As stated at the beginning of Part I of this article, the Book of Hebrews contains a lot of information in an area to which we need to give a little thought. This article will address the Christology of the Book of Hebrews, the Christology of the apostle Paul in Hebrews. When you think of the word Christology, you think of theology—theos is God; logos is wisdom and knowledge. Hence, theology is the knowledge of God. We use that to talk about the nature of God and the work of God. Christology is the nature of Christ and the work of Christ.
Hebrews is the treatise on Christology given to us by the apostle Paul, and it is unique; it is different from the others. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we have what you could call a Christology by narration. John shifts the emphasis quite a bit toward what Jesus said, so we would call that a Christology by quotation. In Hebrews, Paul gives a Christology by comparison.
In Part I, we had worked our way through Hebrews to the seventh chapter.
In Hebrews 7:10, 11, and going on from there, Paul talks about the Levitical priesthood. This discussion of the Levites finishes out chapter 7, and we have here that Christ is greater than the Levites. This is the next comparison.
Verse 22 introduces a subject that Paul enlarges upon later: “By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament.” Some people say that the word, better, is the key word in Hebrews. Jesus is better all the way through—better testimony, better covenant.
Hebrews 8:6 begins talking about the better covenant: “But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.”
What are the better promises? The better promises of God. In the first covenant, the promises of the people figured largely, but in the new covenant are the promises of God. This is enlarged upon all the way through chapter 8.
Let us return, though, to the first few verses of chapter 8, because here we find that there is a better sanctuary. You see, after comparing Christ with prophets, Christ with angels, Christ with Moses, Christ with Aaron, Christ with Abraham, and Christ with Levites, Paul now compares the covenants and the sanctuary.
“Now of the things which we have spoken [this is] the sum: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; A minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man.” Verses 1, 2. The better sanctuary! If Paul could only get the people to accept all of these things, they would not be disturbed at all when the temple is destroyed.
The discussion of the better sanctuary picks up again in chapter 9. “Then verily the first [covenant] had also ordinances of divine service, and a worldly sanctuary.” Verse 1. The sanctuary is then described. This is all very interesting and very valuable, but we have the picture that Paul is comparing the two covenants; he is comparing the two sanctuaries; and now he is comparing the two dedications.
The two dedications—the earthly sanctuary dedication—and the heavenly sanctuary dedication are now compared.
“For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” Hebrews 9:13, 14. Paul again enlarges upon this subject, and then, in verses 21 and 22, he states:
“Moreover he” (that is, Moses) “sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle, and all the vessels of the ministry. And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.”
But now, notice the change.
“[It was] therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these;” (that is, the earth purified with these) but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.” Verse 23.
So, he says that a dedication ceremony was conducted when the earthly tabernacle was finally built and in order, but had never been used. During this dedication ceremony, Moses sprinkled the Ark of the Covenant and all the things that were there with the blood of dedication, but Paul states that the one in heaven was sprinkled with the blood of Jesus Christ.
Ellen White wrote on that a statement, which has been misunderstood by some, when she said, “Still bearing humanity, he ascended to heaven, triumphant and victorious. He has taken the blood of his atonement into the holiest of all, sprinkled it upon the mercy-seat and his own garments.” The Youth’s Instructor, July 25, 1901. Some people have not recognized that that was the dedication.
Beginning with verse 24, Paul settles in for his long comparison of the two sacrifices: “For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, [which are] the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.”
Paul’s emphasis has been on quality. Christ is greater. Christ is higher. Christ is better. Christ is more glorious. Now he compares the two sacrifices and points out, over and over again, one particular thing: the sacrifices made on earth had to be done repeatedly, but the sacrifice of Christ was so much greater, it only had to be done once.
This will be shown several times as we go through the next few verses, beginning with verse 25: “Nor yet that he should offer himself often, . . . ”—not often. If we were making a comparison list of the earthly and the heavenly, on the first entry under the heavenly caption would be “not often.”
“ . . . as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year” (on the earthly side, you would put, “every year”) “with the blood of others; For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world:” (and there is the second “not often” referring to the heavenly) “but now once” (there is the third reference—once, but not often) “in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once” (here again, this is another “once”) ‘‘offered to bear the sins of many.” Verses 25–28.
The same thing continues in chapter 10:
“For the law having a shadow of good things to come, [and] not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually” (put that on your list under earthly) “make the comers thereunto perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins. But in those [sacrifices there is] a remembrance again [made] of sins every year.” Verses 1–3. (On the earthly side, put “every year.”)
More of this type of thing continues all the way through to verse 11: “And every priest standeth daily” (put “daily” under the earthly column) “ministering and offering oftentimes” (put “oftentimes” under the earthly column) “the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever,” (put “one forever” on the heavenly side) “sat down on the right hand of God; From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” Verses 11–14.
Do you see what Paul is telling us here? He is reinforcing, over and over and over again, that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is infinitely greater, infinitely better than the sacrifice of animals. He says that the animals could not of themselves take away sin; they are symbols of the greater.
The remainder of the Book of Hebrews is on practical godliness. Although it is wonderfully rich material, we will leave it for another time.
Is the apostle Paul’s message of Christology clearer now? Let us review the ten things he has compared:
- Christ and prophets. Christ is greater than the prophets.
- Christ and angels. Christ is higher and greater than the angels.
- Christ and Moses. Christ is greater and higher than Moses.
- Christ and Aaron. Christ is greater than Aaron.
- Christ and Abraham. Christ is greater than Abraham.
- Christ and the Levites. Christ is greater than the Levites.
Paul then compares:
- the two covenants,
- the two sanctuaries,
- and finally the two sacrifices.
- He also compares the two dedications in the sanctuaries.
With these ten comparisons, Paul tries to prepare the Hebrew’s mind, knowing that when the Hebrew would bow in the early morning for his morning worship, in his mind he would be thinking that at this moment, or sometime near this moment, in that glorious temple in Jerusalem, “A priest is sacrificing a lamb to cover my sins.”
Now, the Hebrew is going to bow down in his early morning worship, but there is not going to be a lamb in the temple. What emptiness! And the same thing will happen when it is time for his evening worship. As he bows in his home for his evening worship, his mind goes to the fact that there in that glorious temple, at this hour, a priest is sacrificing a lamb for his sins. But now there is not a priest; there is not a lamb; there is not a temple. What an awful emptiness the Hebrew could experience!
But if Paul has managed to persuade the Hebrews of what he is telling them, if they have internalized this and really taken it into their systems, they are not concerned about it at all, because Jesus Christ is still there. He is the greatest sacrifice of all.
They do not need to look around for a Levite, and be disturbed because they cannot find any Levites.
They do not need to look around for a priest and be disturbed because they cannot find any priests, because the greatest Priest of all is there.
Oh, there are so many places where we could compare the Hebrews’ situation with our modern situation!
Let us look to the Spirit of Prophecy and see the richness of Ellen White’s understanding of the writings of the apostle Paul, as well as her understanding of everything else in the Bible.
Ellen White makes reference to the atonement, using the phrase, “made atonement,” at least 11 times. Read these:
“He [Christ] bore the curse of the law for the sinner, made an atonement for him, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish.” God’s Amazing Grace, 177.
The apostle Peter, commenting on the writings of the apostle Paul, said, “There are some people who wrest them to their own destruction.” (11 Peter 3:16.) Here are some passages from Ellen White’s writings that some people “wrest to their own destruction.” That will become clear as we proceed.
“He [Christ] has made an atonement for us.” In Heavenly Places, 71.
“Christ has made an atonement for the sins of the whole world.” Lift Him Up, 235.
“Christ has made an atonement for you.” Medical Ministry, 44.
“Christ has made atonement for every sinner.” “Ellen G. White Comments,” Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 4, 1178.
“Jesus has made atonement for all sins.” Ibid., vol. 5, 1145.
“He [Christ] made an atonement.” That I May Know Him, 100.
“On the cross of Christ the Saviour made an atonement for the fallen race.” The Signs of the Times, December 17, 1902.
Notice in this next quote a combination thought, making and made in one paragraph. There before the throne of God, “He [Christ] is making intercession for those who by faith come to God. He presents them to the Father, saying, ‘By the marks of the nails in My hands, I claim pardon for them. I have made an atonement for them.’ ” Ibid., December 30, 1903. [Emphasis added.] Christ is making atonement while, He says, “I have made atonement.” Now, hold that in your mind as we go along. Do not wrest this.
“Jesus . . . made an atonement for us.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 14, 81.
“He [Christ] has made an atonement for sin.” Battle Creek Letters, 56.
Quality of the Atonement
Next, we have the phrase, “full atonement.” Ellen White is talking about the quality of that atonement, as was Paul.
“Christ made a full atonement.” Lift Him Up, 345.
“How full the atonement of the Saviour . . . .” Testimonies, vol. 4, 124.
“The precious blood of Christ was of such value that a full atonement was made for the guilty soul, and this was to Paul his ‘glory.’ ” The Signs of the Times, November 24, 1890.
“For which He [Son of God] had now made a full atonement.” The Youth’s Instructor, May 2, 1901.
Then, Mrs. White uses the word, complete, incorporating it into the phrase, “complete atonement.”
“God has accepted the offering of His Son as a complete atonement for the sins of the world.” The Faith I Live By, 91.
“In the wisdom of God it [the atonement] was complete.” The Signs of the Times, December 30, 1889.
“In every part his sacrifice was perfect; for he could make a complete atonement for sin.” The Youth’s Instructor, June 14, 1900.
“We are to rejoice that the atonement is complete.” Review and Herald, November 11, 1890.
“His [Christ] atonement was complete in every part.” The Signs of the Times, July 31, 1901.
“[Christ] offered in man’s behalf a complete sacrifice to God. By virtue of this atonement, He has power to offer to man perfect righteousness and full salvation.” The Faith I Live By, 50.
“He [Christ] planted the cross between Heaven and earth [watch this], and when the Father beheld the sacrifice of His Son, He [the Father] bowed before it in recognition of its perfection. ‘It is enough,’ He [the Father] said. ‘The Atonement is complete.’ ” Review and Herald, September 24, 1901.
“A perfect atonement was made.” Lift Him Up, 319.
“Then a perfect atonement was made.” That I May Know Him, 73.
Atonement for Us
Then we will look at present tense phrases: “Our great High Priest is making the atonement for us.” The Great Controversy, 623.
Right here is where the Calvinist begins to scream, “No, no, no! You are belittling the cross of Jesus Christ. It was all done on the cross.” No, it was not! Christ is now making an atonement for us.
“Today He [Christ] is making an atonement for us before the Father.” “Ellen G. White Comments,” Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 7-A, 481.
“Our Mediator stands before the mercy-seat making an atonement for his people.” Review and Herald, May 6, 1884.
“Jesus is engaged in a special work in our behalf, making an atonement for us.” Ibid., November 24, 1885.
“He is making an atonement for his people.” Ibid., April 8, 1890.
“Christ is in the heavenly sanctuary. And what is He doing? Making atonement for us. . . . He will make an atonement for all who will come with confession.” The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, vol. 1, 127.
We now come to a difference. These things that we have just read have been seized upon by the Calvinists among us and by the Calvinists that are not among us. The Calvinists who are not among us rage at them; the Calvinists who are among us are embarrassed by them, because of the argument of the Calvinists that it was all done on the cross, which is totally unscriptural. But here we find Ellen White’s superior knowledge clearly revealed to us. The richness of her understanding—her total grasp of the theology, the Christology—of the situation, because we have a new phrase introduced: “final atonement.”
“So in the great day of final atonement and investigative judgment . . . .” The Great Controversy, 480.
“The blood of Christ, while it was to release the repentant sinner from the condemnation of the law, was not to cancel the sin; it would stand on record in the sanctuary until the final atonement.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 357.
If we read through the first 15 chapters of Leviticus, we will find 18 statements where it says that the sinner comes and an atonement is made. In 8 of those 18 statements, the words are added, “the sin is forgiven.” Then, in the sixteenth chapter, we read about the great day of atonement. Five verses there tell us that those very same people must have an atonement made for them on the great day of atonement. That is the final atonement. Those who argue that there is no final atonement simply are not following Scripture.
“His [Christ] work as high priest completes the divine plan of redemption by making the final atonement for sin.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 10, 157.
“As the priests in the earthly Sanctuary entered the Most Holy once a year to cleanse the Sanctuary, Jesus entered the Most Holy of the heavenly, at the end of the 2300 days of Daniel 8, in 1844, to make a final atonement for all who could be benefited by his mediation, and to cleanse the Sanctuary.” Spiritual Gifts, vol. 1, 162.
Ellen White understood the apostle Paul very, very well. She understood the whole Bible very, very well. This understanding came not because she was so brilliant, not because of her own abilities, but because the Holy Spirit led and guided her. Ellen White is telling us the truth of this whole message.
The apostle Paul’s message was given to turn the people’s attention away from buildings. Do not fasten your faith to a building. That building may be swept away someday.
Do not fasten your faith to a priesthood, a ministry. That priesthood may be gone someday.
Do not fasten your faith to the sacrifice of lambs and bullocks and goats; that all ended one day.
Fasten your faith to the One who never changes. He always will be there.
If we understand correctly those things that are written for our instruction and guidance, we recognize that there is likely to come a time for every single one of us when all earthly supports will be gone. It is going to boil down to the same experience that came to Joseph and Daniel. We must come to the place where we look realistically at the situation and say, “I am down here, and my Lord Jesus Christ is up there. That is all there is, but that is enough.”
Our great High Priest is standing before the throne of God, and we know that He is never going to leave that job until that job is done. He is always there, always doing His work, and He will do it until His work is totally finished. We have nothing to fear, except our human weakness and our human inabilities, and the Lord can take care of that, if we will let Him.
Dr. Ralph Larson has completed forty years of services to the Seventh-day Adventist Church, as pastor, evangelist, departmental secretary, and college and seminary teacher. His last assignment before retiring was chairman of the Church and Ministry Department of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary Far East. His graduate degrees were earned from Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, and Andover-Newton Theological Seminary in Boston, Massachusetts. He now lives in Cherry Valley, California. His evangelistic sermons have resulted in more than five thousand persons being baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist Church.