HEBREWS 7:23-28

23 Furthermore, the former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 25 Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

26 For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself. 28 For the law appoints as high priests those who are subject to weakness, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.

Already in the first century Christianity was moving in a very different direction from what Jesus’ kingdom movement had been about. During his ministry Jesus had emphasized the immediacy of God to the individual, without respect of religious membership or moral character.

The religion of his day had inserted a hierarchy of mediators and purity codes between the soul and God which a person would have to wait on, compensate, or satisfy before blessing was granted. Jesus reacted aggressively against this exploitation by religion and its leaders, insisting that God was not only approachable by everyone but had already made the first move by releasing humanity (all of us) of our guilt-debt and dispensing unconditional grace on the righteous and sinners alike.

A vision such as Jesus’ kingdom movement provides not even a toe-hold for hierarchy. If all that’s needed is the turn-around of a willing surrender where the individual gives up trying to please, flatter, impress, or appease God, and instead simply welcomes the good news (gospel), joyfully accepts the gift and shares it with others, then there is nothing more that needs to be done. No special orthodox instruction or creeds to recite. No purification ceremonies or membership fees to pay. No ordained experts to vouchsafe your salvation.

The kingdom movement of Jesus began as a “spreading” phenomenon – proclaiming the good news and touching human need everywhere it was found – but soon became a “stacking” enterprise where ranks of power, privilege, and purity pushed God (at least this religion’s god) up and out of human reach.

At the time this letter was likely written, Christians (still as a messianic sect of Judaism) were being persecuted by order of the Roman emperor Domitian (81-96 CE) for not honoring his office with proper worship. During this period – and during subsequent periods of persecution and hardship, down to the present day – there was tendency to shift the focus of Jesus’ original vision, out and away from the present reality of suffering, to a heavenly realm up there, over there, and in the next life.

The classical Jewish hierarchy of priests and sacrificial rituals lent itself as a ready analogy to this author. Jesus did his work on our behalf, interceding for our sins. Afterwards he was exalted above the heavens, where he now continues to make God approachable to us and us acceptable to God.

This is where the Christ of orthodoxy made its fateful departure from the Jesus of history.

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