Lesson from Hebrews: Images of Christ
By Paul Robison

 One person gave us this modern day parable: “I had put on weight and was out of shape, so a year ago I began working on my sagging waistline.  Day after day, I worked hard on cardiovascular exercise and weight training, seeming to get nowhere.  Straining. Sweating.  Sucking wind.  Questioning my sanity.  Finally, after several months, a quantum leap occurred.  Weight began to drop off.  Muscle began to get toned.  And endurance increased.  Medical friends tell me that during the constancy of working out, regardless of how I felt, a whole new freeway system of small blood vessels and capillaries was forming within my body.  Then came the day when they decided it was time for a “grand opening.”  Suddenly, more blood came flooding into the muscle tissue, and the resulting benefits seemed to be exponential.  Likewise, when we’re walking through the depths of trials, God is building up a secondary support system of endurance so that we might be even more prepared for the next time adversity comes our way (Larson and Elshof).

Is there such a thing a “flabby Christians”?  Maybe this is what the readers of Hebrews could be called.  Our reading showed how they had hanging hands and feeble knees (Hebrews 12:12-13).  Now where these readers lived and who the writer was are facts that only God knows.  But we do know from the book itself that [the readers] “had been acquainted with the gospel and had heard it preached by men who were eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life and who possessed the gifts of the Spirit (Hebrews 2:3-4). … They themselves had been staunch believers, enduring emotional and physical persecution for their new faith (10:32-34).” (Tenney).  But something happened over the years since the “former days,” and they are no longer as strong spiritually as they used to be: “At least some of the numbers were in danger of drifting from the gospel and the salvation it offers (2:1-4).  More specifically, they were in danger of hardening their hearts in unbelief, turning away from the living God, and missing out on the heavenly ‘rest’ promised by Him (3:7-4:11).  Symptomatic of this spiritual [flabbiness] was their unwillingness to progress to deeper understanding of the Christian message and its implications, together with an unwillingness to share that understanding with others (5:11-14).” (Peterson).  “… they were [growing] tired of bearing the shame of living outside the mainstream of their cultural heritage (13:13). … It is also possible that fear was a contributing motivation.  The religion of the Jews was recognized by the Romans [as a legal religion since it had such a long history]; Christianity was not [recognized, and it was viewed by the Romans as more of an illegal upstart cult]. … to return to the fold of Judaism might alleviate the threat of persecution by the state authorities.”(Carson).  Thus, “… the readers were in a state of extreme spiritual need, turning from Christ as the focal point of their faith, back to their former Jewish beliefs.  The author is attempting to [re-tone the strength of sagging muscles] through teaching, warning, and encouraging—all centered on Jesus Christ.” (Jensen). 

“All centered on Jesus Christ.”  Someone has noted that while Luke wrote to stress the universality of Christianity, the writer of Hebrews wrote to stress the superiority of it!  He wants to show that Christianity is the perfect and final religion which can never be superseded (Stott).  We’ll see this more fully as we quickly examine some of the interesting images about Christ which Hebrews provides.

The first one is found in the opening verse and shows us something of the urgency that the writer feels in trying to get his audience to focus once again on Jesus as God's Son: “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things …” This passages shows us that God revealed Himself under the old covenant through the prophets.  While most all other world religions teach that man must reach up to the gods, we see that the Bible shows us that God took the first step in reaching down and revealing Himself to man.  History is divided into the two periods—that under the old law and that under the new covenant.  In the days of the new covenant, God has spoken fully and finally through His Son Jesus.  No other prophet beyond Jesus has been promised.  Notice also that this passage affirms that Jesus has been appointed the heir of all things.  His inheritance is the most excellent name (1:4) and the church, or His disciples.  This truth is clearly seen in Hebrews 3:5-6: “And Moses indeed was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which would be spoken afterward, but Christ as a Son over His own house, whose house we are if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end.”  So what will happen if we abandon following Him?  Hebrews 10:29 gives us the sobering answer: “Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?”  “What we trample under foot we regard as completely worthless” (Hughes), and when we treat Jesus this way, we can expect a severe punishment from God.  Jesus is God's Son and Rightful Heir!


The next image is that of a King.  Note how 1:3 tells us that “when He had by Himself purged our sins, [Jesus] sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels ...”  “The underlying emphasis here is that by making purification for sins; [Jesus] has accomplished something incapable of achievement by any other being, whether angels or men. ... 'The Majesty on high' is a [reference to] God” (Bruce).  This language is indicating Christ's supremacy and rulership as the King who is at God's highest place of honor!  Another passage that shows Christ as king is seen in the question found at 1:13: “But to which of the angels has God ever said: ‘Sit at My right hand till I make Your enemies Your footstool’”?  Of course, the answer is to none of them.  This passage shows “the King's enthronement and carries with it the promise of victory over all [Jesus'] enemies” (Bruce).  “This position of royalty was never offered to an angel” (Lightfoot).  Jesus continues to reign until He will return again and will achieve final victory over all His foes!  One other passage that shows Jesus as King is found in 2:9: “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.”  Jesus' death might have appeared to be a humiliation to the Jews, but Christians see it as his exaltation where he was crowned as the eternal King over all!   Jesus is King!

 

The next image is that of Captain.  It is found in 2:10: “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 Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.”  Why does the Hebrew writer call Jesus the Captain of our salvation?  The word “captain” referred to “a commander of an army who went ahead of his men and blazed the trail for them [to follow]' (Lightfoot).  “Salvation is the state of the man who is at peace with God ... Jesus is the [Captain] who has shown [all people] the way to peace and friendship with God” (Barcaly).    “For [Jesus], that way led through suffering to glory and honor [as we saw just a moment ago in verse 9].  For [Christians], the way is not different: the route to glory is by way of suffering.  As He endured the cross for the joy that was set before Him (12:2), so His followers must be willing to accept His leadership through the vale of affliction [as they look for a more joyous reward]...” (Hughes).  The original readers at first had gladly endured suffering, but now their zeal was flagging, and they were in need of endurance.  So the writer points them to the Captain of their salvation who cut the trail for them to have peace with God.  “... [Our] suffering for [Christ] is evidence of our … devotion to Him, [to Him] who is our only Leader [and Guide]” (Hughes).  Jesus is our only Captain!


The next image is that of Apostle.  Note the wording of 3:1-2: “Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus, who was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was faithful to Him in all His house.”  Why is Jesus called an Apostle?  The word “apostle” signifies one who was sent or dispatched by another greater person.  This is what we would call an ambassador.  The Jewish Supreme court had such ambassadors to carry their decisions to Jews in all parts of the world.  The Sanhedrin said: “A king's ambassador is as the king himself.”  The rabbis also called the High Priest “the envoy of the Merciful One.”  So by using “apostle,” the Hebrew writer wants us to see that “Jesus was uniquely sent by God, and that Jesus is delegated by God to bring men both [His] power and [His] mercy ...” (Barclay)!  Jesus was the perfect embodiment of God.  Jesus is truly God's Ambassador or Apostle.

 

The next image is that of High Priest.  Of all the images in Hebrews, this is the predominant one.  About 15 times in Hebrews, we find Jesus being referred to as the High Priest.  To the writer of Hebrews, “religion was above all else man’s access to God. … It is the function of the priest to enter into the presence of God on behalf of the people.  He is their representative to do what they cannot and must not do.  In him, they enter in” (Barclay).  You undoubtedly recall that only the High Priest could enter into the Holy of Holies once a year to make atonement for the people of Israel; thus, the High Priest was the most important person in the Jewish religion for through him came forgiveness before God.  The writer of Hebrews takes great pains to demonstrate that Jesus has a superior priesthood, a superior sacrifice, and a superior covenant (ch. 7-10).  His priesthood, rooted in Melchizedek, His sacrifice, based on His own blood, and His new covenant, which touches the heart, are all permanent and everlasting!  One writer puts it this way: “God has spoken and acted finally in the person and work and covenant of Jesus Christ.  There can be no question of other ‘priests’ …, since through our great High Priest we enjoy direct access to God … There can be no question of other ‘sacrifices for sin’.  Our salvation has been achieved by His unique sacrifice.  Our sacrifices are ‘sacrifices of praise,’ [of doing good, and of sharing] (13:15-16), not ‘sacrifices for sin’ (10:18).  They express our gratitude.  They cannot … achieve our forgiveness.  Again, there can be no question of another covenant.  The ‘new’ covenant is the last covenant.  The ‘better’ covenant is the best covenant [that] will never be superseded. … The entirety of this final, perfect salvation [fills] the writer’s mind.  Christ is a priest ‘forever’ (7:21) who has made ‘one sacrifice for sins forever’ (10:12), and thus establishes an ‘eternal [or forever] covenant’ (13:20), which brings God’s people an ‘eternal salvation’ (5:9), an ‘eternal redemption’ (9:12), and an ‘eternal inheritance’ (9:15)” (Stott).  The author of Hebrews was illuminated by the Holy Spirit to teach the finality of the Christian faith so that his readers would wake up to the great new priesthood that their High Priest has inaugurated forever so that they will not remain flabby and lose heart!  Of all religions out there, we can rejoice that Christianity still offers the most direct, permanent, and compassionate access to God!  “Seeing that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:14-16)! 


The next image is that of a Surety.  Look at 7:22: “By so much more Jesus has become a Surety of a better covenant.”  The basic idea here is one of security, guarantee, or pledge.   A guarantor might be the trustee of a bank to guarantee its assets or he might be the payee of a bond for an imprisoned man.  One writer put it like this: “The old covenant was dependent on the keeping of the law.  Since God is essentially perfect and since man is essentially imperfect, this relationship always inevitably left man in default, and it necessarily thought of God in terms of law-giver and judge and of man as law-breaker and defendant.  The new relationship between God and man which Jesus brought is summed up in the word 'Father'.  That is to say, the new relationship is based on love and not on law.  In such a relationship, God is no longer thought of as the judge who must condemn; He is thought of as the Father who cannot be happy until the family circle of the children is complete.  But the almost necessary reaction to any such message is that it is too good to be true.  How can [we] believe that?  What possible guarantee have [we] that [this] is true?  [Our] guarantor of this new relationship is Jesus. ... To put it at its very simplest, Jesus is the Guarantor of the love of God.  It is through Him, and Him alone, that we know what God is like; He lived and died and showed us the heart of God; He is the [Surety] of the possibility of [our] new relationship with God, [our] relationship in which the old fear has become the new love” (Barclay).  We should remain devoted to Jesus since He is the Surety, the guarantee or pledge, of better relationship!


The next image is that of Mediator.  Hebrews 9:15 and 12:24 both affirm that Jesus is the Mediator of a new covenant.  The word “mediator” is very closely related to the word “middle”.  Thus, a mediator is literally a middleman.  The Greeks preferred the word “arbitrator”.  The arbitrator’ s role was to get two disputing parties together and try to work out an agreement before the difficulty would be presented in the law courts.  Such a mediator had to be able to fully understand and sympathize with both parties in the dispute.  He had to establish communication and work towards reconciliation.  When the parties agreed on how to resolve their conflict, we see that a new relationship was created by means of the mediator.  God and mankind were in conflict.  Jesus, understanding the natures of both parties, steps in and facilitates reconciliation of both parties through His death.  A new covenant or a new agreement between God and man came into effect at His death, and a new relationship came into existence too because access to God was now direct, not through a system of priests and animal sacrifices.  We can come boldly to God’s throne, as we previously read.  Jesus is the Mediator of a new covenant with better promises!


The next image is that of Sacrifice and Offering.  Hebrews 9:26 states that Jesus “has appeared to put away sins by the sacrifice of Himself” and 10:14 affirms: “For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.”  Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God, was the only adequate sacrifice that could pay the price for our redemption.  Also notice another lesson based on this image in 13:11-13: “For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp.”  You recall how this happened on the Day of Atonement under the old covenant.  Now note the comparison: “Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate.  Therefore, let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach.”  Being a Christian does not make one popular.  We are often considered “outside the camp” by our own culture.  After all that Jesus has done for us, let’s stand with Him and bear whatever reproach others wish to cast upon us, knowing that we are being persecuted for righteousness’ sake.  Jesus is the only sinless Sacrifice and Offering!

The next image is found in Hebrews 12:1-2: “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witness, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  Let us run our race by keeping our eyes focused on Christ, the author and finisher of our faith.  He was not only the trailblazer of our faith (the same word used translated “captain” earlier in this book) but He was the perfect example of endurance in faith until He breathed His last.  “The whole life of Jesus was characterized by [an] unbroken and unquestioning faith in His Heavenly Father, [and] it was His sheer faith in God … that carried Him through the taunting, the scourging, the crucifying. … ‘Come down from the cross, and we will believe,’ they [chided].  Had He come down, by some gesture of supernatural power, He never would have been hailed the ‘finisher or perfecter of faith’ nor would He have left any practical example for [His disciples] to follow” (Bruce).  Jesus is the Perfecter or Finisher of our faith as well!


The last image is seen in 13:20-21: “Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever.  Amen.”  The great Shepherd because all other who had been Israel’s shepherds pale into insignificance.  Just as Jesus was the unique and great High Priest, so is He the unique, and great, and comforting Shepherd.  “O flock, are you weary of your culture’s rebukes?  Remember our Shepherd!  Are you ready to throw in the towel and abandon the arena of our Christian race?  Remember our Shepherd!  Are you thinking persecution will be avoided if you return to Judaism?  Remember our Shepherd!  Jesus will not steer you wrong for He has provided an everlasting covenant and will thoroughly equip you spiritually to do the good works that are a part of God’s will.”  Through our Shepherd, the human will and divine will can be brought into harmony.  And through our Shepherd “the lifeline which connects the creature to the Creator and His eternal purposes [has been] restored” (Hughes).  “With our Shepherd, you can face the wolves!”

A sprawling, shade-bearing, eighty-year-old American elm in Oklahoma City is a huge tourist attraction.  People pose for pictures beneath it.  Arborists carefully protect it.  It adorns posters and letterheads.  The city treasures the tree, not because of its appearance, but because of its endurance.  It made it through the Oklahoma City bombing of  Timothy McVeigh.  It was buried in the rubble, and nobody expected it to survive.  No one gave any thought to the dusty, branch-stripped tree.  But then it began to bud.  Sprouts pressed through damaged bark; green leaves pushed away gray soot.  Life rose from an acre of death, and people noticed.  So they named it “The Survivor Tree.”  Dark days may behead for Christianity, just as they were for those Christians in the days of the writer of Hebrews.  May we ever run our Christian race fixing our eyes on Jesus—God’s Son, our King, our Captain, God’s Apostle, our High Priest, our Surety, our Mediator, our Faith Finisher, our Sacrifice, and our Shepherd.  Whatever bombs come our way, may we be known as “The Survivor People”.  Jesus is One of a kind, and He can help you to build that secondary system of endurance!  Won’t you renew you race and retone your spiritual flabbiness or decide right now to let this Shepherd remake you and equip you so that you can do God’s will?