole of God’s rescue plan which gradually unfolds into the old covenant, and that eventually leads to he new covenant initiated by Jesus which is going to be discussed a little way ahead. So the promise is basic and the second is linked to that described in Genesis ch 22 from vs 15. It is directly related to the promise, where God (through an angel) commends Abraham in the light of his faith, demonstrated by his willingness to sacrifice his son in obedience to God’s instruction, the one who was to be the very mediator of that promise and therefore God then repeats the promise to Abraham with an oath and through him to us, to give every reader and follower that have taken hold of that promise, the assurance that they might have a certain hope, which in the words of the next vs in Hebrews (6:19) is our anchor – absolutely firm and secure.

This paragraph then ends with a statement linking this section with the role of Jesus as high priest which he is now going to be expanded on and we will start looking at that next time.

So what did I hear Jesus say to me? Well the emphasis on the reality, truth and importance of that promise reminds me again how God’s plan from the beginning was to save us and give us a sure footing for our fellowship with Him and looking forward to an eternity of fellowship with Him.

Eternal Loss or Better Things.

The song ends with the words “Eternal hope is in your hands, and all of our tomorrows”.

“The question is do you live in your tomorrow, or try to live today in the light of the fact that your eternal hope is in My hands AND all your tomorrows?

“So the secret of true contentment, true peace and lack of anxiety is to live today to the max. ‘This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it’. But with this proviso: you have peace and contentment only in the light of the full assurance and belief that all your hope is in ME for tomorrow – right up to eternity. And today? Let the rhythm of the seasons remind you of that fixed fact – not in the seemingly aimless vagaries of humanity, governments, courts, crime etc. Fix your eyes on Me for tomorrow it is already planned and in My hands”.

Going on with Heb 5:11 – 6:12. We continue with the melody line through this very scary portion. Let me just explain my term “melody line”: Each book of the bible has a main theme. From that there will be branches and sub-branches. To understand these smaller sections it is necessary to see them in the light of the main theme, or melody line as I call it and it meanders through the text. It is something like a tree. There is the main stem then the branches and finally the foliage, which completes the beautiful picture. While each element has something to say to the reader, the full understanding of the foliage and branches can only come as one sees their connection to the main stem.

So up to now we have been following the writer’s concern for the readers, that he has heard that some of the congregation are drifting away.2:1. He has used an elaborate example of the Israelites journey through the desert to illustrate this concern. As he comes to ch 6 he wants to really nail down his concern, with a powerful warning.

So let’s say there are basically two groups in the audience: 1. Those depicted in 4:2-6 who did not hear with hearing, or combine their hearing with faith and are described as being denied entry into God’s rest because of hardness of heart leading to disobedience. In 5:11 he picks up on this theme again using the term “slow or sluggish to hear”. This adjective is repeated in 6:12 translated as becoming lazy and brackets this section. Now notice what their failure to hear properly has resulted in. They have remained as babies, because they have not received the teaching in such a way that it has changed their way of thinking. In fact they are stuck in the elementary teachings of the gospel and ultimately have shown no fruit that would demonstrate their true faith and conversion. These people have been part of the “congregation”, experiencing every blessing that comes with participation in a “church” whose real members are those who are saved and have the blessed Holy Spirit and all that goes with that. They have been so close that they have ‘tasted’ these benefits, experiencing them by close association.

Now the warning the writer gives is that when those people turn back or drift away it becomes very difficult for them to come back to repentance. When the writer states ‘it’s impossible’ he is making an observation not laying down a rule. We all know of people like that.

2. There is another group in the church. These are the real members, who have responded to the word, with faith and shown this by their obedience and teachable hearts. In his example of the Israelites this is really restricted to Caleb and Joshua, which is also not a rule but shows us that there can be many in the church who fall under the first category. These people have shown their their true conversion by their fruit, by putting into practice the scriptures 5:14 and producing a crop that is useful and a blessing from God 6:7. Your comments that have been placed in the blog show that you all fall in this category and it is good to see your affirmation of your faith and the security you have in the Lord.

However on the fringes between these groups are those who have not yet moved firmly into either one of them. They are the ones who can still be reached with the gospel. They are the ones who the writer is especially addressing, as well as wanting those of us who have the certainty of our salvation fixed, to be aware of this fringe group so that we can encourage them to open their ears and listen, so that they will be taken up into God’s kingdom.

Those are the people who the writer is warning, “do not harden your hearts, listen with listening, appreciate the power of God’s Word, don’t become lazy in your and sluggish in your hearing or your faith and obedience, be teachable, hold firmly to the faith. Of course as we read through this fascinating letter we will now be confronted with the vertical dimension of our faith, without which this would not be the true gospel as the writer expands on Jesus’ role as high priest.

Conclusion: no-one can lose their true salvation. The scriptures are clear, yet Paul in His letters makes no bones about it, we are all on an eternal path, a race that must be completed and we should make certain we remain on that path. We should never become complacent or lazy as this text warns. Persevering in the faith is the true and final test of real Christianity. Hence ch 11 of this book.

So what has God been saying to me in all this? Well I found to my astonishment that I should examine my teachability. Not in the question of understanding the scriptures, but in the sense of accepting that I should still be growing in my faith, realizing that at all times the Lord is warning me against complacency in my relationship with Him, I cannot just sit back and teach and judge whether others are really hearing.

Let Us Hold Firmly to the Faith we Profess.

I have been singing “El Shaddai” with Amy Grant and thoughts of the various names of God are floating around in my head.

“Yes I have used various names from time to time – which had a specific reason at the time – but collectively they each reveal parts of Me and My character – but the most important is Jehovah (Yahweh), which is My covenant name for my people. Do you understand the importance of the covenant promises in the OT? My covenant is the basis for My relationship with you and my people – it is totally binding – from My point of view and all you need to do is to receive My promises. But that name Jehovah, which seems to ring out of the past – was looking forward to the name of the One who is very much in the present – Jesus – He is the completion of My covenant name and, while all my OT names may seem distant – Jesus is intimately present with you right now in 2021. My desire remains the same to call and gather a people to be My Bride – a people who want to be part of that covenant and therefore part of My Bride. They are many – enjoy being part of it and continue to play the role I have given you.

We pick up the story in Hebrews from 4:14 – 5:10. The opening vs shows that the theme or melody line is still he same as the warning in 2:2. In Chapter3 and 4 so far the writer has been giving an example of drifting away. He shows that most of the people, rescued from Israel never actually reached the Land, which was the aim of God’s ultimate covenant promises eg Exodus 34:10 ff. (ie The OT picture of Heaven). The reason? They did not hear with true receptivity and therefore the message had no benefit because there was no faith which followed and hearts were hardened and disobedience followed.

In to-day’s passage we are given God’s side of the agreement. The readers should understand that while the responsibility for holding on to the faith was each individual’s (4:14b), God has given very definite help. This help is described here as being equivalent to the role of the High Priest under the Old Covenant. This would resonate with these Jewish believers as this was the main figure in their rituals. He could minister effectively because he would have understood the frailty of the human spirit and the difficulties of resisting temptation.

Now Jesus, regarding His similar role also came and experienced the extreme temptations 5:7, however He managed to resist them in His humanity through the power released through the prayers, with tears that He prayed. Despite His peculiar relationship as Son, He still had to experience the full suffering that went with obedience in the face of temptation so that He can minister to us today. This passage does not mean he learned to become obedient step by step as He obeyed, which it may sound like, but that he learned exactly what it felt like to be obedient when tempted. (This probably mainly referring to Gethsemany).

In this way He was made complete when He had finished and ascended into heaven. Now note the summery in 5:9: He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him.

We need to understand clearly what He is saying here. Obedience is NOT the means to earn eternal salvation. The Source of eternal salvation lies entirely in Jesus and His work on the cross. However we cannot sit back when we have received God’s promises of forgiveness and just “let God, from then on”. We have a very real responsibility, to hold firmly to the faith we profess. but note the point that the writer is making here. We do not have to go this path on our own. We have one who has had the full experience of being human and understands what that entails and He is available to us at all times through prayer. The sign of any true follower is general obedience. That is not perfection, but a changed life. This should not only be temporary but must persevere till we go to be with Him.

Paul speaks elsewhere of “running the race”. You don’t get to the finishing post in a race by sitting on the first milestone, watching the other runners go by. It takes exertion, training and stamina. may God bless each of you with this desire to run the race with the full resources of, not the god of Nike, but Jesus who has gone before you on the full track.

The Israelites, an Example of Drifting Away.

‘Jesus, only Jesus help me to trust you more’, is the song I’m singing is morning. My trust in You is complete – yet help me to trust You more – my trust seems to me often to be affected by my emotions. At times I am on fire – ready to face the steepest cliffs and the highest mountains – at other times not so sure and struggling to believe and trust completely.

“Yes Ian I made you and all my other children with an ability to experience a full set of emotions – a full set of senses too – so that your life might be complete. You would never know what the peaks of joy are – to feel that, experience that, if it weren’t for for the valleys of uncertainty, pain, doubt, mourning, sickness. So I lead you through this impetuous world, allowing you to experience all the emotions, so that your joy may be so much greater, your experience of My love may be so much sweeter as I gather you into My arms where you are safely protected by My love, which does not vacillate but is the same yesterday, to-day and forever. Simply know it is a feature of true trust to see yourself as unable to fulfil what you need and recognize your total need of Me, My love and My perfection.”

we are continuing in Hebrews with the melody line of warning not to drift away and our question: “Can one lose one’s salvation?” After making the point of the importance of Jesus as the author and finisher of our faith (ch 2) and a brief reminder that Jesus is greater than Moses 3:1-6 (who gave the law which they now are wanting to fall back on) as He is the builder of the house of which Moses is just part of, the writer now addresses the whole matter of drifting away again.(From 3:7-4:13)

He uses the rescue of the Israelites as an example (1 Cor 10:6, but remember it is only an example) of drifting away. So he describes the Israelites having being “rescued” from Egypt and travelling through the desert to the Promised Land which is their ultimate destination. However the majority did not enter the Promised Land because their hearts became ‘hardened by unbelief’ 3:8, 12, 13,19, 4:2, which led them to disobedience 3:12,18, 4:6,11. Now notice the progression, unbelief, hardening of hearts and then disobedience. So the writer then shows that this example was meant to convey and eternal truth and that the Promised Land or God’s Rest is equivalent to heaven and that only those who had heard the word and combined it with faith 4:2, would enter. In fact it was only Joshua and Caleb who ultimately entered he Promised Land from all those who were rescued from Egypt. A spine-chilling thought.

Then he goes on to remind the reader that the problem was not with God’s Word being inadequate, that they became disobedient, because that Word is alive and active and powerful. (4:12,13). So what was the problem and here I want to bring back a connection to us? Vs 2 of Ch 4 has an interesting Greek construction which has been translated as combining the hearing of the word with faith, which I would say is the correct translation. The original speaks though of a hearing which really hears (a different Greek word for hearing). That describes how they had ‘heard’ the gospel preached to them earlier. What gospel? Well simply, the promise of entry into a land of milk and honey and a covenant relationship with the God, Yahweh, who was taking them there

OK friends what is the name of our blog? Let’s listen to Jesus. Mmmm. So do you hear what I am saying? Reading God’s word, which is everything that is described in 4:12,13 is only effective if we truly listen, with our hearts and hear in such a way that it provokes true faith. Any hardening of the heart, which is associated with not believing will result in further hardening of the hearts and can ultimately lead to disobedience. So what of our friends that seem to have lost their salvation?

You see, being part of the “saved group” like the Israelites who were rescued from Egypt were, is not the guarantee of entry into the promised Land. The message must constantly be combined with faith, heard by the heart to effectively keep us on track to the Promised Land. Just because someone joins in and becomes part of a church is no guarantee of real salvation, there needs to be an aspect of true faith which sets them on the path to heaven, which I will call “saving faith”. The proof of having saving faith is persevering with that faith to the end as the heroes of faith did, described in ch 11.

Nevertheless, none of us knows where anyone else is on the road to the Promised Land, so we each have a duty described in 3:13,14, to encourage one another daily, so we can share in Christ by holding on to the end the confidence we had at first and not be dragged away by sin’s deceitfulness. Saving faith in a Christian context is a very real moment of new birth which transforms one and the person who has truly experienced that and has the presence of the Holy Spirit within, will not ever be totally hardened by sin’s deceitfulness after that. Yet we owe it to each other to keep encouraging one another daily, while it is called to-day to keep on the right track.

So what am I hearing to-day from Jesus? Firstly how important it is that I continue to use every opportunity to encourage my brothers and sisters in their faith. But what of my faith? well the issues I have to deal with day by day are not “eternal issues”, but are challenges in dealing with the obstacles and difficulties of this path through the desert as they impede my progress to the certainty I now have of one day entering my Father’s rest. I have already taken the first step of the “NOW” but have “NOT YET” reached the ultimate destination.