How Christ is superior to Old Testament figures
In the book of Hebrews, the author (most likely Barnabus) methodically illustrates the superiority of Christ- the superiority of His power, authority, and sacrifice- as opposed to the superiority of lesser figures such as angels, Moses, and the Aaronic priests. The author clearly demonstrates that Christ does not fit the role of a mere teacher or angel, but rather that of the one and only Son of God through whom salvation is delivered. Therefore, the conclusion given is complete allegiance to Christ- mind, body and soul. This is not a human being suggesting yearly sacrifices to His name in exchange for blessings- this is God, sacrificing Himself and letting each human being decide if that sacrifice is worthy of their worship.
The theme of Christ’s superiority is first supported by the use of Old Testament references to establish His superiority over angels- before and after a warning to take heed of the fact that all is subject to Jesus Christ, including the angels. With scripture the position of Christ is established: “You are my Son,” “God’s angels worship him,” “your God has set you above your companions,” “You remain the same, and your years will never end (Hebrews 1:5-12).” He is described as being worshipped by angels, and having a throne that will last eternally, and Christ is the Creator and the Omega- therefore mere angels pale in comparison. The author then explains why such a superior being would lower himself to the level of a human being: “so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone (Hebrews 2:9).”
Barnabus then tackles the man who brought the law to Israel: Moses. He first acknowledges Moses as having been faithful to God in leading his people out of bondage, and then establishes the supremacy of Christ as “worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself (Hebrews 3:3).” Finally Barnabus uses the example of the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness as a result of the idol worship to remind believers that God swore that those with unbelieving hearts “would never enter his rest (3:18).”
The Aaronic priests came from the line of Aaron, who spoke for Moses and supported him in battle. However, Aaron was imperfect- he encouraged the people to complain about Moses' leadership, and he helped build the golden calf and therefore was forbidden to enter the Promised Land. The author clearly differentiates Christ from this priesthood (and its corrupt practices in 25 A.D.) by putting Christ in the order of Melchizedek, the king who worshipped the one true God and who blessed Abram before he became Abraham (Genesis 14:18). In chapter 7 the priest Melchizedek is shown to be superior to that of Aaron, even though Aaron can trace his lineage back to Levi: “One might even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor (Hebrews 7:9-10).” What happened in Genesis 14:18 is that after Melchizedek blessed Abraham, Abe gave Melchizedek one tenth of everything he owned. The difference in order of the priesthood is explained by the author as necessary due to the change of the law. Instead of needing lineage, Christ becomes the priest “on the basis of the power of an indestructible life (Hebrews 7:16).” While both were called by God to the priesthood, Barnabus then confirms that Jesus is “the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him (Hebrews 5:9)” because this priest is not required to make sacrifices for his own sins, or daily sacrifices for others, due to his redeeming self-sacrifice (Hebrews 7:27).
How Christ's work as high priest is superior to the old covenant
The superiority of the work of Christ as the High Priest of humanity to that of the Old Covenant is introduced first with the oath of God: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: You are a priest forever (Hebrews 7:21).” The author then clearly states that “Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant (7:22),” and he explains that “the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises (Hebrews 8:6).” The old covenant was found to be imperfect and was declared obsolete, and the author even quotes the prophet Jeremiah, explaining how the new covenant differs from the old: there will be an inner knowledge of God’s will, God will have an intimate relationship with all people, and God will forgive the sins of the people, without remembrance of their past transgressions.
The theme of the priesthood of Christ is developed further with the discussion of the earthly place of worship, and the Most Holy Place. Whereas before it had been necessary for the high priest to enter the Holy of Holies with blood offered both for himself and for the sins of the people, Christ entered by his own blood, and “for this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenanat... he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant (Hebrews 9:15).” In addition, the sacrifice of Christ was needed only once to cleanse believers of their sins- “once and for all (Hebrews 10:10),” as opposed to the other priests who offer “the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins (10:11).”
Keeping the superiority of this new High Priest and His new covenant in mind, the readers of Hebrew are implored upon to “draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience (10:22).” This then leads to an explanation of what faith is and how important it is. The author first defines faith as “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1)” and then he methodically describes how the faith of various figures from the Old Testament, from Abel to the prophets, enabled them to do God’s will, even though many of them suffered. He then explains that these examples of faith and perseverance should provide hope and encouragement for believers who might experience persecution for their faith: “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart (Hebrews 12:3).” Believers are then likened to sons who need discipline from their father in the form of suffering and persecution that “produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it (12:11).” Finally, believers are told to ensure that “no one misses the grace of God (12:15)” by living an unholy life, which would not be a good witness to their faith in God and His new covenant. The author then restates the superiority of the new covenant and couples it with an exhortation to keep their faith: “You have come... to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word... See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks (12:23-25).”
Throughout Hebrews the theme of the superiority of Christ and His sacrifice as the High Priest is established first by comparing the power, authority, and sacrifice of Christ with that of the angels, Moses, and the Aaronic priests. Some might say this was directed towards Jewish believers who still held angels in high regard, as well as Moses, and who legalistically followed every law established by the priests. The author generously used verses from the Talmud to back his words up, and then he moves on to the work of Christ as High Priest. This again is backed up with verses from the Talmud, and then progresses to the reaction of those who hear of this new covenant- to continue to believe and act in a way which is pleasing to God.
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see Romans 8 for an exegesis of Romans 8:1-17