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by A. J. Fecko
Hebrews 8:1 - 10:9
"Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall shine upon thee." Ephesians 5:13 ASV. The Apostle Paul wrote regarding those who put their carnal appetites above their spiritual needs "for many walk of whom many times I told you -- and now also weeping tell -- the enemies of the cross of the Christ! whose end is destruction, whose god is the belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who the things on earth are minding. For our citizenship is in the heavens, whence also a Saviour we await -- the Lord Jesus Christ " Philippians 3:18-20 YLT.
Those who make themselves slaves to their appetites obviously will not put God first in their lives. This could also be a reference to the common heathen belief in idols that needed to eat idol victims. Some commentaries have put forth the bizarre opinion that this verse of Philippians was a criticism of Kosher laws. They make of this verse a tortured metaphor. The people of the Mediterranean did not abstain their idols, they fed them. Those that hold this opinion, make note that Paul, a few verses earlier, warns the Philippians to watch out for those advocating circumcision. They then interpret "whose glory is in their shame" to refer to circumcision. But even if we assume the reference by Paul is here to his Judaizing opponents, the more likely "belly" reference would be to the Temple. While Jewish Christians ceased to sacrifice animals, they continued to respect and use the Temple as a "house of prayer," However, his opponents zeal to get his gentile converts to be converted to Mosaic Law may have seemed to Paul to be a kind of idolatry. Paul then would be comparing his opponents excessive concern for the Temple with idolatry. The Temple was in some ways a spiritual snare as the central activity of the Temple, animal sacrifice, since Calvary and the Lord's Supper no longer had even symbolic importance. Why cling to the Temple rather than the Cross of Christ? If it is the case that Paul is in this passage of Philippians comparing excessive attachment to the Temple with idolatry, it wouldn't be the first time he had compared certain Old Testament practices with that of pagan practice. He seems to do so in Galatians when he speaks of his converts belief that they needed to follow the Law as them returning to their pre-conversion "elementals" Galatians 4:1-10.
Man's relationship with the Lord began to deteriorate beginning with the fall. It's written in Romans "for revealed is the ire of God from heaven upon all impiety and unrighteousness of men, holding down the truth in unrighteousness. Because that which is known of God is manifest among them, for God did manifest it to them, for the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world, by the things made being perceived, are plainly seen, even His eternal power and Godhead -- to their being inexcusable; because, having known God they did not glorify Him as God, nor gave thanks, but were made vain in their reasonings, and their unintelligent heart was darkened, professing to be wise, they were made fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of fowls, and of quadrupeds, and of reptiles. Wherefore also God did give them up, in the desires of their hearts," Romans 1:18-24
Though man was made in God's image, the fact is, all of creation to some degree reflects God's divine attributes. However, as the old Voltaire quote goes "God made man in his image, and man returned the favor." Rather than permit the divine attributes reflected in creation lead them to a proper appreciation of the Heavenly Father, they reversed things in their mind and began to think that the infinite God is like a finite human or animal. So, we have stories of gods having every human frailty and turning themselves into some animal as Baal was said to have done. Mot, the god of draught, was said to have invited Baal to his abode to taste his fare, mud. Being terrified and unable to avoid the dreadful summons to the land of the dead, Baal became a calf to be coupled with a calf in order to strengthen himself for the ordeal. And so the worshipers of Baal would sacrifice calves to him since he was called the "calf". In early human history, when the mind of man was less clouded by false views fostered by their forefathers, the human race had ample opportunity to develop a proper relationship with the Lord. Because of our ancestors' unwillingness to follow God's light, various problems became common. Paul likewise explained to the Athenians: "For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. `Being, therefore, offspring of God, we ought not to think the Godhead to be like to gold, or silver, or stone, a craft of graving and device of man; And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commands all men every where to change:" Acts 17:28-30
This tendency to conceive of God as finite and having our frailties naturally led man to think of Him as petty and cruel as we humans so often are. Yet much like with Noah, who the Lord received though Noah's ways were much lower than He had intended for us in the beginning, so God sometimes overlooked many of the superstitions of our ancestors because they were much less culpable than their forefathers. Thus Paul said that God winked at them. Still, the more thoughtful of the pagans were often led to various truths. So we have the Hippocratic Oath rejecting killing by abortion. Likewise some Greeks of the 1st century concluded that their gods could not possibly be drinkers of animal blood, and so held the sacrifices were received by demons associated with their gods. Here Paul showed that they had a definite insight. Yet, for the Hebrews, similar to the case of easy divorce, the Law of Moses established a reformed version of heathen animal sacrifice due to the weakness of the people. The Epistle to Hebrews addresses itself to the surpassing glory of the Gospel. I here use a version of Tyndale's New Testament for Hebrews 8 and 9. However, I have changed a few verses to make them more in accord with the Greek text. I have also updated a few words to modern English.
Of the things which we have spoken, this is the core: that we have such a high priest that is seated on the right hand of the seat of majesty in heaven,
The audience that is being addressed seems to have desired to leave Christ to return to the old Law. The author draws comparisons between the work of Christ and the priesthood established in the Law. In doing so, at every point, he shows that Jesus is better in every way than the priesthood and its practices, accomplishing all the latter attempted to do in a far superior way.
and is a minister of holy things, and of the true tabernacle, which God pitched and not man.
Though the Law had semblances to heavenly things, the Gospel is the reality.
For every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices: wherefore it is of necessity, that this man have some what also to offer.
For he would not be a priest, if he were on the earth where are priests that according to the law offer gifts,
which priests serve unto the pattern and shadow of heavenly things: even as the answer was given unto Moses when he was about to finish the tabernacle: For take heed (said he) that thou make all things according to the model shown to thee on the mount.
Now has he obtained a more excellent office, inasmuch as he is the mediator of a better testament, which was made for better promises.
For if that former testament had been such a one that no man could have found fault with it: then should no place have been sought for the second.
The first testament was in many ways similar to the religious forms of their close neighbors. Yet the nations that inhabited the ancient near east before the Hebrews were flesh eaters and typically very cruel sacrificers. The Canaanites would throw live birds into a fire for Melqart as a sacrifice, as well as sacrifice under any tree. The Law improved the sacrificial system considerably for the Hebrews. The sacrifices had to be done by kosher slaughter where a clean cut was made and blood immediately drained to produce a quick death. Also, all sacrifices had to be done at the Temple in Jerusalem; reducing the number of sacrifices. Where the sacrifices of most nations of the Middle East were occasions of great merrymaking, the Hebrews' sacrifices were reminders of their sinfulness, and continued practice demonstrated the futility of the sacrificial system to reconcile man to God. In a number of ways the rites of the sacrifice pointed to Christ, thus identifying the victim with Christ. The Epistle to the Hebrews makes it clear that outside these significations, the sacrifices had no value. The fact that the sacrificial system was used for something positive should not surprise us. After all, even when Caiaphas was trying to persuade the Sanheidran that the Lord should be put to death, being the High Priest of that year prophesied that one man should die for his people. (John 11:49-52) Yet, the Epistle to the Hebrews says explicitly that God never wanted the sacrifices of the old Law, nor were they pleasing to him. This is also what Hosea wrote: "What I want is mercy, not sacrifice." (Hosea 6:6)
For in rebuking them he says: Behold the days will come (says the Lord) and I will finish upon the house of Israel, and upon the house of Judah, a new testament:
not like the testament that I made with their fathers at that time, when I took them by the hands, to lead them out of the land of Egypt, for they continued not in my testament, and I regarded them not says the Lord.
For this is the testament that I will make with the house of Israel: After those days (says the Lord:) I will give my laws in their minds, and in their hearts, I will write them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
As Jeremiah wrote: "For I spoke not unto your fathers, nor commanded them on the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt-offerings or sacrifices; but this thing I commanded them, saying, "Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people; and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you". (Jeremiah 7:22-23) It is Law of love which is the completion of the Law and the Prophets that is to be written into our minds and hearts.
And they shall not teach, every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying: know the Lord: For they shall know me, from the least to the most of them:
For I will be merciful over their iniquities: and on their sins and on their unrighteousness, I will not think any more.
In that he says a new testament, he has abrogate the old. Now that which is disannulled and waxed old, is ready to vanish away.
That former tabernacle verily had justifyings, and servings, and worldly holiness.
Worldly holiness cannot make a man truly spiritual.
For that former tabernacle was made, wherein was the candlestick, and the table, and the show bread, which is called holy.
Within the second veil was the tabernacle, which is called holiest of all,
which had the golden censer, and the ark of the testament overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot with Manna, and Aaron's rod that sprung, and the tables of the testament.
Over the ark were the cherubim of glory shadowing the seat of grace. Of which things, we will not now speak particularly.
When these things were thus ordained, the priests went always into the first tabernacle and executed the service.
Into the second went the high priest alone, once every year: and not apart from blood, which he offered for himself, and for the ignorance of the people:
Blood ritual was already a part of that culture, the Law made it that these blood rites were combined, and not apart from the significance of the need for forgiveness.
The Holy Ghost signifying this, that the way of holy things was not yet opened, while as yet the first tabernacle was standing,
which was a similitude of this present time in which gifts and sacrifices are offered, which can not make them that minister mature as pertaining to the conscience,
with foods only and drinks, and different washings, and justifyings of the flesh, which were ordained until the time of reformation.
But Christ being a high priest of good things to come, came by a greater, and a more mature tabernacle, not made with hands: that is to say, not of this manner building,
neither by the blood of goats, and calves: but by his own blood, he entered once for all into the holy place, and found eternal redemption.
For if the blood of oxen, and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer, when it was sprinkled, purified the unclean, as touching the purifying of the flesh:
How much more shall the blood of Christ
Any advantage that the Jewish converts of the author may think the Temple sacrifices provided them before their conversion, is far exceeded by the work of Jesus.
(which through the eternal spirit, offered himself without spot to God) purge our consciences from dead works, to serve the living God?
The animal sacrifices of the Temple were of the same nature as the pagan practice. Though part of the old Law due to the people's weakness, it's wholly an inappropriate way to worship the Living God.
And for this cause is he the mediator of the new testament, that through death which was for the redemption of the transgressions in the former testament, they which were called, might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.
For wheresoever is a testament, there must also be the death of him that makes the testament.
For the testament takes authority when men are dead: For it is of no value as long as he that made it is alive.
For which cause also, neither that first testament was ordained apart from blood.
It is the nature of a testament that it only comes into effect after someone's death. The Mosaic Law was such that the sacrifices were not apart from rituals that prefigured the coming of the new testament, and the end of the ritual itself.
For when all the commandments were read of Moses unto all the people, he took the blood of calves, and of goats, with water and purple wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book, and all the people,
saying this is the blood of the testament, which God hath appointed unto you.
Moreover, he sprinkled the tabernacle with blood also, and all the ministering vessels.
And almost all things, according to the law, are cleansed with blood, and apart from the effusion of blood is not remission.
The pouring out of blood, aimatekcusias in this passage, most likely refers to the blood pourings, aima ekceei, of Leviticus 4 LXX. There this ritual at every point is never apart from attempting to forgiving sins. So the ritual points to the need for the true forgiveness of Christ . It's also possible that while the first part of this verse refers to the blood rituals of the Old Testament, the second half refers to the blood of Christ being the sole cause of all forgiveness.
A necessity, therefore, though the similitudes of heavenly things be purified with such things, yet the heavenly things themselves are purified with better sacrifices than are these.
For Christ is not entered into the holy places, that are made with hands, which are but similitudes of true things: but is entered into heaven itself, to appear now in the sight of God for us.
Not to offer himself often, as the high priest enteres into the holy place every year with strange blood:
for then he must have often suffered since the world began: But now in the end of the world, he has appeared once for all, to put sin to flight, by the offering up of himself.
And as it is appointed unto men that they shall once die, and then comes the judgment,
even so Christ was once offered to take away the sins of many, and unto them that look for him, shall he appear again, apart from sin unto their health.
For the law which has but the shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with the sacrifices which they offer year by year continually make the comers to them mature.
For would not then those sacrifices have ceased to have been offered? because that the offerers once purged, should have had no more conscience of sins.
If these rites truly removed sins, it would have improved the character of those that sacrificed, but that's clearly not what happened.
Nevertheless in those sacrifices is there mention made of sins every year.
For it is impossible that the blood of oxen, and of goats should take away sins.
Wherefore when he comes into the world, he says: Sacrifice and offering thou would not have: but a body thou has ordained me,
whole burnt offerings and sacrifice for sin thou has not allowed.
Then I said: Lo I come; In the beginning of the book it is written of me, that I should do thy will, o God.
Above when he says sacrifice, and offering, and whole burnt offerings, and sacrifice for sin, thou would not have, neither has allowed (which are offered by the law)
then he said: Lo I am ready; do thy will o God: he takes away the first to establish the latter.
Thus it is that not only is the sacrificial system futile, but God never wanted it in the first place. But what is more, for the author's converts to go back to the Temple sacrificial system would be a great insult to the redemptive work of Christ. It is very sad that there are some today who confess Christ and yet wish to return to the Temple sacrifices. In this they seem to be caught by the same pitfalls of our ancestors.
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