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What the Bible says about Jesus Christ as High Priest
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Leviticus 1:14-17

Notice also the especially wide cost difference between a turtledove and the other animals. This suggests some have more required of them than others, which is confirmed in Luke 12:48: "For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more."

This distinction is drawn even finer when we understand that with the bullock, sheep, and goat, the offerer slays the animal. However, the priest kills the dove. In fact, the priest does everything regarding the dove except bring it for sacrificing. John 10:11, 15, 17-18 explains this more fully, showing that the priest voluntarily sacrifices Himself. We can understand in the offering of the turtledove that its death is seen as the work of the High Priest and Mediator, thus it emphasizes Christ's intercessory work for those who are weak. The weak require more help and not as much is required of them. God does not expect more of us than we can deliver.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part Two): The Burnt Offering

Deuteronomy 32:5-6

Here, God's people have rejected following His example in order to practice and live by lies that bring only destruction and death.

Notice the contrast to us as shown by Jesus in the New Testament. Revelation 19:11 testifies of Him, "Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war." Jesus says of Himself in John 14:6, "I am the way, the truth, and the life." This statement confirms the faithfulness of His nature: He is reliable, trustworthy, and of unwavering integrity.

What does being trustworthy mean in practical application? Who does God show are the most important persons to the overall welfare of the community, state, or nation? It is not the doctors, lawyers, politicians, or businessmen but the preacher and the king because they should teach, administer, exemplify, and provide the values upon which the community will function. God expects those values to be His.

What does God consistently show in His Word? Notice the context in which these verses appear. In both Deuteronomy and Revelation, a new culture, a new nation, is either being established or about to be established. God is indicating that the preacher has a slight edge in importance.

When God established Israel as a nation, He first appointed and sent the preacher—the prophet Moses. In the New Testament, Christ came first as a rabbi, a preacher to teach the way of God. Upon His resurrection, He became our High Priest, a post that has both religious and administrative functions, and He will return as King to administer God's Kingdom. This is why God's Word places so much importance on these two community positions. The preacher should exemplify God's values and deliver instruction containing them, and the king should live them and administer them to the nation.

Without true values, civilization will soon descend into revolution and anarchy. God's doctrine is true and faithful. It will produce gently and without corruption, or as Moses puts it in Deuteronomy 32:2, it will "drop as the rain" and "distill as the dew," whereas a hard-driving rain destroys. Any society or family built on God's doctrines will prosper and become great.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Ninth Commandment

Isaiah 7:14

The prophecy of Jesus' birth much of the world recognizes is that of Isaiah 7:14: "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel." This, of course, came to pass precisely: "After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 1:18). Mary herself confirms she was a virgin: "How can this be, since I do not know a man?" (Luke 1:34).

His "immaculate conception" (not in the Roman Catholic sense) decreed His worthiness to be our High Priest and Mediator before the Father. Though not of Levi, Jesus qualifies as a priest "according to the order of Melchizedek" (Hebrews 7:14-15):

Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He ever lives to make intercession for them. For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens. (verses 25-26)

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Born of a Woman

Isaiah 7:14

Some commentators feel that the prophecy of the virgin birth appears within a longer prophecy that runs from Isaiah 7 through Isaiah 12. A theme that holds this seemingly disjointed prophecy together is a string of Messianic prophecies, of which the virgin birth is merely the first (see Isaiah 7:14; 8:16; 9:2, 6-7; 11:1-5, 10). This is important in debunking a popular argument that the virgin-birth prophecy was only for the particular situation in Ahaz's day. The other nearby Messianic prophecies weaken this contention considerably.

Like many Old Testament prophecies, the sign of the virgin birth has both a typical and an antitypical—or a near and a later—fulfillment. Ahaz (c. 731-715 BC) was afraid that the recent alliance between Israel and Syria would tip the balance of power and spell Judah's doom. God, however, assures Ahaz through Isaiah that no such thing would happen—in fact, within 65 years, Israel itself would be completely gone from the land (Isaiah 7:8)! The virgin birth, thought by some to be by a maiden within Ahaz's house, was a sign from God that He would surely bring this to pass. Further, before the child could distinguish good from evil, both kings of Israel and Syria would be dead (verse 16; see II Kings 15:30; 16:9)!

Unfortunately, neither Isaiah nor the authors of the books of Kings and Chronicles document the fulfillment of this prophecy in Ahaz's time. We are left to assume that it indeed happened, or it would be a worthless sign to Ahaz. The virgin and her son Immanuel remain unknown in history.

The only other significant debate regarding this prophecy is the Hebrew word 'almâ, translated "virgin." The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament comments:

Since betûlâ is used many times in the OT as a specific word for "virgin," it seems reasonable to consider that the feminine form of this word ['almâ] is not a technical word for a virgin but represents a young woman, one of whose characteristics is virginity. This is borne out by the fact that the LXX translates it as parthenos in two of its seven occurrences, and that its use in Isa 7:14 was quoted to Joseph by the angel as a prediction of the virgin birth. . . . There is no instance where it can be proved that 'almâ designates a young woman who is not a virgin.

The Greek term for "virgin," parthenos, which Matthew uses in Matthew 1:23, has exactly the same meaning and nuances. Spiros Zodhiates writes in The Complete Word Study New Testament, "Generally it refers to a maiden or damsel of marriageable age," yet "particularly in the sense of one who has not known a man." The plain sense of both usages is that a literal virgin is meant. Otherwise, the sign becomes "no big deal"—thousands of young women have sons every day! But how often does a virgin bear a son?

Unlike the Catholic Church, the church of God, though believing in the virgin birth, does not make it a major doctrine. It is important as a proof of Jesus' Messiahship, and it adds detail to the transcendental nature of the Son of God. In the end, however, like Luke, we must place our focus on Him and the wonderful works He performed as a human being like us, as well as all the many things He does for us still as our High Priest before the Father.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
'Behold, A Virgin Shall Conceive . . .'

Jeremiah 31:31-34

As early as the seventh century BC, during the lifetime of the prophet Jeremiah, God assured humanity that He had prepared a new covenant, which was ready to be presented and ratified between God and men. The specific time of its institution was not revealed then, only that He would make it with a reunited Israel and Judah. However, the Bible shows that God did not wait for physical Israel and Judah's reunification into one nation, but instead, He introduced the New Covenant into the Christian church as a precursor agreement through and under Jesus Christ as the church began. This was part of God's Plan, and He is continuing to use its standards to prepare a people within the present-day church to fulfill its operations under Jesus Christ when Israel and Judah reunite after His return (Revelation 14:1-5).

The New Testament teaches that the Temple sacrifices and ceremonies commanded under the Old Covenant are indeed set aside. But God's setting aside of the ceremonial focus, as explored and expounded in the epistle to the Hebrews, does not automatically do away with any other laws dealing with public and private behavior relating to loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and our neighbor as ourselves.

God's institution of the New Covenant within the church has been a more intimate and effective guide for producing higher-quality relationships with Him and His Family than the Old Covenant. When combined with His appointment of Jesus Christ as our spiritual High Priest, this system features a personal, anytime, all-the-time relationship with Him that enhances the creation of the spiritual characteristics that God desires in His children. These elements allow us access to God that those under the Old Covenant did not have. We can approach Him anytime through Christ!

Much of the book of Hebrews is, according to chapter 8, focused on Jesus Christ's qualifications for fulfilling His responsibilities within the spiritual process that God has instituted under the New Covenant. Jesus Himself teaches us about our vital need of Him in John 15:4-6.

The close intimacy of the relationship with Jesus Christ that the New Covenant provides for us makes it extremely valuable to us. In turn, our spiritual relationship with the Father and Son influences our life's activities. His role is to assist us in making good spiritual use of the gifts God has made available to us when we accepted the New Covenant (Romans 5:1-5). Our goal now is to bring glory to God by yielding to His creative genius and power as we live our lives, being formed into Christ's character image. Jesus Christ never sinned. It is this quality of righteous living that honors the Father. Thus, we are called to walk in the steps of our Savior. Peter writes in I Peter 2:21-22, “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: 'Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth.'”

The New Covenant does not abolish the Ten Commandments at all. Jesus' life proves that. We are to follow what He did. God's appointment of Jesus Christ as High Priest to aid us and His institution of a more effective system for preparing us for His Kingdom removed the typical Temple system of animal sacrifices and ceremonies. He replaced them with the far superior personal, individual, and spiritual attentions of Jesus Christ. At the same time, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus raises our behavioral responsibilities, teaching us to keep the commandments in their spirit. This elevated standard makes them more refining and restraining than they are in the mere letter.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Two)

Haggai 2:19-23

When God takes note of Judah's uncleanness, and her disastrous focus—idolatry—His promised blessing will be the means by which He will turn those things around. He will restore Israel's and Judah's lands and cities to them, and He will give them the definitive Governor and the ultimate High Priest. Zerubbabel and Joshua are just types of what will be fulfilled later by Christ.

When we understand this, we can better understand the imagery in Haggai 2:19: “Is the seed still in the barn? As yet the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have not yielded fruit. But from this day I will bless you.”

Recall that Kislev 24 is in the winter, a time of short days and long nights. Farmers have long completed their harvesting, and everyone hopes that they have stored away enough to last until the vines, trees, and crops begin producing fruit again. Remember, also, that this particular harvest was probably sparse because of God's curse on their crops.

Winter, even in a good year, is not usually a time of blessing. It is often a difficult time, one of making use of the blessings that came in previous seasons. Yet God chose this specific date, which in some years could even be the shortest day of the year. He selected this bleakest of times to start His blessing—a blessing whose highest fulfillment will be found in the work and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

This scenario sets up an intriguing possibility. We know that Jesus was born sometime in the fall. If we count back nine months from the fall, we arrive at a date in winter. Is it possible, then, that Kislev 24 is the date when the power of the Most High God overshadowed Mary and caused her to conceive the Messiah (Luke 1:35)?

Verse 19 contains a curious play on words that may support this possibility. A question is asked, “Is the seed still in the barn?” The word translated as “seed” is also rendered “child” or “posterity.” Remember that Zerubbabel means “seed of Babylon,” but also recall that when God tells Abraham, “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 22:18; 28:14; emphasis ours), the Seed to which He refers is Jesus Christ, forty-two generations later (see also John 7:42; Romans 1:3; Galatians 3:16, 19).

Haggai 2:19 describes a time when the seeds from the previous harvest are not in the barn because they have been planted, but it is before any fruit was produced. It could also, then, describe a Child who has been conceived, but not yet born—and through that Child the blessing on Judah and Israel, the church, and eventually, the entire world would come. Again, this is speculation, but Jesus' conception on this date could be another application of what God means when He says, “from this day I will bless.”

However, regardless of whether this speculation is correct, we see that God is incredibly active in the lives of His people and quite willing to shake heaven and earth to bless. Yes, God gives physical blessings, but the far more meaningful ones are not material in nature.

David C. Grabbe
Cleansing God's People

Haggai 2:20-23

The second Chislev 24 prophecy, found in Haggai 2:20-23, spells out a readily identifiable blessing: righteous leadership.

This prophecy contains, among other things, the fulfillment of the gospel of the Kingdom of God. God is describing the time when, as it says in Revelation 11:15, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ.” It is the time when the divine Stone strikes the Gentile kingdoms on the feet, and they are all blown away and consumed by God's Kingdom, as Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream (Daniel 2:35, 44-45).

God will shake heaven and earth, as is described by the Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12-13) and which is also mentioned in Haggai 2:6 (see also Matthew 24:29, 35; Mark 13:25; Luke 21:26; II Peter 3:10). At that time, Israel and Judah will be reunited, and more importantly, reunited with God, who will be ruling from a liberated and cleansed Jerusalem. At the time God gave this prophecy, the Jews were still living under the shadow of the Gentile Persian Empire, so it held great hope for those hearing it.

Verse 23 singles out Zerubbabel, and though there may be several lesser fulfillments of this, it is vital to recognize the real, ultimate fulfillment. The name Zerubbabel means “seed of Babylon” or “planted in Babylon.” He became the governor of Judah after the Babylonian captivity. As a scion of the Davidic line, he was also part of Jesus' lineage on Joseph's side (Matthew 1:12-13).

Zerubbabel was indeed a prominent figure in what God was working out, but we must keep in mind that the One who ultimately fulfilled his role is Jesus Christ, the epitome of a righteous ruler. In the same way, the ultimate fulfillment of Joshua's role as High Priest is also Jesus Christ. Zerubbabel is called God's servant, but so is Christ (Matthew 12:18; John 13:16; Acts 3:13, 26; 4:27, 30; Romans 15:8). Zerubbabel was chosen, but so was Christ (Matthew 12:18; Luke 23:35; I Peter 2:4). Zerubbabel received God's seal, but so did Christ (John 6:27).

Just as God chose Abraham and promised to bless all nations through him, Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, and Judah to bring forth the Messiah, so God chose Zerubbabel and his Descendant—his most important Descendant—to be His signet or signature ring. God set His seal on Zerubbabel, but more importantly, He set His seal on Zerubbabel's holy Descendant, the Messiah.

When God takes note of Judah's uncleanness, and her disastrous focus—idolatry—His promised blessing will be the means by which He will turn those things around. He will restore Israel's and Judah's lands and cities to them, and He will give them the definitive Governor and the ultimate High Priest. Zerubbabel and Joshua are just types of what Christ will later fulfill.

David C. Grabbe
Cleansing God's People

John 1:14

Some commentators feel that this is the greatest verse in the Bible because the apostle John is saying that God became a man. The Greeks could have never, not in their wildest imaginations, have thought—with their background of philosophy and with the gods they worshipped—of God becoming a man. Doing so would have been something too far beneath a god to do. They believed that flesh is evil, so they could not associate a perfectly pure and righteous God becoming something they considered inherently evil. Yet, God "became flesh and dwelt among us."

The word "flesh" is the exact same word that the apostle Paul uses in his books to designate human nature. When we remember some of the things the Bible says about the flesh, John is saying that the Word—the Logos, the pre-existent One, the Creator—became subject to humanity in its fullness, in the exact same way that we are subject to humanity.

He was subject to the pulls of the flesh. He could have been influenced by Satan. He had human desires. The possibility was there for Him to have the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. God did not withhold Him from any of these things. It is awfully hard to think of God encumbering Himself with humanity, but there was a reason why it had to be done.

To be the payment—to be man's Savior—He had to be a human (Hebrews 2:14-18). However, He had to be a man who was more than a man. He had to be encumbered with humanity yet be God in the flesh. He had to be both at the same time. So, the pulls of the flesh could not be withheld from Him. He had to endure and overcome those things. He had to rise above the influences of Satan the Devil to become the payment for the sins of the people and also to be prepared to be a merciful and faithful High Priest.

This has a great deal to do with our calling because we have been called to become priests—kings and priests, as Revelation 5:10 says. What we go through during our converted lives is similar to what Christ went through. As He was called to become High Priest, we are called to become priests under Him. So, we have to experience trials similar to what He did. To qualify for what He is, He had to go through what we do. God is preparing us to aid others who will come along later, just as Jesus was prepared to aid us.

Therefore, the Word became flesh and everything that "flesh" might mean.

John W. Ritenbaugh
John (Part Three)

John 5:17

What work is the Father doing? He is "working salvation in the midst of the earth" (Psalm 74:12). God is always working toward the completion of His purpose - the salvation of mankind. Jesus works within the same process and pointedly makes an issue of this on the Sabbath days. God's work is creating sons in His image. Thus, healing, forgiving sin, and doing good are part of Christ's work as Savior and High Priest that He might be "firstborn among many brethren."

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part Two): Christ's Attitude Toward the Sabbath

John 6:63

Here, the difference between God's Holy Spirit and our spirit is noted. God's Spirit (His Word, His thoughts, His way) always produces life—eternal life—the way God lives. Jesus was made a life-giving Spirit, and He is the High Priest. As High Priest, He is in charge of the administration of life (see II Corinthians 3). The difference between the two covenants is that the priesthood under the Old Covenant could not administer life, but the Priesthood under the New Covenant administers life by providing the Spirit of God to the mind of man. Demons and men cannot truthfully claim what Jesus claimed here, that His Spirit is life. Man's spirit, like the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, produces death, because it produces sin.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Holy Spirit and the Trinity (Part One)

John 17:4

He says He had glorified the Father. Since the Son has returned to the Father in heaven, and the church is formed and joined to the Son as one organism, the church now has the responsibility to glorify the Father. How? By becoming one with Him just as the Son was—by the power of God's Spirit given to us.

Christ glorified the Father by successfully completing the work the Father gave Him to do. He qualified to be our Savior, Redeemer, and High Priest, and along the way, He preached the gospel to others. Our responsibility is to yield to Him, allowing Him to form us into His image by growing, overcoming, producing fruit, and carrying out the works of the church as He assigns them.

John W. Ritenbaugh
All in All

Romans 5:10

We are saved—receive salvation—by a living Jesus Christ! After He died, God the Father raised Him from the dead. Today, Christ is alive and powerful and sits at God's right hand to make intercession for us. He will help us overcome sin and live righteously as He did (Hebrews 4:14-16).

Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Basic Doctrines: Salvation

1 Thessalonians 1:2-3

First, notice that the "eternal trinity of virtues" is mentioned here: faith, hope, and love. Second, notice that the word endurance (translated in the King James as "patience") should be translated either as "endurance" or "perseverance." Third, the grammatical structure of the sentence in the Greek makes Jesus the object of our faith, hope, and love—not the promises.

The Person of Christ is the object of our faith, hope, and love. In other words, our faith, our trust, is in Jesus. Our love is because of Him and toward Him, and we persevere in hope toward Him. All of these spiritual qualities exist in us and are profitable for us because of a Person.

This is an important distinction. Our relationship is with a Being, not a book, not words on the page—a Person. We can have enduring hope, not only because of what He has done in the past when He died for our sins as our Savior, but because of what He is doing in the present as our High Priest—and what He will do in the future because of His promises and His character.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Perseverance and Hope

Hebrews 1:1-4

The first chapter of Hebrews lays the foundation for the theme that will run through the entire book. The author begins with the truth that Christ is superior to angels. He wants his readers to focus on the message, which is important, not only because it is thrilling and of weighty content, but also because of its Source. In times past, the message came through agents or intermediaries—either angels or prophets were sent. This message, however, came right from the top—through the Son of God, Jesus Christ. He is greater than or superior to any angel or prophet. All of those who came before Jesus Christ are "inferiors."

Thus, when God sent His message through His Son, it was introduced by the very highest Source that it could possibly come from. The author intends us to understand that this message requires us to give it the highest priority of our lives. Nothing supersedes the message that came through the Son of God. No one can present a message anywhere near as great.

The message that Moses gave was, of course, right and true and powerful, but it cannot even be compared to the message that came through the Son of God. That is the theme! Christ and what He has to give us—be it words, His ministrations as High Priest, His efficacious death, His covenant, etc.—are far superior to everything else. Absolutely nothing in life can compare. He has given us the most awesome gifts that any human being could possibly be given.

This is how the author begins his treatise—as if firing a cannon to get our attention! How dare we be apathetic toward this message! That is what he implies. Do we not realize where the gospel came from? It came from the One for whom all things were created and by whom all things were created. He created Adam and gave him the breath of life—and He right now sustains us with His power! Yet the world and the pressures that it puts on us have a way of turning our attention toward other things, do they not? Unfortunately, we give into them so often, so easily.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Hebrews: A Message for Today

Hebrews 1:1-4

This opening paragraph broaches the core of the entire epistle. The remarkable amount of material here is reminiscent of what is written in John 21:25: “And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”

Names and titles identify people, objects, and even political, religious, or cultural movements within societies. Historical names and titles tend to identify those personalities who lived at the forefront of significant human occurrences of the past. They appear in our histories because people desired to know and understand their activities for their own edification.

God's early dealings with Abram are an example. In Genesis 11:26, God begins the history of their relationship. Before God speaks directly with Abram, we find that his father's name was Terah. God also provides us with Abram's birthplace, Ur of the Chaldees, and his lineage beginning with Shem, son of Noah.

As time passes, God also informs the reader that Abram married Sarai, who was then barren. He leaves the length of time within this first contact unspecified, but God eventually speaks to Abram in Ur and commands him to depart. However, by the time Abram and Sarai leave Ur for Canaan, the elderly Terah seems to have decided to move with them, and he leads the group from Ur to Haran, a city far to the north. In Haran, Terah seemingly abruptly dies at age 205, leaving Abram, Sarai, Lot, and the unnumbered remainder of Abram's party to continue to Canaan without him.

While Abram and Sarai were in Ur, God never appeared to them. He did no more than speak to them. Not until Genesis 12:7 does the Bible first mention God appearing to him, and by then, they had arrived in Canaan.

Also, at some time after their arrival in Canaan, the term “the Hebrew” is added to Abram's identity (Genesis 14:13). Perhaps this was done to distinguish him from other Abrams whom God did not want confused with the biblical Abram. Maybe He did it to help future readers make a positive identification. We have always accepted that the term “Hebrew” identified a person as being a descendant of Eber. However, scholars claim that this is not the only usage of the term's root, saying that “Hebrew” was used anciently to distinguish a person who had “crossed over.” This usage implies an individual with no long-term community roots, a wanderer. A Hebrew, then, was a traveler into an area who had crossed a border, a mountain range, or a river, or even one who changed loyalties into, say, a new religious belief.

The beginning of the epistle to the Hebrews contains a compact form of a similar procedure of identification. God inspired the human author to focus immediately on the central Personality of the entire letter—Jesus Christ—identifying Him by titles and by His associations with a magnificent series of mindboggling accomplishments and bestowed honors. By the time the brief, four-verse opening paragraph is concluded, God has already set a strong foundation for convincing those skeptical about Jesus' qualifications that, yes, He is qualified to be High Priest under the New Covenant to assist the elect children whom God is calling into His Family.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Eight): Hebrews 1

Hebrews 1:1-14

During the first century, a number of very vocal Jews were hesitant about accepting Jesus Christ as High Priest under the New Covenant. The conference recorded in Acts 15, held to resolve their doubts, provides evidence of this group's existence. However, through the human author, God led, as it were, with a knockout punch in Hebrews' first chapter. Reading the powerful and true statements about Christ from God's own Word, laid out with devastating logic, a convert could find nothing to contradict.

Is there any other person besides Jesus, be he angel or human, whom God names as His only begotten Son? Is there anyone else whom God names as His Son who will inherit all things? Through whom the entire creation came into being? Who has given life itself to all creatures including humans?

God does not stop there. He continues His direct attack. Did God appoint any other person besides the One who became Jesus of Nazareth as “the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person”? Does anyone else also uphold all things in creation by the very word of His power?

Did anyone but His only begotten Son purge us of our sins by sacrificing His perfectly lived life in an extremely painful death? Did anyone else rise from the dead and ascend to heaven to be seated at the Father's right hand, filling the second-highest position of power and authority in the entire universe?

All these questions challenge the skeptics to justify their reasons for rejecting Him as High Priest. Is there any room for even an angel, a creation of Jesus and thus on a lower plane than He, to be considered? And that is only the beginning of the questions that surely arose.

What God establishes at the very beginning of this magnificent epistle did not directly answer a few of the Jews' central doubts. What really perturbed the doubters was that Jesus of Nazareth appeared to be just another human, and He obviously died as all humans die. These facts, based on sight, not faith, did not meet their expectations.

The Jews' expectations about the appearance of the Messiah were built—and twisted from time to time—over a 1,400-year, on-and-off knowledge of God. Frankly, in terms of time, it was far more often “off” than “on.” God did not praise even one king of the ten northern Israelite tribes for leading a period of righteous rule over them. The tribes in the southern kingdom, Judah, occasionally had a David, Hezekiah, or Josiah rise to the point of God giving such praise. However, this kingdom eventually fell, and God judged that its conduct had been worse than that of the Kingdom of Israel!

Jesus was born among these people of Judah, and to them, He preached the gospel of the Kingdom of God. The Jews had had an especially long period of free access to the prophets God sent through the centuries, so they had had access to the Scriptures as they came into existence through the prophets. Hebrews 1:1 declares that God ensured that this witness occurred: “God . . . at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets.” The Israelites were never totally without access to God's guidance. Their problem was they did not believe deeply enough what He said to allow them to use it to bring Him glory. Like many modern Americans, they mostly did their own thing.

They were not totally wrong on everything, but they were in error enough that they could not come to correct conclusions to give them an accurate picture. For example, some Jews understood enough of the Promised Seed prophecy (Genesis 3:14-15) to know that it would be fulfilled by a great leader among the Israelites. They also knew He would be “the Anointed” and the “Messiah” and lead Israel to material greatness among the nations.

That scenario does not even begin to scratch the fullness of the Promised Seed's accomplishments, let alone that all nations will benefit both spiritually and materially from His greatness. They had only the slightest inkling that His appearance and subsequent accomplishments would bring salvation to the Gentile world too.

So, they had difficulty with the concept that Jesus of Nazareth was both God and man at the same time—even with the idea that He could be divine while in the flesh. They had trouble connecting their understanding of the Promised Messiah with Jesus' public ministry of both words and healings of mind and body, with His sacrificial death, and with the spiritual gifts He gives to heal the elects' minds and spirits, even though a spiritual mind can see that the prophecy in Genesis 3 contains hints of them. To some Jews, influenced by Judaism, these elements were a leap beyond their abilities to grasp.

When Christ's three-and-a-half years of ministry concluded and the church began, virtually everyone called and converted was a Jew. It was not that Jesus did not preach to Gentiles. He preached to the Gentile Samaritans as early as John 4, and His message attracted them, but none were converted during His ministry. Gentiles grasped some level of the truth, but not until God sent Peter to the home of Cornelius, a Roman soldier, and he and his family were converted and baptized into the Family of God, did the middle wall of division separating the Israelites—most specifically the Jews—and the Gentiles began to dissolve, little by little, within the church, the Israel of God.

The biblical record does not suggest in any way that the Gentiles called into God's church had any more difficulty being converted to Jesus Christ than Jews. The Jerusalem Conference resolved much of the “Gentile problem” challenging the Jews, and the church began moving to correct any remaining issues tied to this dispute.

Three things assisted the Jews through this issue:

  1. The apostles' and others' consistent, truthful teaching from the Old Testament in Sabbath services and Bible studies.

  2. The called Gentiles quick understanding of the truth, at least partly a result of their not having to overcome false, Jewish teachings.

  3. The gradual writing of gospels, letters, and other material by the apostles, especially those that became part of what is now the New Testament.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Eight): Hebrews 1

Hebrews 1:1-14

The author's direct and indirect references to the threefold offices of Jesus Christ—prophet, priest, and king—provide a link between Hebrews' first and second chapters. Christ holds all three at once, which is impressive. He is a Leader every knowledgeable individual should yearn to serve under because, under His leadership, great things will be accomplished. Those under Him will share the rewards of His achievements.

In Hebrews 1, the author describes the Son as the One through whom God spoke prophetically as “Son” (verse 2). In verse 3, He is the High Priest who provided purification for sins. In verses 6-14, we see Him prophetically, ruling from His throne in His Kingdom, alluding to His royal authority. These verses look far into the future, assuring us that His holding of the office of High Priest is a settled, eternal issue.

Why? The answer appears in Hebrews 1:9: God places Him in that office, anointing Him “with the oil of gladness more than [His] companions,” because He “loved righteousness and hated lawlessness,” as demonstrated by His sinless life. He most certainly qualified for it. The quotation from Psalm 45:6-7 is no idle saying. Jesus was head and shoulders above all others in terms of His qualifications to lead.

These brief statements set the stage for the rest of the epistle. Hebrews 1 is a primer of what He has already done and will continue to do and expand upon for the members of the God Family. Remember, Christ Himself dogmatically states, “Without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). God is glorified by His Family producing fruit, and without Jesus Christ, no fruit can be produced. Without His work, our salvation would be impossible. As High Priest, He is the literal link between us and sharing eternity with God in His Family. Without Him, we could expect only death in the Lake of Fire.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Ten): Christianity's Claims

Hebrews 1:4

Some readers of Hebrews have trouble grasping His usage of “having become” here. The key to unlocking this mystery about Jesus' becoming something He was not before and seemingly having to qualify to hold a position is understanding the time-linkage between this statement and Psalm 2, where God proclaims unambiguously that He had begotten a Son. Twice in Psalm 2 He is called “Son” and once “His Anointed,” the Messiah. God states this long before the human Jesus was born.

John 1:17-18 helps to clarify the identity of the Son:

For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.

The entire first chapter of John's gospel seeks to identify the Son of God, principally who the Son in Psalm 2 is. The prophetic proclamation made in Psalm 2 points to only one Person in all of history, and that Person was irrefutably not an angel. John tells us the Son is Jesus of Nazareth.

Luke 1:30-35 provides a clarifying identification:

Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, the Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.”

The angel makes this declaration about the unique, one-of-a-kind, Person whom the New Testament names “the only begotten Son of God.” He is plainly named “the Son of the Highest.” He, as John 1 reveals, is also God, even as the One we know as “the Father” is God.

Though the title “Son” was written as part of Psalm 2 many hundreds of years before the New Testament appeared, God the Father assigned and declared it when Jesus was born of the virgin Mary. It occurred at the beginning of His 33½-year human life, during which He conducted His ministry.

Jesus did not have to qualify for this office in the ordinary sense. He was already entitled to it by being God both when the prophecy was originally uttered and when He was conceived in Mary's womb and became human. The prophecy in Psalm 2 ends with His death, payment for our sins, and resurrection, paving the way for our eternal life. Thus, Jesus fulfilled God's purpose, not just of being simultaneously both God and man but also being sinless, an unblemished sacrifice to pay the price for our sins.

Thus, at the moment of His birth, God exalted Jesus to what He never literally was before: As the Son, He became the New Covenant's High Priest. He was already performing the job throughout His ministry. As God, He did not have to qualify for what He already was, though He had to finish His course through death and resurrection.

The problem arose for the apostles when God began calling Jews to conversion. They soon became aware of this prophetic reality and questioned it because it did not harmonize with their religious traditions.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Ten): Christianity's Claims

Hebrews 1:5-6

Note that the central issue in the epistle is that Jesus Christ is the lone Subject of the author's theme from which he never deviates throughout his argument. This issue of angels may have surfaced in some people's mind because the Old Testament calls them “sons of God” in Job 1:6 and 2:1. In addition, the nation of Israel is called God's son in Exodus 4:22, and Solomon receives that title in II Samuel 7:14.

However, God gives none of these entities the exalted status of His begotten Son, as the entire epistle refers to Jesus Christ. One will search in vain through the Scriptures for God addressing any angel in this privileged manner. It appears not even once.

The quotation in Hebrews 1:5 derives from Psalm 2:6-8:

Yet I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion. I will declare the decree: The LORD has said to Me, “You are My Son, today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession.”

God may have said this here because He desired to establish the relationship between Them as a father-and-son one, like the human relationship, to be revealed later when Jesus was born in the flesh.

Hebrews 1:6 carries this challenge another step. To affirm Christ's greatness, the Father charges angels with this directive: “Let all the angels of God worship Him.” This order clearly reinforces that the Son is also God. If any of the angels had chosen to worship any other personage but the Creator God, it would have amounted to idolatry. To Jews, this command confirms that the Son is high above any angel that they may have chosen to be the high priest within the New Covenant. Jesus is clearly superior in every way to all angels.

Another somewhat unique Greek term appears in this context: prōtotokos. It is not unique to the Bible nor to humanity in general, but it is exceptional in that it is used in absolute terms in relation to Christ. Prōtotokos means “firstborn.” Scripture uses it in connection to Jesus being the firstborn of several siblings (e.g., Matthew 1:25); in reference to the church as God's firstborn (Hebrews 12:23); in reference to Jesus' place as the source of, and supreme over, all creation (Colossians 1:15); and in regard to His preeminent place in the process of redemption (Colossians 1:18; Revelation 1:5). It is a rare term in secular Greek, mostly used in its literal sense, but it can be a title that grants a citizen social significance within a community.

Here, though, it seems to signify that the Son (note the title) has the same status with God the Father that a firstborn human son has with his father—He is the Heir. In Jesus' case, His status, partially due to this firstborn factor, reaches even to His exaltation and enthronement as Sovereign over the universe.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Eight): Hebrews 1

Hebrews 1:6-14

We should understand Hebrews 1:6-14 as comparisons made by the author to heap praise on Jesus Christ of Nazareth in contrast to any angel whom one might consider as being on the same level or even above Him.

In this first chapter, the apostle reveals the main line of his approach to the subject of who is qualified to be High Priest to the children of God under the New Covenant. He does so by using an irrefutable argument based in Scripture: that Jesus of Nazareth is far superior even to those whom some acknowledge to be primary contenders from the created world, particularly those from the angelic realm. However, Jesus is as much superior to any angel as any creator is superior even to the absolute best of his creations. The pre-incarnate Jesus, the Word, is the Creator (Ephesians 3:9; Colossians 1:16), and He created the angels and gave them life just as He did to all living things in this creation.

Our Creator and Savior has made His decision regarding the order among His created beings quite clear. Angels are valuable and highly qualified servants who are far more intelligent, powerful, and morally pure in the roles they currently fill in His purpose than human beings are. Even so, they are not created for the more exalted offices He is creating us to occupy. Therefore, we should clearly understand He created them to serve under us in the positions for which He is preparing us. This truth is both awesome and humbling at the same time.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Twelve): The Son's Superiority Over Angels

Hebrews 4:14-15

Christ's physical life was not spared the calamities we commonly face so that He would be prepared for His responsibilities within God's purpose. He was made to share our experiences to perfect, complete, or mature Him. In other words, if we might have to flee for our lives, then God was not going to excuse Jesus from that kind of a trial. He allowed Jesus to get into situations where indeed He might have to flee for His life. Did Jesus just presume that God would rescue Him because of who He was? No. In writing this, the apostle Paul wants us to understand that Jesus sinlessness was the result of conscious decision and intense struggle, not merely the consequence of His divine nature or the Father's protection or intervention.

John W. Ritenbaugh
A Place of Safety? (Part 2)

Hebrews 4:14-16

It is faith that clears the way to the mercy seat. Faith, first of all, gives the assurance that there even is a mercy seat and a High Priest that waits to hear our petitions and our confession and those of our brothers and sisters. The Revised Standard Version translates verse 16, "Let us then with confidence draw near." It is an interesting approach. "Confidence" has the overtone of speaking freely. What are we doing in prayer? We are fellowshippingwith God. We are in His company communicating with Him, and faith is plowing the way before us—because prayer grows out of faith! We would not even be praying if we did not have faith.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Prayer and Fervency

Hebrews 4:15

Our High Priest, Jesus Christ, was trained—perfected, as it were—for the position He now holds. The Bible says that we will be priests and kings under Him (Revelation 5:10). A God-being had never experienced life as a human being until the Word became flesh, when He was encompassed with the same kind of frame we are. He then also had a mind that was subject to Satan the Devil, if He would allow it.

He suffered many things: He went through difficulties and angers. He felt and endured pain as we do. He took care of a mother. He worked with a father. He had younger brothers and sisters. When his father died, it appears that He became responsible for the family and running the family business. He ran a business as a stonemason, a construction worker, and He did it, undoubtedly, very well.

He learned to work with His hands. He became hungry. He fasted and prayed. He experienced hatred. He learned to trust God and walked with Him, hand in hand, through His own periods in the valley of the shadow of deep gloom. He experienced, in principle, everything in life.

We have to remember that we are being trained to work under Him. Some of the fruit that is produced as a result of our going through these valleys will be helpful to others, even here and now. However, it will be extremely helpful when we are in the Kingdom of God. We need to understand, however, that always, no matter how dark, shadowy, or painful our experiences, we have the very best management that any spiritual sheep could ever possibly have.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Psalm 23 (Part Three)

Hebrews 7:1-17

A vital principle to remember concerning the Old and New Covenants is that what did not originate with the Old Covenant did not die with it. The gist of the argument in Hebrews 7 is that, since the Levitical priesthood has no authority under the New Covenant, the ritual laws pertaining to the priesthood are no longer valid. The priesthood has been conferred on Christ, now our High Priest "according to the order of Melchizedek" (Hebrews 6:20). This "change of the law"—the ceremonial law of sacrifices, ritual washings, and other rites pertaining to the Tabernacle/Temple and priesthood—applies only to the administration of tithing (verse 12). Since the tithing law predates the Levitical priesthood, and is thus still in force, tithes are now to be given to Jesus Christ, our High Priest, for use by the church. The church is commissioned to preach the gospel free of charge. The tithe pays for this important responsibility.

The principle of supporting the ministers of God's work is still in force in the New Testament church (Matthew 10:8-10; 24:14; 28:19-20; Mark 16:15; I Corinthians 9:13-14).

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Tithing

Hebrews 7:24-28

The Aaronic priesthood—including the high priest—was just as sinful as the population that they were to be serving. In order for this to be corrected, it was necessary that the true High Priest be one of divine nature, perfect, and sinless. Jesus Christ was both deity and humanity, and He qualified—through His sinlessness, His offering of His life, and His compassion—to be High Priest for the entirety of humanity. The book of Hebrews points out these things: 1) that He was divine, 2) that He offered His perfect life in sacrifice, and 3) that His mercy qualified Him to be High Priest.

Aaron's sons attained to the priesthood simply by being born into the Aaronic line. Members of the church, though, become priests by means of regeneration, making us part of the Divine Family—and thus brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.

John W. Ritenbaugh
New Covenant Priesthood (Part One)

Hebrews 12:2

Our Savior was joyful that He could do this for us, that He could buy or redeem us to be His purchased possession. Obviously, there was not a whole lot of joy in dying on the cross in the way He was crucified—none at all. It was excruciating and terrible, but there was joy in what it produced—that He had qualified to become King of kings and Lord of lords and our High Priest—the Savior of all mankind, of all those who would believe in Him.

There was joy that this step in the process of bringing the Kingdom of God to this earth had been fulfilled. There was joy in heaven that the plan of God was moving forward, and God would then have more sons and daughters. The creative process of refurbishing the entire universe had taken a great leap forward. The King had succeeded. The Savior had saved. What joy there must have been in those in the spirit realm who understood that a great milestone had been passed, making it possible for all men and women who believed to be saved.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Parables of Matthew 13 (Part 3): Hidden Treasure

1 Peter 1:20-21

All of our hope resides in our election, added to the fact that Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead. The resurrection is the proof that we have hope, and since He lives at the right hand of God, He will discharge His duties as High Priest in our behalf. If hope is in us, it will invigorate us to action, strengthen our will, and give us courage and perseverance to endure.

Hope gives reason and substance to faith so that love can be produced. Thus, we can hope without futility. Hope is essential because man can remember, and what we remember is mostly bad, producing cynicism, scorn, and sarcasm. Man can also think spatially and anticipate and plan for a positive future. Yet, without a reasonable expectation of success, what good is education or experiencing the hard knocks of life? What good is preparing for receiving the future God promises? This is one of man's gravest problems today. He sees many problems but few correct answers; he feels he is being boxed into a corner without any reasonable hope for winning free. It is as if he has entered the proverbial dark tunnel, but no light flickers ahead.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Trumpets Is a Day of Hope

Revelation 5:1-7

The setting for the release of the four horsemen begins in Revelation 4, which describes God's throne room in heaven with all its splendor and attendant beings. As chapter 5 opens, a scroll with writing on both front and back and sealed with seven seals is introduced, shown in the right hand of the Father. This last detail highlights His sovereignty and the divine origin of the scroll. That He holds it in His right hand suggests might or authority (Exodus 15:6; Psalm 20:6; 44:3; 110:1; Lamentations 2:3-4; etc.), and that He is sitting on the throne alludes to coming judgment (see Proverbs 20:8; Matthew 27:19; Acts 25:6).

The scroll itself includes a few peculiar details not found in ordinary scrolls. First, John uses the word biblion for it, a diminutive of the normal biblos, implying that this particular scroll was not lengthy—a booklet as compared to a book. Biblion is often used of letters, contracts, and other documents whose contents would not fill more than one sheet of parchment or vellum.

However, this scroll is "written inside and on the back," or as it is literally in the Greek, "written within and behind." The Greeks had a specific term for such a relatively rare document: opisthografon, literally "behind writing." Since writing covered the entire surface, nothing could be added to it. Thus, the image symbolizes a complete and finished work.

Finally, this scroll bears seven seals, a detail that has provoked various interpretations down through the centuries. The best, most logical solution is that the scroll is successively sealed along one edge so that, as a seal is broken, the parchment can be opened only so far as the next seal. Thus, a scroll like this was sealed as it was rolled closed, and the seals must be broken in reverse order. This also means that, as the seals are broken, the previous ones remain open until all seven parts of the document lay revealed.

In the scene in Revelation 5, though, "no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll, or to look at it" (verse 3). The apostle John weeps because no one worthy comes forward. He is soon comforted: "Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals" (verse 5).

This figure, called "a Lamb as though it had been slain" (verse 6) is obviously Jesus Christ our Savior (see John 1:29), and He proved worthy by prevailing, enikeesen, a word that can also be translated as "overcome," "triumphed," or "conquered," all of which imply victory through conflict or struggle. As Hebrews 2:10 puts it, "For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the author of their salvation perfect through sufferings." He proved Himself worthy to be our Redeemer, High Priest, and soon-coming King by living sinlessly against the pulls of human nature and by dying as a perfect sacrifice in our stead (see Revelation 5:9, 12).

In so doing, He also qualified to be Judge of all (John 5:22; II Timothy 4:1, 8; Jude 14-15). Taking on this last role, "He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne" (Revelation 5:7).

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Four Horsemen (Part One): In the Saddle?


 




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