Thoughts from the Book of Hebrews

The disciples of Jesus stayed in Jerusalem for three and one-half years after the day of Pentecost. This period ended when Stephen was stoned. The Sanhedrin was steeped in the earthly sanctuary service and the sacrificing of animals after Jesus’ death, even after the veil of the temple was rent in two and the sacrificial lamb escaped, signifying that the sacrificial service had ended. It was about this time, following the stoning of Steven, that Paul became instrumental in the gospel story. Paul was a young and brilliant student, trained and educated in Phariseeism and in the traditions of the Jews. It appears that he had no significant contact with Jesus prior to the crucifixion.

“Prominent among the Jewish leaders who became thoroughly aroused by the success attending the proclamation of the gospel, was Saul of Tarsus. A Roman citizen by birth, Saul was nevertheless a Jew by descent and had been educated in Jerusalem by the most eminent of the rabbis. …

“Saul had taken a prominent part in the trial and conviction of Stephen, and the striking evidences of God’s presence with the martyr had led Saul to doubt the righteousness of the cause he had espoused against the followers of Jesus. His mind was deeply stirred. In his perplexity he appealed to those in whose wisdom and judgment he had full confidence. The arguments of the priests and rulers finally convinced him that Stephen was a blasphemer, that the Christ whom the martyred disciple had preached was an impostor, and that those ministering in holy office must be right.” The Acts of the Apostles, 112.

Saul had a question about what he was doing and went to the leaders of the church. He struggled with this conviction. “And having fully decided that the priests and scribes were right, Saul became very bitter in his opposition to the doctrines taught by the disciples of Jesus.” Ibid., 113.

Some of these doctrines were as follows:

  1. Jesus was the Lamb of God Who was represented by the lamb that had been sacrificed every morning and evening.
  2. Jesus was the Son of God represented by that sacrificial lamb.
  3. Jesus ratified the new covenant by His death.
  4. The sanctuary on earth was useless now that Christ had died and that no sacrifices should now be offered in the temple.
  5. Jesus rose the third day after His crucifixion, ascended to heaven that third day and opened the holy place in the sanctuary in heaven.
  6. Jesus again ascended 40 days later and was inaugurated at that time as the High Priest in the daily service of the new covenant sanctuary in heaven.
  7. The sanctuary in heaven replaced the sanctuary on earth.

These were the messages that the disciples were told to preach in Jerusalem for the next three and a half years. Because Saul heard this message and saw the success they were having as thousands were joining this new movement, he had a controversy in his mind.

He had been convinced by the church that the apostolic message had to be destroyed. “As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked. ‘I am Jesus, Whom you are persecuting,’ He replied.” Acts 9:3–5. Saul was shocked. He saw Jesus in person, in His inaugurated, glorified position in the holy place of the sanctuary in heaven.

Revelation 1:16, last part, gives a description of Jesus as High Priest. It says, “His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.” When you look at the sun too long, you become blinded. Saul could not turn his eyes from Jesus and he went temporarily blind. “But Saul understood the words that were spoken, and to him was clearly revealed the One who spoke—even the Son of God. In the glorious Being who stood before him he saw the Crucified One. Upon the soul of the stricken Jew the image of the Saviour’s countenance was imprinted forever.” The Acts of the Apostles, 115.

Paul never forgot what he saw on the road to Damascus. He now understood the terrible condition of the Sanhedrin and the Jewish nation in their misapplication of Scripture, the rejection and crucifixion of the Messiah, the persecution of the true church and the disciples. And most importantly he saw their rejection of the new covenant—the plan of redemption. He was overwhelmed with the thought that his friends in the Sanhedrin were doomed to destruction. He now knew that the sacrifices they were offering every morning and evening were useless and they were deceiving themselves thinking that they were serving the God of heaven by offering those sacrifices.

The theme throughout the book of Hebrews, written to the Jews, concerns Christ and the sanctuary in heaven. Paul is elevating Jesus in the eyes of the Jews—helping them to see that Jesus was the true Son of God. The phrase in Hebrews 1:6, “Let all God’s angels worship Him” had been recently spoken by God the Father in His inauguration in heaven, as related in The Desire of Ages, 834: “The voice of God is heard proclaiming that justice is satisfied. Satan is vanquished. … The Father’s arms encircle His Son, and the word is given, ‘Let all the angels of God worship Him’ (Hebrews 1:6).”

“But we do see Jesus, Who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because He suffered death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.” Hebrews 2:9. Paul is trying to show that Jesus was the One promised to Adam to atone for their sins, to give them power to overcome the devil, to provide eternal salvation and to free them from the judgment of eternal death. Jesus had to become a human being so that by His death He might destroy Satan who holds the power of death.

“In the Saviour’s expiring cry, ‘It is finished’ (John 19:30), the death knell of Satan was rung. The great controversy which had been so long in progress was then decided, and the final eradication of evil was made certain. The Son of God passed through the portals of the tomb, that ‘through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil’ (Hebrews 2:14).” The Great Controversy, 503.

Paul informs the Jews that the One they persecuted was their Saviour. In chapters 2 and 3 of Hebrews Paul shows the reality of Jesus—that the disciples saw Him ascend to heaven and that he saw Jesus serving as High Priest. If they believed in Moses then they needed to believe more in Jesus because He has received greater honor than Moses. Paul was doing his best to present Jesus Christ to them to save them from eternal death.

He continues in chapter 4:14–16: “Therefore, since we have a great high priest Who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest Who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have One Who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet He did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

What a hope! We have a High Priest Who is living in heaven—Jesus, the One you crucified. We are holding firmly to this faith. He is without sin and He can represent us in the heavenly courts. Paul presented Christ as our mediator Who is in heaven and Who understands our infirmities. Let us approach Him with confidence. He explains that you do not need to go through that sacrificial lamb every morning and evening like you are doing. Go to Jesus in the holy place in the sanctuary in heaven with confidence that Jesus will free you from sin.

In Hebrews 5 Paul tells the Jews that Jesus had to take humanity upon Him and experience our suffering. Because He suffered faithfully, under reverent submission, no sin was found in Him. He learned obedience and through that obedience, He was made perfect. Being made perfect He became the Source of eternal salvation for all who obey. God appointed Jesus to be priest in heaven. Jesus has offered the sacrifice of Himself, has ascended to heaven, and is our High Priest forever “in the order of Melchizedek.”

“Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of His purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, He confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged.” Hebrews 6:17, 18. God has offered by an oath His commitment to the plan of salvation and we can trust God the Father because He never lies. This oath was pronounced to Abraham. In Patriarchs and Prophets, 371, Ellen White explains as follows: “The Abrahamic covenant was ratified by the blood of Christ, and it is called the ‘second’ or ‘new’ covenant, because the blood by which it was sealed was shed after the blood of the first covenant. That the new covenant was valid in the days of Abraham is evident from the fact that it was then confirmed both by the promise and by the oath of God—the ‘two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie’ (Hebrews 6:18).”

Paul tells the Jews that this covenant in which they profess to have salvation, the Abrahamic covenant, is actually Christ’s ministration in the holy place of the heavenly sanctuary because He was the Lamb that was slain.

In verse 19 he says, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain …” Our hope is in the ministry of Jesus in the holy place “… where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” Verse 20.

There was no question that they understood the ministry of Jesus in the holy place of the heavenly sanctuary. The apostolic church had no question about the sanctuary in heaven. Had they clung to the truth that Jesus is our high priest, we would not be in the problem we are in today; but because they allowed that message to become obscure, and because the Roman church covered it up by setting the pope as the head of the church, instructing people to confess their sins to the priest, the role of Jesus has been replaced by an earthly priest, wiping out the message of the apostolic church. Daniel 8:14 had to be proclaimed because this message will be restored in the Second Advent Movement, in which the sanctuary message will become just as prominent as Paul’s message is in the book of Hebrews. “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” Verse 19.

Jesus is still that High Priest today. He is no longer ministering in the holy place, but in the most holy place in the heavenly sanctuary. Those who enter into His ministry in the most holy place as the apostolic church entered into His ministry in the holy place will find eternal life.

Paul builds the case stronger for the truth. “And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, One who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to His ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life.” Hebrews 7:15, 16. In other words, it is not based on the ancestry of the priests in the earthly sanctuary. “For it is declared: ‘You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.’ ” Verse 17. One has been found like Melchizedek Who is a permanent priest forever. We can believe in Jesus and accept Him for He meets the Melchizedek requirements.

Paul goes on to say in verse 21: “… but He [Christ] became a priest with an oath when God said to Him: ‘The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: “You are a priest forever.” ’ ” He is an anchor for us today. Those who cling to Jesus and His ministry in the most holy place have an anchor that keeps the soul steadfast and sure during the storms around us.

“Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant. Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, He has a permanent priesthood. Therefore He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them. Such a high priest truly meets our need—One Who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, He does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for His own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when He offered Himself.” Verses 22–27. He is the One that died on the cross and He has His offering, His blood, forever.

Hebrews 8:1, 2, a continuation of the thought at the conclusion of chapter 7, says, “Now the main point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, Who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and Who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by a mere human being.” Paul confirms to these leaders in Jerusalem, the Sanhedrin, that we do have a High Priest and He is ministering today in the sanctuary in heaven.

“Turning again to the book of Hebrews, the seekers for truth found that the existence of a second, or new-covenant sanctuary, was implied in the words of Paul already quoted: ‘Then verily the first covenant [ministration] had also ordinances of divine service, and a worldly sanctuary.’ And the use of the word ‘also’ intimates that Paul has before made mention of this sanctuary. Turning back to the beginning of the previous chapter, they read: ‘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’ (Hebrews 8:1, 2).” The Great Controversy, 413. [Emphasis author’s.]

Then is made this interesting statement: “Here is revealed the sanctuary of the new covenant [the sanctuary in heaven]. The sanctuary of the first covenant [the earthly] was pitched by man, built by Moses; this is pitched by the Lord, not by man. In that sanctuary the earthly priests performed their service; in this, Christ, our great High Priest, ministers at God’s right hand. One sanctuary was on earth, the other is in heaven.” Ibid.

Paul openly contrasts the purpose of the sanctuary on earth with the one in heaven. He says that since Christ has died as the Lamb of God, the earthly sanctuary is now useless—no more to be used.

“By calling this covenant ‘new,’ He has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.” Hebrews 8:13.

In “Ellen G. White Comments,” The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 7, 932, she says, “Christ’s death and resurrection completed His covenant. Before this time, it was revealed through types and shadows [the earthly sanctuary], which pointed to the great offering to be made by the world’s Redeemer, offered in promise for the sins of the world. … Christ’s sacrifice is the glorious fulfillment of the whole Jewish economy. The Sun of Righteousness has risen. Christ our righteousness is shining in brightness upon us.”

“When the Jews sealed their rejection of Christ by delivering Him to death, they rejected all that gave significance to the temple and its services. Its sacredness had departed. It was doomed to destruction. From that day sacrificial offerings and the service connected with them were meaningless. Like the offering of Cain, they did not express faith in the Saviour. … and that the system of sacrificial offerings was forever at an end.” The Desire of Ages, 165. To reject the new covenant sanctuary in heaven is to reject the plan of salvation.

In Hebrews 9:1, 2, Paul states: “Now the first covenant [ministration] had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary. A tabernacle was set up. In its first room were the lampstand and the table with its consecrated bread; this was called the Holy Place.” Here Paul simply points back to the earthly sanctuary stating that this is what represented the sanctuary of the new covenant in heaven. Now that Jesus has paid the price and opened the sanctuary in heaven, we do not need this type anymore. Over and over again he emphasizes the uselessness of the sanctuary service in the earthly temple.

The Great Controversy, 411, states: “The sanctuary to which Paul here refers was the tabernacle built by Moses at the command of God as the earthly dwelling place of the Most High. ‘Let them make Me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them’ (Exodus 25:8).”

“But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, He went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but He entered the Most Holy Place once for all by His own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.” Hebrews 9:11, 12. Paul did not intimate that everything was done at the cross. He continually pointed them to Jesus and His ministry in the holy place as part of their salvation.

In Hebrews 9:14, we are told: “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, Who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” Paul’s appeal is to get rid of sin and false teachings and come to Christ to be cleansed through His atoning blood.

“For this reason [that we might get rid of our sins in verse 14] Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance.” Verse 15.

“Christ is the mediator of the new covenant” that we might be free from sin and receive eternal life. This is the gospel in one verse.

“It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices [animal sacrifices], but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these [the blood of Christ].” Verse 23.

“In Hebrews 9 the cleansing of both the earthly and the heavenly sanctuary is plainly taught. ‘Almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission. It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens [the earthly sanctuary] should be purified with these [the blood of animals]; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these’ (Hebrews 9:22, 23), even the precious blood of Christ.” The Great Controversy, 417. Paul tells his Hebrew friends that it was Jesus that they crucified and Who provided this blood to open the heavenly sanctuary. He pleads for them to give their hearts to Him and to forget their useless sacrifices—eternal life is in the message He is giving.

“For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; He entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.” Hebrews 9:24. Paul could have gone on to say that he saw Jesus there.

“The ceremonial law was given by Christ. Even after it was no longer to be observed, Paul presented it before the Jews in its true position and value, showing its place in the plan of redemption and its relation to the work of Christ; and the great apostle pronounces this law glorious, worthy of its divine Originator. The solemn service of the sanctuary typified the grand truths that were to be revealed through successive generations.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 367.

That was the purpose of the earthly sanctuary, which has now been fulfilled.

“Nor did He enter heaven to offer Himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But He has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” Hebrews 9:25.

Paul says that Jesus has now appeared and we have crucified Him. “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him.” Verses 27, 28.

Jesus is not coming the second time to bear sin or to take away your sin. Your sin and my sin must be confessed before that or we will be lost.

Paul then makes his conclusions and appeal in Hebrews 12:22–24: “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”

Paul states that Jesus has come to open the sanctuary in heaven. You have been presented this message—come, join us and enter into the city of God, the New Jerusalem.

After his presentation throughout the book of Hebrews of Christ and of His work in the sanctuary in heaven, Paul makes his appeal in verse 25, where he says, “See to it that you do not refuse Him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused Him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from Him who warns us from heaven?”

If we fail to heed the warnings of the prophets in the Old Testament, are we not even more guilty if we turn from God’s warnings that come directly from heaven?

“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire.’ ” Verses 28, 29.

In his letter to the Hebrews, Paul presented an appeal to accept Jesus as the High Priest of the sanctuary in heaven. Jesus is the only One Who can take the confession of sin and atone with His blood and separate it from the sinner.

The following statements appeal to the Second Advent: “… the third angel was pointing them to the most holy place, and those who had had an experience in the past messages were pointing them the way to the heavenly sanctuary.” We see here that Ellen White had the essence of the whole second advent movement—the true disciples pointing everyone to the heavenly sanctuary. “Many saw the perfect chain of truth in the angels’ messages, and gladly received them in their order, and followed Jesus by faith into the heavenly sanctuary. These messages were represented to me as an anchor to the people of God.” Early Writings, 256.

Just as the Jews could turn to Jesus in the holy place and receive forgiveness of their sins, so we today can go to Jesus in the most holy place and there confess our sins and find an Anchor to sustain us through the latter rain experience. This is the only place where our Anchor is. The third angel’s message that does not include this truth of Jesus’ role as our high priest is a false message, just as false as the Jewish sacrificial service after the crucifixion.

“Those who understand and receive them [the three angels’ messages] will be kept from being swept away by the many delusions of Satan.” Ibid.

Jesus is ministering in the most holy place and all who seek Him there will find in Him One Who can give power to separate from sin right now. When the Holy Spirit convicts of sin, deal with it immediately. Jesus will give you the power to do it and then you will be ready to receive the Holy Spirit when the latter rain falls.

(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New International Version.)

Maurice Hoppe is Director of the Steps to Life training programs and a member of the Steps to Life Board. The Training Program for Ministers and Church Leaders is a correspondence course that prepares individuals to serve as pastors or Bible workers. Preparing for the Final Conflict is a correspondence course for the laity. Both of these courses teach present truth that will be an anchor for the soul during the storm of opposition and persecution just ahead. He and his wife also have a correspondence course offered through Revelation Ministry. He can be contacted at: