The Book of Hebrews, Part 5
By Roger Hahn (Part 5)
(Sacred Names and titles corrected by the editor)

Hebrews 7 is the center of the book of Hebrews. Not only are there six chapters both before and after chapter 7, but it also presents the central argument of the book. The author was attempting to convince his Jewish Messianic readers not to abandon their faith in the Messiah. In a variety of ways he argued the Messiah's superiority to the important persons and concepts of Judaism.

The central point in his argument was that Yahshua was a better priest than any that could be provided by Judaism. The key support to that argument was that Yahshua was a priest according to the order of Melchizedek. Hebrews 7:1-25 had argued the superiority of Melchizedek to the Jewish priests.

However, in Hebrews 7:26-28 the author introduces another aspect of the Messiah's priesthood that is different from both the Aaronic priesthood of Judaism and from Melchizedek. That unique aspect was the sinless character of Yahshua.

The superiority of Yahshua as high priest had several important implications in the mind of the author. As a better high priest Yahshua performed a better ministry, a concept developed in Hebrews 8:1-5, and was the mediator of a better covenant, as Hebrews 8:6-13 argues. Both paragraphs are structured in a similar way. Hebrews 8:1-2 introduces Yahshua' new ministry and verses 3-5 then contrast that new ministry with the old ministry of the Jewish priests. Hebrews 8:6 introduces the new covenant and then verses 7-13 contrast the new covenant with the old covenant. The author then argues the superiority of the new covenant that is provided by the Messiah in Hebrews 9:1-10:18. The superior new covenant is provided by the superior priest, Yahshua, and provides superior access to Yahweh in worship.

The Ultimate Uniqueness of The Messiah - Hebrews 7:26-28

With verse 26 Melchizedek is left behind. He has served his purpose and the author's attention turns completely to the meaning of the high priesthood of Yahshua. The opening words might be translated, "For such a high priest was precisely appropriate for us." Normally the word translated such points to the preceding material, but the Greek sentence is constructed so that the readers would understand that such here points forward to the description of The Messiah given in verses 26-28. The new priesthood is superior to the old because the new priest is Yahshua (Bruce, p. 175). The readers' real needs can be met because of the cross of The Messiah and the one who bore the cross and was raised from its death is the one who is able to meet those needs (Lane, WB, p. 191).

The author then describes Yahshua as high priest with three significant adjectives. All three derive from the Old Testament language of worship. It is hard to separate their meaning totally, yet they reveal different nuances of thought.

The first adjective is usually translated holy, but it is not the usual New Testament word for holy. Some translated it "devout" but the Old Testament background of the word describes a person whose relationship to both Yahweh and others is based on faithfulness to the covenant. The concept is one of loyalty to the covenant, but since the covenant defined the way a person was to live this word really speaks of integrity in covenant obedience. It describes a person who genuinely fulfilled not only the external, but also the heart expectations of the covenant. Such a person was all that Yahweh wanted them to be and thus the translation holy was appropriate. As high priest Yahshua was all Yahweh wanted him to be; he was loyally obedient to the Father; and he lived with integrity.

The second adjective is often translated blameless. It literally means "without evil" and can be translated "without guile, pure, innocent." In the context of priesthood it meant that no wrong was attached to The Messiah. Both his reputation and the reality of his life had no impurity, nothing inappropriate, connected to him.

The third adjective is undefiled or pure. Its meaning is similar to blameless. Being blameless had a primarily active sense for Yahshua. He had done nothing evil, deceptive, or impure. The term undefiled had a more passive sense. Nothing impure attached itself to him. The three adjectives describe Yahshua spiritually, morally, and religiously. In every dimension with spiritual implications Yahshua was pure and well qualified as a high priest.

Verse 26 has two final phrases that describe the superior priesthood of Yahshua. The first, separated from sinners, has been taken as a further explanation of the moral purity of Yahshua. He was different from all other human beings in his sinless perfection. In that sense it could very appropriately be said that he was different from or separated from sinners. The same phrase may also be taken as a reference to the ascension of Yahshua. After a life of identification with sinful humanity by means of the ascension Yahshua has become separated from sinners. That is to say, he has departed from the sinful sphere of human existence to return to his rightful place at the right hand of Yahweh the Father. If the second meaning is adopted, it becomes synonymous with the final phrase, exalted above the heavens.

Verse 27 continues to describe the unique character of The Messiah. Our high priest has no necessity to offer sacrifices day by day. The point of contrast is twofold. There is no necessity on his part to offer sacrifices for his own sins because he was "tested in every respect like we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). Hebrews 5:3 had noted that every humanly chosen high priest must offer sacrifices for his own sins. Not so with Yahshua.

The second point of contrast is that Yahshua did not need to offer sacrifices day by day because he offered himself once for all. Since he was "holy, blameless, and undefiled" according to verse 26 as a high priest, he was also holy, blameless, and undefiled as an offering. Thus the perfect priest offered the perfect offering. This meant that "both the necessity and the possibility" of repeating such a sacrifice disappear (Lane, WB, p. 193). The sacrifice of Yahshua is once for all. Both the idea of once for all people and once for all time are included in this phrase, but the time element is the obvious point of comparison in this verse. Our author is ready to argue that the very fact that the Jewish priests had to repeat their offerings on a daily basis demonstrated the inferior and temporary character of their atoning power. As a result of his once for all sacrifice of himself Yahshua was obviously not like other priests, especially not like the priests of Judaism.

The summation of the argument appears in verse 28. Three contrasts appear in the verse though one of them is not completely spelled out. The priests of Judaism were those whom the law appoints. On the other hand the word of the oath (referring to Psalm 110:4) appoints Yahshua. The author also notes that the word of oath came after the law. The point is that Yahshua had replaced the priests of Judaism. He was not only after the law; he was also beyond and above the law.

The second contrast is that priests of Judaism are subject to weakness whereas The Messiah has been made perfect. The word weakness was translated "infirmity" by the King James Version. This suggests that range of human weakness, susceptibility to sickness, failure, and sin, and the general unreliability indicated by the concept of weakness. It stands in total contrast to the ability to have become all that Yahweh wanted - the meaning of The Messiah's being made perfect. The Greek tense shows that The Messiah became perfect at some point in time - probably his death and resurrection which were also the means by which he became perfect. However, that full completion of the will of Yahweh has continuing results. One of the results is the superiority of The Messiah's priesthood.

The third contrast is implied by the word forever. The Messiah's priesthood is forever by virtue of his resurrection, while the priests of Judaism are temporary because they die.

A New Ministry in a Heavenly Sanctuary - Hebrews 8:1-5

The author begins a new section at Hebrews 8:1 that will extend through Hebrews 10:18. He begins with a backward glance by mentioning what we have been saying. Thus the argument of the superiority of Yahshua' high priesthood is still in view. However, clearly he wants to draw new and more significant conclusions from that argument.

The typical translation the point of what we have been saying does miss out on a significant word in the Greek text. Though the word could mean the main point of an argument or the summary of an argument, the fact that the author does not summarize or point out specifics of his previous argument suggests that neither of those meanings was on his mind. The word can also meaning the "crowning affirmation" or the final stage of an argument. That is the meaning here. What follows in Hebrews 8:1-10:18 is the culmination of the argument begun back in Hebrews 4:14 that Yahshua is a superior priest to the priests of Judaism.

In his high priestly role The Messiah is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens. This reference to the right hand of Yahweh connects the role of Yahshua as High Priest to the role of Yahshua as Son since the Son "sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high" according to Hebrews 1:3. The idea of The Messiah being at Yahweh's right hand is also alluded to in Psalm 110:1 so the idea is connected to the Melchizedek argument that was based on Psalm 110:4. However, the key concept in the author's mind appears to be that Yahshua is now in heaven.

Hebrews 8:2 further defines Yahshua as a minister in the sanctuary. The word that is translated minister referred to a person who performed a public service for the people whether it was leading a ceremony or performing public service work. It was the word often used of priests of the Greco-Roman religions when they performed a religious act (prayer or sacrifice) at a public ceremony for the town or region. The word (leitourgos) meant one who did work for the people and our words liturgy, liturgical, and liturgist all come from the word. Thus the reference to Yahshua as minister is a way of referring to his activity as high priest rather than to his status. The word sanctuary literally means "holy things" but that expression was regularly used for either in the Holy Place or the Most Holy Place (Holy of Holies) in the temple at Jerusalem (or in written references to the tabernacle mentioned in the Old Testament).

The following expression, the true tent, however, shows that the sanctuary in which The Messiah served as high priest was not an earthly one, but heavenly. There are several interesting aspects to the way the author writes here. First, it is of interest that he speaks of the tent or tabernacle rather than referring to the temple. The question of whether this means that the temple was still standing or was not standing and thus the question of the date of Hebrews (before or after A.D. 70) cannot be answered by this reference to the tabernacle.

Second, the author speaks of the true tent as the place in which Yahshua ministered. On the basis of Exodus 25:9 and 40 Judaism had come to believe that there was heavenly sanctuary that provided the pattern for the earthly sanctuary constructed by Moses (a specific allusion to Exodus 25:40 appears in verse 5). The use of the word true shows the influence of the philosophy of Plato. The word true here refers to that which is genuine or authentic, that of which the earthly is only an imitation or a copy. Thus the fact that Yahshua ministers in the true sanctuary is consistent with his superiority over the Jewish priesthood. They served in the earthly sanctuary, an imitation and a copy of the real or authentic sanctuary where Yahshua served.

Further, the author notes that since Yahshua is the priest of a heavenly sanctuary it would be necessary for him to offer gifts and sacrifices like any other priest. The author has in mind that Yahshua himself became the perfect sacrifice which is offered by the perfect priest, but he does not get around to actually describing The Messiah as his own sacrifice until Hebrews 9:14. His point here is the heavenly nature of the sanctuary in which Yahshua serves. Verse 4 notes that if it were an earthly sanctuary Yahshua would not even be offering sacrifices since the Law of the Old Testament provided the Levitical priests to perform those duties.

Verse 5 goes on to describe the sanctuary of the earthly priests as a sketch and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary where Yahshua serves. The word shadow was used in Greek philosophy to describe that which was an imitation of the authentic thing. Its use here implies that the earthly sanctuary is inferior and only partially reflects the reality of the very idea of the heavenly sanctuary. On the other hand, the word sketch or "copy" is more positive. It describes an example or model (the Greek word is related to our word "paradigm"). For both words the reality lies in the heavenly sanctuary; the earthly was a reflection. Since Yahshua served in a better sanctuary his priestly service is a better ministry than that of Judaism.
-Roger Hahn, Copyright , Roger Hahn and the Christian Resource Institute
(Last installment, Part 6, will be in next issue) ~~