Posts Tagged ‘Hebrews 7’

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.

Even though a permanent fixture for world redemption has been set in place with the ascension of Jesus to God’s right hand – let us not forget that we are speaking metaphorically and in the language of myth – something is still required of the one seeking salvation, which is the will to be whole.

In Christian mythology, the everlasting intercession of the risen High Priest on behalf of us all is picture language for representing  the “good news” that Jesus revealed while on earth: that God loves the world unconditionally and has already forgiven the sinner, providing a free and clear path for our return. However – and here’s the point – God will not save us, indeed God cannot save us against our will.

We must want to be whole, or else we will persist in our inner divisions and contradictions. We must want to be free, or else we will continue in captivity and emotional paralysis. Yes, the universe is set up for salvation, but whether or not we will be saved is up to us, not God.

What does it mean, to want salvation? Well, just as we said, to desire and strive for wholeness – within ourselves, healing the split between body and soul; as well as between ourselves and others, restoring relationship where it is bogged or broken down with distrust, suspicion, resentment, or neglect. We might have added “reunited with God,” but in truth our reunion with God is accomplished in and through these other two paths – the paths within and between.

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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.

The writer of Hebrews, likely writing in the decade following the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem by the Romans (70 C.E.), is deeply engaged in spiritualizing the familiar parts and practices of temple sacrificial worship. As the apostle Paul had earlier transferred the identity of the temple itself from the physical building to the spiritual community of believers, so now this author (in the tradition of Paul) interprets the identity and saving achievement of Jesus Christ according to the earthly function of the Jewish high priest. But, of course, the heavenly High Priest is superior in every way, perpetually interceding for all those who call on his name.

The historical role of the Jewish high priest was to serve as chief mediator between the people of Israel and their God. On the high holy Day of Atonement he first purified himself and then offered a sacrifice of repentance (“returning”) on behalf of the nation, removing its guilt and wiping clean the slate of its sin-record against God. Although he had been raised up from among the people and (here was a sore spot for many Jewish purists) appointed by Rome, the high priest was fallible, in his own way sinful, and naturally mortal. In other words, he was neither perfect nor permanent.

But Jesus, according to this spiritual re-reading, was indeed perfect, and, what’s more, lives even now in everlasting beatitude with God. So, while there may have been legitimate questions over the certification and virtue of some of his former and earthly counterparts, Jesus represents a permanent fixture in the universal process of salvation. Now there is no need to travel to Jerusalem, or any other religious center for that matter, to have access to God’s saving grace.

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.