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Perfect forever

The importance of the Epistle to the Hebrews lies in the fact that it describes the deep significance of the historical facts concerning the passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ.

THEOLOGY AUTOR 363/Jose_Moreno_Berrocal 28 DE MARZO DE 2024 09:21 h
Photo: [link]Alicia Quan[/link], Unsplash, CC0.

One of the most valuable writings contained in the New Testament is the Epistle to the Hebrews. It was addressed to Christians who came from a Jewish background, and who were being harassed for their faith in Jesus of Nazareth as the promised Messiah of Israel.



It was possibly written before 70 AD, the date of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. This event would have been mentioned in the Epistle if it had taken place, as it would have confirmed the letter’s argument that the work of Jesus, the Christ, put an end to the Jewish sacrificial system. Hebrews 10:1-2 implies that at the time the author wrote his letter Jewish sacrifices were still being offered.



The importance of the Epistle to the Hebrews lies in the fact that it describes the deep significance of the historical facts concerning the passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. He does this by comparing Christ’s offering on the cross with those presented by the priests in the tabernacle and later in the Temple. The central point of his argument is that the incessant repetition of those sacrifices by those priests showed that they could not “take away sins” (10:11).



The tabernacle, and all the worship of God there, was a symbol and shadow pointing to the only one who could truly forgive our sins, our Lord Jesus Christ. And He, as the ultimate High Priest, is the one who put an end to those offerings that could not authentically take away sin. This could only be done by our Lord Jesus Christ through his own sacrifice on the cross of Calvary.



[destacate]It was addressed to Christians who came from a Jewish background, harassed for their faith in Jesus as the promised Messiah of Israel[/destacate]The Epistle refers incessantly to this sacrifice of the incarnate Son of God. The text stresses the voluntariness of Christ’s sacrifice: “Behold, I have come to do your will”. He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:9-10).


It is also emphasised that this sacrifice, being that of the incarnate God, is unique and unrepeatable. It admits of no updating: “But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:26) or “so Christ, has been offered once to bear the sins of many” (Hebrews 9:28).



We know that it is a sacrifice that cannot be renewed and unceasingly reproduced because the author of the Epistle adds: “when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God” (10:12). That is, his ascension into heaven “appear in the presence of God on our behalf” (9:25), demonstrates his unique character.



This means, and this is the theme of Hebrews, that now, on the sole basis of that sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we have forgiveness of sins and eternal life in his name. “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds”, then he 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 10:16-18). There is now a real and effective forgiveness through the blood shed on the cross.



But somehow we are familiar with the idea of forgiveness of sin or remission of sin. So, it is interesting to reflect on the peculiar way Hebrews refers to the effects of his unique and unrepeatable sacrifice of the cross: “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (10:14). This way of speaking is shocking to us. Here are two words, perfect and sanctified, whose current common usage may misunderstand what the author of Hebrews wants to communicate.



[destacate]The exalted place which our Supreme Pontiff occupies implies the constant forgiveness of all our transgressions and iniquities[/destacate]The word ‘perfection’ here does not allude to being morally blameless, that will happen one day in the new heaven and earth that God has prepared for those who love him, but in Hebrews it indicates the unshakeable acceptance that every believer in Christ enjoys at the right hand of God where Christ is now. Thus, the epistle frequently reiterates that Christ’s ascension and position before God is the proof of our approval by the Father: “Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven” (8:1-2). And that exalted place which our Supreme Pontiff occupies implies the constant forgiveness of all our transgressions and iniquities.



Unlike the Jewish priests who died, Christ now lives forever there to intercede for us. Therefore, God says: “For I will be merciful towards their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more” (8:12). We have immediate and permanent access to God with a clear conscience, for we know that our sins are no longer a barrier between God and us.



As for the word ‘sanctified’, Hebrews refers to the broad sense of the term, which is not to make someone pure or spotless, but primarily to set them apart and consecrate them to God. We who were dead in sin are now brought into the presence of God in peace with Him exclusively by the shedding of Christ's blood. To sanctify here is to set apart for God. That is, we are dedicated to God exclusively based on the work that Christ voluntarily performed on the cross: “And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (10:10).



[destacate]Because of the infinite and eternal value of the work of Jesus Christ, the offering of the God-Man, only by faith can we be saved[/destacate]Therefore, what is fundamental in this phrase of Hebrews, “for by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified”, is to note how it leads us to appreciate the magnitude of Christ’s work on the cross, by such extraordinary effects as that we are now perfect and sanctified in God’s sight.



What is most important in the testimony of Hebrews is the realisation of the ineffable glory of our Lord Jesus Christ who, through His Person and offering, has granted salvation to those of us who did not deserve it. Hebrews also stresses that it is precisely because of the infinite and eternal value of the work of Jesus Christ, the offering of the God-Man, that only by faith can we be saved.



Faith is the recognition that we can contribute nothing to our salvation. What could we add to a work like Christ’s? His work alone is perfect and is so far-reaching that it alone can save us. Faith is, therefore, to rest in that magnificent work of Christ to be saved.



To be a Christian is to worship and admire our Lord Jesus Christ, recognising His work on the cross as the only way of salvation. Therefore, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved!



José Moreno Berrocal, chair of the Theology Group of the Spanish Evangelical Alliance, author, and pastor of an evangelical church in Alcázar de San Juan (Spain).


 

 


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