The epistle to the Hebrews is exciting. For those who love studying how the Old Testament is quoted in the New Testament, this book enthralls. Not only do we have the revelation concerning what Jesus is doing right now at this very moment, not only is the new covenant brought to the forefront, we also have more quotes from and references to the law, the psalms, and the prophets than any other book in the New Covenant writings. In some portions it seems like whoever wrote this letter couldn’t go for more than three sentences without quoting from the scriptures. They obviously were accustomed to speaking in the synagogue concerning the identity of Jesus as the Messiah. In Acts 13:16-41, Luke records a synagogue address of the Apostle Paul in which he frequently quotes from OT scripture in reference to the identity of Jesus as Messiah. That same style is employed throughout the book of Hebrews quoting again and again from OT scriptures identifying Jesus as the King-Priest.
The sad thing is that the book of Hebrews is used by many to try to prove an eschatological position when that is not the point of the letter at all. Some also try to use it to prove an overall ecclesiastical theology concerning the nature of the church in relation to the nation of Israel, but that is not the point of the letter either. I was browsing in a book store and picked up a book on A-Millennialism. I forget what book it was, but the author spent all of his time in the book of Hebrews trying to prove A-Millennialism as a viable position. On a message board I read someone asking the question of where in the scriptures they could find proof that God was completely done with the nation of Israel and now uses only the church. A four word response was, “The book of Hebrews.”
This post is one in an overall series entitled Jeremiah’s Covenant Revelation. I examined Jeremiah 30-33 to see what the texts foretold. Then I began examining the New Covenant writings to see if there were any proof that the OT is to be reinterpreted through these new writings or if the texts should stand just as they are. So far, there has been no scriptures in the New Covenant writings that would indicate that we are to change the original message of those prophecies. But I have avoided extended discussion of the book of Hebrews. Now it is time to study in order that we might gain a heart of wisdom. So here it is, what about the book of Hebrews?
First let us lay the groundwork of the high priestly ministry of Jesus Christ. God the Father in heaven, behind the veil of the temple, sent the Holy Spirit through the veil that His Son might be born of a virgin. The Son took on flesh and blood in order to help the offspring of Abraham, Hebrews 2:14-18, in order to be able to sympathize with our weaknesses, Hebrews 4:15, and to be able to offer up His own body as a sacrifice on our behalf, Hebrews 10:5-10. This flesh and blood is a part of His high priestly ministry that abides forever, Hebrews 7:3, 24. After the physical crucifixion and physical resurrection, Jesus physically ascended and took a seat at the right hand of the Father. There is no point in time in the future when Jesus will be unfleshed. His ministry as a sympathetic high priest abides forever.
This does not mean that Jesus will be seated at the right hand of the Father forever. In the future, the location of Jesus will change from heaven to earth. The book of Hebrews, as focused as it is on the present heavenly ministry of Christ, proves that the current setting of Jesus at the right hand of the Father is for a limited time only. Psalm 110 is quoted and referenced numerous times to prove that the Messiah is a priest after the order of Melchizedek. Psalm 110 begins with “The LORD says to my Lord, sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.” This is a command from the LORD (Yahweh), God the Father, to the Lord (Adonai), the Son of God, for Him to take a seat at His right hand until a certain time comes in the future. So the Son of God seated there will not be forever. This is the precise understanding that the writer to the Hebrews demonstrates in his epistle. Notice the added phrases in Hebrews 10:12-13. “He sat down at the right hand of God waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet,” emphasis mine. We can also note that there was a starting point to this time as well, when Jesus ascended into heaven. The quote from Psalm110:1 in Hebrews 1:13 should highlight that the Father was saying in essence, “Come on up here, Son, and sit down until the time comes for You to take a position of authority which will include having Your enemies for a footstool.”
There are other passages in the book of Hebrews that elucidate that Jesus will not abide at the right hand of the Father forever. In Hebrews 9:24-28 the order of His first appearance, His sacrifice for sins, His cleansing of the heavenly temple, then His second appearance is clearly laid out. Just as His first appearance caused Him to leave heaven to dwell with us upon the earth, so His second appearance will do the same. The Day of Atonement ritual is used as a metaphor for Christ’s temporary place in the heavens. Just as the high priest would enter the Holy of Holies once per year, Hebrews 9:7, make atonement, then reappear before the people of God, so Christ offered the sacrifice of Himself, entered the Holy of Holies, cleansed the heavens, appeared in the presence of God on our behalf, then He will reappear before the people of God. You can get just a little taste of the anticipation of the people of God from Luke 1:21. The people eagerly awaited the reappearance of Zechariah from within the temple. He should have appeared before he did, so something must have been happening inside keeping the people in suspense and wonder. This gives new meaning to Hebrews 10:23-25 which pictures a community of believers living in the light of the High Priest’s soon reappearance from within the temple. Hebrews 10:35-38 speaks of endurance in the face of persecution and the motivating factor is the reappearance of the Coming One. Those who endure are living by faith, Habakkuk 2:3-4, not shrinking back but confidently looking forward to their reward. This passage also serves as the bridge between the closing portion of the discussion of Christ as High Priest and the hall of faith in Hebrews 11. It should be clear that from the end of Hebrews 9 all the way to the end of chapter 10, that the second appearance of the High Priest from heaven is one of the main subjects.
Since we have established that Christ endures as a High Priest forever, and that His current position at the right hand of the Father is temporary, we must come to some type of reconciliation that there will be a future time when the High Priest will continue His ministry from another location. His present intercession at the right hand of the Father will come to and end, but His priestly ministry for mankind will not. I believe the answer lies in the OT passage of Psalm 110-118 which is one continuous psalm. I call it the Grand Messianic Opus. It begins with a description of the Messiah as the High Priest leaving that seat at the right hand of the Father to descend to the earth to physically make His enemies into a footstool in Psalm 110. Kings are struck down in the day of His wrath. The language shifts in 111 to the Messiah’s covenant congregation. Psalm 112 describes which individuals will be included. Psalm 113 describes the new social order. Psalm 114-115 backtracks to the nascent dominion of the LORD within the nation of Israel. Psalm 116 describes the descent of the Messiah into the realm of the grave in order to be delivered from death on behalf of His people. Psalm 117 extends His kingdom rule to all nations. Psalm 118 brings us full circle back to the subject of the King-Priest entering the gates of righteousness after having triumphed over His enemies. At that time it will be said that the stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
So in examining Hebrews 8:4, we need to understand what the author was intending to convey in His epistle as a whole. His main message is summed up in Hebrews 8:1-2. Our High Priest is currently in heaven. It was required that He go to heaven in order to purify the heavens and make intercession for us there. If He would have remained here on earth, He could not have executed His ministry as High Priest. Further, the temple ministry continued even as the author of this epistle wrote his letter. The point of the author of the epistle writing “if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all” must be taken in the context of the entire main point that he is communicating. The phrase immediately after this is “since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law”. The earthly temple ministry continued as Christ’s heavenly priestly ministry was initiated. Jesus could not minister in the temple on earth because there were already priests inferior to Him fulfilling this role. He had no place there. These priests were patterns that pointed to the real deal in heaven. Both functioned fulfilling their respective roles, priests here on earth to point to the true Priest, and Christ in heaven to make intercession for us. The issue is not that Christ could never come to earth and remain High Priest, the issue is that there was a need for him to leave earth in order to fulfill His ministry as High Priest. He will come from heaven to earth sometime in the future as the author clearly delineates and that will not affect His status as King-Priest.
Is Jesus on the Davidic Throne now? The book of Hebrews does not state this anywhere. Instead, Christ is sitting in a position of power at the right hand of the Father, until the times comes to make the enemies of Christ into a footstool. We know that the Messiah’s throne is forever according to Psalm 45:6 (quoted in Hebrews 1:8-9). Since Christ will not sit at the right hand of the Father forever, but will come and set up His glorious throne, Matthew 25:31, and sit on that throne forever, it should be obvious that He has not yet ascended the Davidic Throne, but will do so upon His coming.
This is further demonstrated when we examine which events were fulfilled at the first advent and which will be fulfilled at the second advent. There was a transposition of the priesthood, Hebrews 7:12. The word is metathesis (carried over into our English language) and is also used in Hebrews 11:5 of Enoch’s translation to be with God. The commandment which was before was negatively placed or set aside (a-thetesis) because of its weakness and inability to forgive sins, Hebrews 7:18-19. Christ took away the first in order to establish the second, Hebrews 10:9. This is in reference to the first covenant being made old in an ongoing way and continually aging as it is close to disappearance, Hebrews 8:13. The ultimate sacrifice for sin was offered on behalf of those who are sanctified, Hebrews 7:27, 9:14, 26-28, 10:12-14. Because of this sacrifice, there is no more offering for sin, Hebrews 10:18.
But what things were not fulfilled? What did the writer to the Hebrews look forward to happening in the future? For one, there remains a future subjection of the world to mankind. Note how the author writes in Hebrews 2 concerning Psalm 8. All things were to be put in subjection to mankind according to the psalmist. But we do not currently see that all things are put under our subjection. Instead, we see Jesus who is to destroy the works of the devil, Hebrews 2:14, and deliver us from our bondage, Hebrews 2:15. There is a concomitant relationship between Christ and the church that is portrayed here by the citation of several OT passages. The One who sanctifies and those that are sanctified are united, Hebrews 2:11, in such a fashion that they are brethren. Therefore, the passages cited show that both Jesus and the church will have all things in subjection to them by showing their intertwined destiny. Psalm 22:22 shows the unity because of the work on the cross. Christ proclaims the message of salvation to His brothers being in the midst of the congregation, that is, being one of them. Psalm 18:2 shows from this Messianic Psalm that the Messiah had to trust in the LORD just like any man, thereby setting the example for us. Isaiah 8:17-18 pictures a believing remnant of the disciples of the Messiah and the LORD Himself both performing miracles within the nation of Israel as they await for the LORD to reveal Himself, all while the nation of Israel as a whole stumbles at His coming, Isaiah 8:14-16. Together they will participate in proclaiming God’s glory through the power of the Holy Spirit in signs and wonders. Because of His condescension, His destiny becomes our destiny. We share in the future that He will have, which is to have all of creation in subjection to Him. Until we share in the flesh and blood resurrection likeness of Jesus Christ, until creation is in subjection unto us as outlined in Psalm 8, and until death is completely destroyed, the complete fulfillment of Hebrews 2:5-15 remains future. Our concomitant relationship with Christ is not yet consummated as it will be in the world to come.
There remains a future rest for the people of God, Hebrews 4:9. There could be a case made that those to whom the author was writing were currently experiencing that promised rest. However, in examining the entire language, there is an already/not yet aspect that must be conceded. The author’s main point is to demonstrate that the promised land rest had never occurred in Israel’s past, Hebrews 4:8. Since David wrote of a rest to be entered into long after the days of Joshua, no argument can be made that the promises which God made to Abraham and Israel were fulfilled during the days of Joshua, or even David or Solomon as the rest of the passage explains. The author uses language such as “the promise of entering his rest still stands” making it a present opportunity, Hebrews 4:1. That rest remains future especially in light of the fact that we have not rested from our works, Hebrews 4:10. We also must “strive to enter that rest”, Hebrews 4:11. Is there anything in this passage to change the original intent of the OT from a rest here on earth into a heavenly rest? No, there is only a clarification on who may participate and at what time.
We also have a future inheritance to be claimed. The first mention of this principle is in Hebrews 6:11-15. A correlation is drawn between those who have faith in the promises now and Abraham who had faith in the promises then. Abraham patiently waited and then obtained the promises. The desire of the author for his readers to exercise that same patience as they wait shows that this inheritance spoken of is yet future. Hebrews 9:15-17 shifts the language from that of a covenant to that of a testament, i.e. a last will and testament. This could only take effect after the death of the one who established their last will and testament. In essence, Jesus, as sole heir of the universe, wrote a will and left his entire estate (the universe) to Himself and anyone who would believe in Him. Then He died, rose again, and ascended into heaven awaiting the day when He and His brethren will claim the inheritance left to the church by Himself. Make sense? Some of the strongest language appears in what is known as the hall of faith in Hebrews 11. The example of Noah shows that his righteous life condemned the unbelieving world and made him an heir of the world to come by faith, Hebrews 11:7. While there are unbelievers here among us, our lives condemn them and make us heirs of the world to come. Abraham and many others died never having received the promises, all the while living as strangers and pilgrims in this present world, Hebrews 11:13. They desired a better country, a better city, just as we do as the author will explain later concerning the heavenly Jerusalem, Hebrews 11:14-16. The parallel of Moses is also drawn with the recipients of the epistle to the Hebrews. Moses considered the reproach of Christ to be greater riches than all the riches of Egypt, and that was at the zenith of the empire, Hebrews 11:24-26. We also consider our present afflictions to be great riches, greater than anything this world has to offer. The final portion of this chapter completes this thought. The better resurrection of Hebrews 11:35 is the same better resurrection that we look forward to sometime in the future. Since the author states that they have not yet received the promise, Hebrews 11:39, and that they (OT saints) will not be made perfect without us (NT saints), Hebrews 11:40; we can only conclude that at some time in the future all saints will receive their better resurrection, obtain the inheritance spoken of throughout the entire epistle, and be made perfect together as one body.
The age to come as Jesus painted it is the age of the resurrection, Luke 20:25. I think it is fitting to transition at this point into an examination of the age to come as the author to the Hebrews used the terminology. Beginning in Hebrews 1:2, the writer clearly sets forth the truth that the appearance of the Messiah in real time and space signaled that they were currently living in the last days. The end of the age had not yet come, but the last days began counting down since the first appearance of the Messiah had been fulfilled. Hebrews 6:5 shows that those who had received the Messiah had tasted of the Holy Spirit and of the powers of the age to come. This signifies that the Holy Spirit has brought the essence of the age to come to dwell with us in the present. Hebrews 9:26 connects the appearance of Christ to put away sin (first advent) at the end of the age. This end (sunteleia, completion) is the same word used in Matthew 13:39-40, 49, 24:3, 28:20, four times by Christ Himself. Christ appears and the last days of this age begin thus illustrating that the end of the age is practically here with power from the age to come spilling forth into the present through signs like no one has ever seen. All that remains now is for the High Priest to step forth from heaven the second time to finish the plan.
The author envisioned a future time when heaven and earth would be realigned in some way, Hebrews 12:25-29. This passage tells of this ominous event in the future when the earth and heaven will be shaken, cf. Matthew 24:29. This quote from Haggai 2:6 is explained by the author to mean that the things that are shaken will be removed. Here earth and heaven are slated for removal. The context of Haggai 2:6 shows that all nations will be shaken at this time as well. So there is a realignment of heaven, earth, and all nations at this time which the author to the Hebrews saw as occurring in the future. Haggai 2:21 is a very close parallel to this conveying the same message. The earth and heaven will be shaken and the surrounding context shows that the throne of the kingdoms of the Gentile nations will be overthrown at this time. What is meant here is that those things which are temporary will be taken away so that what is eternal in nature will remain. The eternal things include the New Jerusalem, Hebrews 12:22, 28, the kingdom which cannot be shaken.
So we must ask, what are the things that will be removed? Are we talking about the earth, grass, trees, animals, plants, stars – all of that gone? Or does the passage simply convey that the current sinful arrangement of the nations will be shook up and rearranged in a way that the New Jerusalem will rule over all? The word for remove is metathesis, a word which I mentioned earlier meaning a change from one place to another, or a transposition. Really what the author is saying is that when earth and heaven are shaken, there will be a transposition into the age to come thus ending this current age whereby sinful nations rule over mankind. We then in the present are grateful that we have received the kingdom which cannot be shaken, meaning we have received the kingdom that will remain after heaven and earth are shaken and things are rearranged into the future arrangement in the kingdom come.
This brings us back to the issue which I previously left off addressing. When the New Covenant was instituted, there was a transposition, a change. This did not usher in the age to come, but signaled that we are in the last days of this current sinful age. The priesthood was changed, transposed, rearranged, made straight (diorthosis ~ Hebrews 9:10) but in what way? The author portrays the earthly priesthood as continuing the sacrifices and does not condemn them as now sinful in any way, Hebrews 9:6-10, 10:11. Instead, they point to Christ (8:5) as “they serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things.” They could never forgive sins and the continuation of them still doesn’t forgive sins. The New Covenant arrangement is now instituted as the old covenant arrangement is “becoming obsolete” and “growing old” and “is ready to vanish away”. Forgiveness of sins could not have occurred unless the New Covenant arrangement had come, Hebrews 8:8-13. Since forgiveness of sins had come, there remains no more offerings for sin, meaning there is nothing in those sacrifices that will forgive sins. This is the essence of Hebrews 10:18. You already have forgiveness of sins so why believe that any sacrifice will aid in any way with your sinfulness?
Instead of abandoning the temple, the early church worshiped at the temple, Acts 2:46, 3:1, 5:12, 20-21, 42. They participated in temple worship as the earthly priesthood fulfilled their ministry in pointing to the true priesthood in heaven with a great number of priests becoming obedient to the faith, Acts 6:7. Instead of believing that the twelve tribes of Israel had morphed into the church, they believed the twelve tribes still hoped in the promises made by God to their forefathers, Acts 26:7. Instead of shunning the sacrifices, they also offered up sacrifices, Acts 21:23-26, 24:11, 17-18. The book of Hebrews was not written to say that the temple sacrifices were now obsolete and no Israelite should ever offer a sacrifice, these things were written to show that they were shadows of the reality that had now come. Jesus Christ is the great high priest currently in heaven making intercession just as the earthly high priest would do once per year. The difference now, though, is that He is not behind a veil. Jesus Christ rent the veil leaving the way into heaven open to all who would believe. Now we place our minds with Christ as He is seated at the right hand of God, Colossians 3:1-4.
In the garden of Eden, God walked and talked with man and woman. When man and woman disobeyed, God didn’t go anywhere. Man hid himself and became blind to God’s presence entering into a state of perpetual death. He was driven out from the garden and a cherubim with the flaming sword prevented man and woman from entering back into God’s holy presence. The veil went up and man was never able to enter back in. Throughout the scriptures, there is this sense that God is just behind the veil. He is not way out in space, He is close to us, waiting for us to turn to Him. The heavenly places are all around us, we are just usually blind to them, II Kings 6:15-17. When a believer dies, he does not have to travel way out in space to arrive at God’s dwelling, he is immediately in God’s presence because his sinful flesh is no longer holding him back from experiencing God’s presence in full. Until then we walk in heavenly places by faith, Ephesians 2:5-7. In order for God to allow sinful man into His presence, He Himself had to be torn since it would compromise His own holiness. So that is why Christ’s body had to be broken in order for us to enter His heavenly presence; it literally tore God apart to forgive us for our sins. His body was torn, the veil was torn, then He entered into the heavenly place and beckoned for us to follow Him by faith. Now we await His soon reappearance from beyond in order that He might literally fulfill the scriptures and be both king and priest upon His throne.
When we read in the book of Revelation how the heavens will be opened, Revelation 11:19, we need to understand this concept of the revelation, the apocalypse, the unveiling of Jesus Christ occurring at that time. He has been there all this time, but now He is throwing back the curtain, not just to Christians, but to the entire world, Revelation 19:11. That’s why there is such terror on the part of mankind, Revelation 6:15-17. They see Jesus Christ about to take authority over this earth, Matthew 24:30. When the New Jerusalem descends, this is the city that has been just behind the veil all this time, Hebrews 12:22, Galatians 4:26, Revelation 21:2-3. Now the city comes to earth from behind the veil and God can dwell with mankind here on the earth. The nations can walk in the light of the LORD since they can now see His glory shining forth from that city, Revelation 21:24. Even though the veil has been torn, there is still a veil over the unbelieving nations preventing organized man from seeing His full glory. When Christ comes, that veil spread over the nations will be done away with once and for all, Isaiah 25:6-9. The LORD will arise upon them, nations will come to His light, and kings to the brightness of His rising, Isaiah 60:1-3.
These conclusions do not prove the Pre-Millennial position. So if you are an A-Millennialist reading this, you are probably not convinced. But do you at least concede that the book of Hebrews can be seen from a Pre-Millennial perspective and not diminish the work of Christ on the cross in any way? Christ died to put away sins once and for all, and sometime in the very near future, Christ is coming to this earth to reign. When He does He will redeem creation, society, and even government. The first step in this is a literal thousand year kingdom. This is when the nations will turn to the LORD with Israel being the first of many. If there is a literal temple that the Messiah builds, and if there are festal sacrifices offered at that temple, Psalm 118:26-27, there is no harm done to any of the theology contained in the book of Hebrews. Can you also concede that nowhere in the book of Hebrews do we find that Christ is on the Davidic throne now, that the church is now the new Israel, that God is done with the nation of Israel, or that it is now a sin to offer an animal sacrifice?
Hopefully this article has been unique in some ways. Most Pre-Millennialists begin with other end times passages beside the book of Hebrews such as Matthew 24-25, Revelation 20, II Peter 3, I Corinthians 15; and then turn to the book of Hebrews afterward. A-Millennialists begin with the book of Hebrews and then turn to other passages after they have laid their groundwork of Covenant Theology there. I have attempted to begin with the book of Hebrews and see other passages from a Pre-Millennial point of view with Hebrews as the starting point. Hopefully this article conveys a sense of thrill as we await the reappearance of our great High Priest from the right hand of the Father to take the Davidic throne in the New Jerusalem.
Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13
-The Orange Mailman