Wednesday, 16 May 2012
The Book of Hebrews is the epitome of the Old Testament focused through Gospel lens. Nowhere does this Gospel message come into sharper focus than in these opening three verses of the epistle.
Christ, Christ, CHRIST
A couple of years back I taught a Bible study on Hebrews and was especially struck during this prolonged look at that wonderful book with how central Christ is in our salvation. And how that all-importance of Christ in our lives actually crowds out and rids me of cherished notions I used to hold on to as Christian.
Yes, I know that Christian readers might right now just skip over that sentence about Christ being central, as if I was stating the obvious. "Yea, I know all that. And...?" But I am not stating the obvious. I am pointing out the overlooked. I mean that the utter, crucial centrality of Christ in our lives is something that is really neglected today: Many Christians are quite clear on what Christ did on the Cross. They have certainly heard enough sermons. And they are reasonably clear on how Christ will come for His own and take them to Heaven.
What is unclear is that great, turbulent in-between period from Calvary to Glory: How to live the Christian life, how to walk with joy, discernment and integrity in a very complex, dark world which Christ - we profess! - conquered? We read that Christ has conquered the world (John 14) and that without Him we can do nothing (John 15:5), but we are fearful as if He hasn't conquered - and we look for the Lord in all the wrong places. We forget that all the treasures we have are in Christ, and in His Word.
Well, one of the best ways to un-forget is to meditate on Hebrews 1:1-3 and to know in our hearts that Christ is the Beginner and Finisher of our faith, Alpha and Omega, Prophet, Priest, and King, and to know it in a practical way for our everyday life.The Prophetical Last - and Lasting - Word: Christ!Take a look at the first two verses of Hebrews 1:"God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom He also made the ages (lit. "aeons")"Have you noticed the following?
1.Prophecy, from the perspective of this verse, is a thing of the past. He spoke in a variety of ways through prophets in the past, but now He speaks to us by His Son (lit. in Son).
2. It is the "last days" that is specifically marked out as a time when the Son is speaking. This is the exact opposite of what many teach; They use the fact that we are now supposed to be in the last days to explain and justify people prophesying (in the specific sense of fore-telling).
3. The "last days" or "last times" may not be what you think it is. Every time these phrases are found in the Bible they are addressed to Jewish people. Don't take my word for it, look it up yourself. Paul, in writing to Gentiles, or speaking to them (as in Mars Hills) never mentions the term. (More on this topic later)
4. The ages were created through Christ. This refers not to planetary worlds (which would be out of context) but, considering the theme of this book, to the Jewish Age fading away into the Church Age. (A separate article is needed for this fascinating topic).
5. Most importantly of all, certainly for this series of articles, is the fact that all prophecy points to, and is completed in Christ. "The spirit of prophecy is Jesus".
Christ is our prophet for today, our King, our Lawgiver, our Priest... everything. Salvation - all of it, every aspect - is of the LORD.
Luke 9:28-35 relates the Transfiguration incident, a baffling event for the disciples. When Peter, John and James saw Jesus transfigured and Moses and Elijah talking with Him Peter blurted out "Let's make a shelter for all three of you!" But when the other two disappeared, leaving only Christ, God's point was made. There is no more need for Moses or Elijah, personifying the Law and the Prophets, for God's people. Christ is the One we need. To make absolutely sure of this point we have the voice of God telling them - and us:
"This is My beloved Son. Hear Him."
The Law which came through Moses, the kingship inherent through him, the priesthood of Levi, the prophetical mantle of Elijah - all pass over to Christ.
Later we will discuss these points:
1. Christ as Prophet, Priest and King found in these first three verses of Hebrews.
2. Every deviation in Christendom can be traced to losing sight of at least one of these three offices of Christ.
3. To know these offices, to trust in Christ as our Prophet, Priest and King is to have a strong safeguard against any grace-combatting wind of doctrine.
4. The Christian, as Christ's representatives on Earth, are to be Christlike in these three aspects: Prophets, priests, kings.
Now that last point, especially, requires careful qualifications. But it is found in Scripture. One of the main reasons why Christianity today is so anemic and marginalized - but we did it to ourselves! - is that we just do not know who we are and Whose we are!Christ our Prophet, Priest, King
But what does this mean?It is a shame that Hebrews is so often neglected by many Christians. They don't know what they are missing. I can't speak for others, but the reason why I had earlier read sparingly from it for a long time is because I thought it was mainly "Jewish stuff", written for those who came to Christ from a Jewish background. Well, yes and no. It is that - and much more. Hebrews not only leads Jews to Christ, it also makes the Old Testament come alive. It Christianizes much of the Old Testament.
Here again are the first verses of Hebrews, now including the third verse:"God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom He also made the ages (aeons); who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,"Did you notice that that last verse demonstrates, not only Christ's deity, but all three of Christ's offices?
He is our God: Christ is "the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person". He who sees Christ has seen the Father.
He is our Prophet: "upholding all things by the word of His power". He has the words of eternal life (John 6:63), and we live by every word that comes out of His mouth (John 6).
He is our Priest: "when He had by Himself purged our sins". "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."
He is our King: He "sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,"
One of the best, concise explanations of Christ in His three offices is given by Louis Berkhof (Systematic Theology. p.357, ):
"As Prophet He represents God with man; as priest He represents man in the presence of God, and as King He exercises dominion and restores the original dominion of man."
Do we believe in this strong, this powerful of a Savior? He not only is our Lord and Savior, but He has spoken to us (perfect tense, once for all, verse 1) as our Prophet, the very one promised in Deut. 18. He has cleansed us at Calvary, yet still intercedes as our Priest in heaven - Did you know that? (If you doubt this look at Heb. 7:24-25). And He is our King, overcoming our sin by His day-by-day grace. Our daily Bread of Life, the hidden Manna.
Because the only ones being anointed in the Old Testament were prophets, priests, and kings it stands to reason - and is verified by Scripture - that the Messiah ("Anointed One") would perfectly assume all three offices. That is exactly what He did. At the public revelation of His Messianic ministry, Luke 4:18-19, Christ reveals His mission, showing aspects of all three offices.
Yet the Jews rejected Him - in all three offices!
They rejected Him as Prophet, John 6:60. "This is a hard saying; who can understand it?"
They rejected Him as Priest, Heb. 10:29.
They rejected Him as King, John 19:14-15 and Luke 19:14. "We have no king but Caesar!", "We will not have this man to rule over us."
But before we are too hard on them, and on the unbelief of many of them, we need to add that many, very many, in Christendom have done -and are doing - the very same thing. Many, while professing belief in Christ as Savior, reject Him as Prophet, Priest, and King. All the unhealthy and dangerous doctrine in Christendom through the ages has come about because of rejection of one, two, or all three of these aspects of Christ's lordship. Many reject Him as Prophet.
Christ was specifically promised to His people as the Prophet of Deut. 18. Some blatantly reject His prophethood by calling His veracity to account, and by denying Christianity in general. But others, while not denying that Jesus is prophet, believe also in prophets after New Testament times, after the close of inspired Scripture. But they do this by ignoring certain safeguards in the Word itself.
Rev. 22:18-19 warns against either adding to, or taking away from, the Word of God. To have a "word from the Lord" is to add to the other words from the Lord which were written down for all of us - the Bible. Or do we believe that God gives out His word in varying qualities: Inspired and semi-inspired? No, the Bible says that in Him there is no untruth and "all the promises of God are Yes and Amen in Christ Jesus".
Preachers who turn babes in Christ from the simple Word with "God also said this..." cheapen the revelation of God and interrupt the growth of Christians who, instead of growing by the "sincere milk of the Word", 1 Pet.2:2, are being taught to listen to this "word from the Lord" and that "annointed message". It's no wonder so many do not grow up in Christ, and do not have their senses matured to discern good from evil, Heb 5:14! All of this comes from not honoring Christ as our Prophet. Though we have Christ's words written, He still speaks those words to us everyday. The Spirit of Christ brings to mind, comforts and strengthens us with our daily Bread according to each day's peculiar need.
Many reject Him as Priest. They either reject His priestly ministry at Calvary or in heaven, Heb.7:24-25; 8:1-2. Those who reject - or find insufficient - His sacrifice at the cross try to add to their salvation by having some good works (just in case). The formal name for this in some denominations is "merit" or "supererogation", but the idea is the same: What if the hymn is not true? What if Calvary did not cover it all?
I have met a number of these restless, sad, jittery people (some, probably, true Christians) who seem to have "God-haunted" personalities. They talk much about sacrifice, hardships, judgment - but very little about joy and peace. They are often the ones who are judgmental against others who maybe, just maybe, have found a sweet, private fulfillment in the promise of Matt. 11:29, "and you will find rest for your souls."
One of the most powerful encouragements for me was to understand how Christ both ministered at Calvary for me and continues to minister in heaven for me. What an awesome savior we have.
Another way that many reject Christ as Priest is when they erect a whole system of priesthoods that the Bible does not require. There is one priestly mediator between man and God, but they have fatally convoluted this. The eternal Melchizedekan priesthood of Christ (Heb.6:20-7:21) leaves absolutely no room for any other priesthoods, priests, or sacrifices. It is all taken up in Christ. Many reject Him as King.
Some do it out of sheer disbelief and unrepentent carnal addiction. They see no need for Christ or salvation or any of that "God stuff".
But there are others who are more subtle, trying to hold on to both a carnal life and godly hope. Very often they say things like "I have a problem in this area.", or "I'm still struggling with (blank)". While this is true of most Christians - who doesn't have struggles at different times? - there comes a time when that comment becomes disingenuous.
Elisabeth Elliot confronted one person who said this, answering him, "You aren't struggling with sin. You are putting off obedience."I like that. That is strong, bitter medicine. But it has the ring of truth.
Think of this. Christ conquered sin. He conquered the world. If we are in Christ we can do all things through the one who strengthens us (Phil. 4:13). The "all things" certainly includes walking in the Spirit, loving God, loving our neighbors as ourselves, growing in grace. We work out our salvation in fear and trembling. He also makes us overcomers.
Christ is our King. He is stronger than Satan, or our sins, or the world. If we sin, it is not Satan's doing, it is our doing. Mea culpa.
At that point we are denying that Christ is King. We are denying that Christ has come into this world, saving His own. This is not the faith of a Christian; it is a different spirit altogether. See John 4:1-4.
What are some ways Christ is rejected as prophet, priest and king? In what ways have you rejected Christ in your own life? What can we learn from this passage in Hebrews?