Giant of the Bible



THE epistle to the Hebrews gives, as the epistle to the Galatians does, the contrast between Judaism and Christianity, but in a different way. Galatians is written to Gentiles, to deliver them from the law as a "yoke of bondage" to which they were being subjected by Jewish teachers; it dwells, therefore, upon the character of the law as the elements of the world, a world to which as Christians we are crucified, upon its curse, from which Christ’s work had to deliver: upon the moral, therefore, not ceremonial part. Hebrews, on the other hand, is written to the Jews themselves, though of course believing ones, and takes up the ceremonial part, that in which faith ever found its refuge when oppressed with the sense of guilt, to show that here also Judaism necessarily failed, witnessing, as it was designed to witness, to that which was the substance of its shadows, now come, and by which its place was irrevocably taken. Among these typical ceremonies, those which had to do with cleansing have in this way a special place; and thus the question of sacrifices - above all, of Israel’s great day of atonement - comes to be a prominent topic in the epistle.

There are thus two apparently contradictory aspects of these legal types, but which are in fact in perfect accord with one another: on the one hand, their typical likeness to the things they represent; on the other, their entire unlikeness as to real efficacy. "The law, having a shadow of good things to come," was "not the perfect image."

This appears in the very beginning of the epistle, in which the day of atonement is evidently in view, when it is said of Christ that "when He had by Himself purged our sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens." The Jewish high-priest put indeed the blood of atonement upon the mercy-seat once a year; but so far from sitting down there, he was not again permitted to enter throughout the year. For him, as for all the people, the face of God was hid, - clear proof that he had not purged the sins of any, in truth, as before Him. Judaism means God hidden and inaccessible: Christianity, sins purged and man brought nigh.

After dwelling upon the glory of Him who could effect this, as contrasted with angels, through whose ministration the law was given, in the second chapter the apostle shows us the Son of God become Son of Man, and tasting death for every man, with the purpose of bringing many sons unto glory. He who sanctifieth and those who are sanctified are all of One, on which account He is not ashamed to call them brethren. The children which God hath given Him being "partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself took part of the same, that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, - that is, the devil; . . . . for on the seed of Abraham He layeth hold. Wherefore in all things it behoved Him to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people."

All through, once more, the day of atonement is plainly in view, upon which this passage becomes therefore a most instructive comment. "Propitiation" - which no one doubts to be the proper word, instead of "reconciliation," in ver. 17, - is here said to be expressly for the sins of the people; and the true people of Christ are interpreted to be the "seed of Abraham," clearly embracing all and only those whom as children given to Him He is not ashamed to call His brethren. With these there is a double link of connection. The sanctified and the Sanctifier are all of one, so that He is not ashamed to call them brethren. And then, because they are partakers of flesh and blood, He Himself also takes part of the same; this is on account of propitiation needed, although, as we know, He does not take manhood temporarily, but eternally. Thus, while it is true that the Lord tasted death for every man, yet it is for His people He makes propitiation; of the seed of Abraham He taketh hold. It is the kinsman-redeemer of Leviticus xxv.

In the fifth chapter we are given to see the "holy linen coat" with which the high-priest enters the sanctuary. This always speaks of practical righteousness, and the truth correspondent to it we find in ver. 7-9: "Who in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with strong crying and tears, unto Him that was able to save Him out of [not "from"] death, and was heard for His piety; though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience through the things which He suffered; and being made perfect, He became the author of eternal salvation to all them that obey Him, called of God a High-Priest after the order of Melchisedek." Thus the perfection of His obedience is that by which the Lord is delivered out of death: it is God’s "Holy One" who cannot "see corruption." Raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father. He is "saluted," as the word means, "as High-Priest," and enters the sanctuary. It is still the day of atonement that is before us, although with the added truth as to the order of His priesthood, which is not of Aaron, but Melchisedek.

In the ninth chapter, the apostle takes up, with unmistakable plainness, the same type: "But Christ being come, a High Priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands - that is to say, not of this building, neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood, entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption; . . . . for Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; . . . Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many, and to them that look for Him shall He appear without sin" - that is, apart from it, having no more to offer for it - "unto salvation." Our place as Christians, then, is found between the entering in of the high priest into the sanctuary and his coming out again, when Israel’s sins will be removed, as ceremonially they were by the typical scapegoat: for us, in the meanwhile, the result of our great High Priest’s entrance into the heavens is known by the Holy Ghost come down. We know that, having by Himself purged our sins, He is set down at the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens, - that He has obtained eternal redemption for us. "By one offering He hath perfected forever them that are sanctified." Thus our conscience is at rest, and we have ourselves present "boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He hath consecrated for us through the vail - that is to say, His flesh." Our privilege - nay, our responsibility is to "draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith."

Finally, the day of atonement is that to which the principle of the last chapter most fully applies, the bringing into the holy place the blood of those beasts whose bodies were burnt without the camp. The complete judgment of sin must needs be before heaven can open to the worshipper. The judgment of the world is found in this, and the setting aside of the "camp" of Judaism. The Christian position is founded upon that which is the condemnation of the world, and is therefore outside it, as it is inside the vail, as brought to God.

In all this, it is evident that Christians answer to the priestly house, as we saw when going through the type in question. For these, the bullock is provided for a sin-offering; yet in the seventeenth verse of the tenth chapter the principle of the scapegoat is applied to them: "Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more." In these various references we shall find, if we compare them, the full type of Israel’s great day unfolded to us, while that is added which none of the types of Judaism could convey. Upon this I do not think it needful to dwell further at present. The epistle to the Hebrews gives us the most connected, detailed teaching as to atonement which we shall find in the New Testament, and with it we may almost close our notice of the Scripture passages; we have then, if the Lord permit, to see how far we can put together the various features which have been presented to us of this so wondrous work. It is the theme of an eternal song, which here on earth already it is ours to sing.
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