Study Guide

Jesus in Hebrews

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If you're looking for the full story on Jesus, you won't find it in Hebrews. You'll have to trek over to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to get the nitty gritty on what Jesus said and did. See, the author of Hebrews isn't very interested in Jesus' life; instead, he's interested in what that life means.

He Became Man

According to Hebrews, Jesus is a pretty big deal:

He has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. (1:2-4)

Sure, he's on par with the Creator of the Universe, but he's also just a regular guy.

…Sort of.

In order to save humanity, the author says, Jesus had to become one of us:

Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angel s[…] Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things […] He had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect. (2:9, 14, 17)

That's one down-to-Earth deity. Literally.

God's Kid

The author of Hebrews believes that Jesus was a real flesh-and-blood human, but he also knows that the guy has some serious divine connections. His main claim to fame is being God's son:

  • "He has spoken to us by a Son." (1:1)
  • "For to which of the angels did God ever say, 'You are my Son; today I have begotten you'? Or again, 'I will be his Father, and he will be my Son'"? (1:5)
  • "Christ, however, was faithful over God's house as a son." (3:6)
  • "Resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever." (7:3)
  • "How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by those who have spurned the Son of God." (10:29)

What exactly does the author mean by this?

In Jewish tradition, human beings are sometimes referred to as "children of God" or "sons and daughters of God." In Psalm 2:7 and 2 Samuel 7:14 (which the author quotes above), God talks about the coming of the Jewish messiah and calls him "a son." So, the title "Son of God" might be one of the names or ideas that was tied to the messiah. The author thinks he's found his man in Jesus.

Son of God might also be a bit of a slam against the Roman authorities of the day. It was a common practice for kings and emperors to take "Son of God" as part of their royal titles. It meant that they had a special connection to the divine and that you did not want to mess with them or try to overthrow them. By calling Jesus "Son of God," the early Christians were reclaiming this title for a crucified Jewish peasant who they saw as way more important than the Emperor.

Oh, snap.

He Was Crucified

Jesus' human mission on Earth just wouldn't be complete unless he got to die just like real people do. And he picked a pretty crazy way to go out:

  • "Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death." (5:7)
  • "They are crucifying again the Son of God and are holding him up to contempt." (6:6)
  • "[Jesus] endured the cross, disregarding its shame." (12:2)
  • "Jesus also suffered outside the city gate." (13:12)

This description jibes with the gospel accounts of Jesus dying on the cross. Crucifixion was a particularity terrible punishment doled out by the Roman Empire. A victim would be stripped naked, have nails pounded through their arms or feet (or both), be placed upright on the cross, and be left to die. Since the nails alone wouldn't kill you, the death was slow. Victims often died from starvation, suffocation, or shock, and depending on the method that was used, death could take hours or days.

So what's a follower of Jesus supposed to do with that? The Messiah—God's son—comes to Earth only to be executed as a criminal? Curious.

The author of Hebrews (along with lots of other folks in the New Testament) put a unique spin on the death of Jesus. He wasn't brutally beaten and murdered; he was made "perfect through sufferings" (2:10). His death wasn't senseless and meaningless; he was actually "offered once to bear the sins of many" (9:28). Bottom line: according to these folks, all this blood shed has a purpose.

He Became Awesome

Jesus is dead, but his story isn't over for the author of Hebrews. Because Jesus faithfully followed God (even though it meant dying on a cross), he got his reward in Heaven:

  • "[Jesus is] crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death." (2:9)
  • "He entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf." (9:24)
  • "[Jesus] has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God." (12:2)
  • "Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep." (13:20)

All in all, things worked out pretty good for Jesus. Sure, he died, but God brought him back to life, and now he reigns forever in Heaven in a primo seat next to God. He also gets the status of unchanging divine being: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (13:8).

Not too shabby.

Hebrews has what biblical scholars like to refer to as a "high Christology." That just means that the Jesus that's portrayed in this book is way closer to divine being than a normal human being. Here, Jesus is co-equal with God. His life and death take away the sins of the world and he reigns in Heaven forever. Yeah, he was human for a while, but ultimately, the God-side of his personality wins out.

He Became a High Priest

Recap: Jesus saved the world. But how did he do it? Well, according to our author, he used Jewish laws and tradition to kick sin's butt once and for all.

In the old days, Jewish high priests would offer sacrifices to atone for the sins of the people. Giving up something—like livestock—was seen as a way of drawing closer to God. Before the first temple in Jerusalem was built, priests would worship in the tabernacle, which was essentially just a really special tent that the people built while they were on their way to the Promised Land. Only the high priest could go inside to offer sacrifices though. Super VIP.

But Jesus blows the doors off all of this:

When Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation), he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God! (9:11-14)

Jesus plays the same role as the high priest. Except instead of using animal blood, he uses his own. But it seems to do the trick since Jesus' sacrifice wiped out the power of sin once and for all. In fact, says the author, Jesus' work as high priest is better than any human high priest could do:

  • He was appointed by God (5:5).
  • He's not sinful like human high priests (7:26).
  • His priestly term lasts forever (7:24).
  • He only has to sacrifice once, not single every day (9:25).
  • He goes directly to God in Heaven, not into some tent made by humans (9:11).

Jesus: 1. High priests: 0.

He Became Empathetic

In case you've forgotten, the author describes Jesus as:

  • The Son of God.
  • The Savior of the World.
  • The True High Priest Who Reigns in Heaven.

But that doesn't mean he's not an approachable guy.

One of the perks of becoming human is that you can finally understand all the silly things human beings are always worrying about:

  • "The one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters." (2:11)
  • "We have become partners of Christ." (3:14)
  • "We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin." (4:15)

Gods—they're just like us!

But really, this characterization serves an important purpose. While God might be a distant and disapproving figure up in the sky, Jesus is like your cool older brother who you can ask to buy you beer. (His answer is no. But still you can ask him.) Jesus might be on the same level as God, but he totally loves you and wants to be your friend.

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