By Rob Lampard
This blog continues my series entitled What’s ‘new’ about the New Testament? In part 1 we considered why this is an important question for us and looked briefly at how the New Testament itself answers our question. And in part 2 we took a more detailed look at the following topics: the new authority with which Jesus taught, the new covenant, and the new life which his ministry to people results in. In this part we’re going to consider the answers which the book of Hebrews supplies.
What’s New in Hebrews?
Any commentary on or human exposition of Scripture is bound to fall short of and miss important strands in the writer’s thesis. Such commentaries can nevertheless help us see ‘the wood for the trees’. The following outline of Hebrews 1:1-10:18 has been drawn primarily from Arthur W. Pink’s substantial commentary and the section headings in the NIV Bible.
- Christ superior to the prophets (1:1-3)
- Christ superior to the angels (1:4-2:18)
- Christ superior to Moses (3)
- Christ superior to Joshua (4)
- Christ superior to Aaron (5:1-10)
- (Warnings against falling away: 5:11-6:12)
- (The certainty of God’s promise: 6:13-20)
- Jesus, the high priest like Melchizedek, superior to the Levites (7)
- The superior covenant (8)
- The superior tabernacle (9:1-11)
- The superior sacrifice (9:11-10:18)
The reader will note the repeated use of the word ‘superior’ in this analysis. This highlights the major part Hebrews plays in the subject we are considering.
First, Hebrews asserts that Jesus, being the Son of God and Messiah (as spoken about in Psalm 2, 2Samuel 7:14, Psalm 45, Psalm 104 and Psalm 110), is necessarily superior to the prophets and the angels. The prophets simply spoke God’s word and served his purposes in their generation (eg David – see Acts 13:36-37). The angels are simply ‘ministering spirits, sent to serve those who will inherit salvation’ (Hebrews 1:14). Jesus was likewise sent (mentioned 33 times in John’s Gospel). Hence his designation as an apostle (Hebrews 3:1). But unlike the angels he first took on human form to carry out his ministry (Hebrews 2:14, 17); unlike the prophets, ‘after he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven’ (1:3).
Second, Jesus is shown to be greater than Moses. Both faithfully carried out the task they were appointed to (3:2). But Moses was faithful as a servant (3:5); Christ is faithful as a son (3:6). Moses was part of God’s house (3:5); Christ is the builder of that house (3:3).
The people of Joshua’s time, by entering the promised land, sought the promised rest from conflict (Deuteronomy 12:9-10), and found it in a limited way (Joshua 11:23). But since Psalm 95 several hundred years later still speaks of God’s people entering his rest, it becomes apparent that a better, eternal rest from the struggles of this life is in view. Hebrews urges all believers to fix their minds and efforts on this goal (4:11). In all this, Jesus himself remains our example (3:1, 4:14-5:9, 12:2-3).
At verse 4:14, Hebrews introduces a major new theme. Not only is Jesus the promised Messianic king of Psalm 2 (quoted in 1:5 and again in 5:5); he is also the great high priest in fulfilment of Psalm 110 (quoted in 5:6). As such, his priesthood exceeds that of Aaron, who was only appointed in the time of Moses, then died and passed on his priestly role to his sons, who each in turn died (7:23). ‘But because Jesus lives for ever, he has a permanent priesthood.’ (7:24) This contention is in full accord with the declarations of Psalm 110. Put simply, the role of the king in Israel was to be God’s representative before the people, whereas the role of the priest was to be the people’s representative before God, especially in the offering of gifts and sacrifices for sins (5:1). Because Jesus’s priesthood is permanent, ‘he is able to save completely those who come to God through him.’ (7:26).
The writer moves on to display the superiority of the new covenant over the Mosaic one. We’ve considered the primary substance of the new covenant in a previous section. Hebrews expounds this further by focusing on two key aspects of the Mosaic covenant: the tabernacle and the sin offering. It points out that the tabernacle constructed during the time of Moses (the construction of which is described in great detail in Exodus 36-38) was ‘a copy a copy and shadow’ of the true one in heaven (8:2, 8:5, 9:24). The inference is that it is Jesus himself who is this true tabernacle (10:20; cf John 1:14, where a literal translation would say something like ‘The Word became flesh and lived in a tent (or tabernacled) among us.’).
Every sin offering of the Mosaic covenant involved three participants: the sinner, the sin offering, and the priest (see for example Leviticus 4:27-31). Under the new covenant, Jesus simultaneously fulfils two of these roles. He is both the priest to whom we come (see the paragraph two above) and our sin offering (8:3, 9:12, 9:14). We must also note that this sacrifice is repeatedly declared to be a one-off, sufficient and effective for all who will embrace it for all time (7:27, 9:12-15, 9:25-28, 10:10-18). Wow!
So here’s a quick summary of what we’ve seen in the book of Hebrews. Jesus is superior to the angels, the new and better Moses writing the law in our hearts (10:16), the new and better Joshua leading us to rest in a heavenly country (11:16), the eternal high priest in the order of Melchizedek (7:24), the mediator of a new covenant (12:24), the new and better tabernacle, the new and better sacrifice.
 Arthur W. Pink, An Exposition of Hebrews, Baker Book House, 1954, (1307 pages).
 These two Psalms are the most quoted ones in the entire New Testament. As well, here in Hebrews, they are both alluded to in Acts 2:36. And Jesus himself declares Psalm 110 to be Messianic in his debate with the Pharisees (Matthew 22:41-45).