Purifying Sins

A key point of the Letter to Hebrews is the victory of the Son on behalf of his people, and consequently, his exaltation to the “right hand” of God as their High Priest “after the order of Melchizedek.” He secured what none of his predecessors could. Through his self-sacrificial death, he “achieved the purification of sins,” then he “sat down” in the “true and greater Tabernacle” in God’s very presence where he now intercedes for his saints.

The logic is clear. The “Son” sits on the Throne BECAUSE he achieved the “purification of sins” and dealt definitively with the sins of his people, and therefore, he was appointed as their “High Priest.” The opening declaration of the Letter anticipates its later discussions about his priesthood, the “New Covenant,” and his “better” sacrifice.

Waterfall, Ice, Rainbow - Photo by Jonatan Pie on Unsplash
[Photo by Jonatan Pie on Unsplash]

In Chapter 2, for example, the Letter describes in detail the priestly qualifications of the Son. He partook of human nature in every way, only “
apart from sin.” Through his sacrificial death, he disarmed the Devil and freed his “brethren” from bondage to the “fear of death.” In this way, he became their “faithful and sympathetic” High Priest. In Chapter 10, we read of his nonrepeatable, “once for all” sacrifice for sins - (Hebrews 2:5-18, 10:1-29).

Though the image of him sitting “at God’s right hand” is drawn from the Second Psalm, the emphasis is not on his exaltation as the Messianic King, but his appointment as High Priest – (Compare Hebrews 7:25).

It is no accident that the passage refers to the “purification of sins” rather than their forgiveness. The language reflects the Levitical system with its sacrifices that were designed to remove ritual impurities. The image of a priestly figure who “sits down” at God’s right-hand echoes the annual Day of Atonement but with a distinct difference.

Under the “former” covenant, the High Priest entered the Sanctuary only once each year on the Day of Atonement, and he NEVER “sat down or remained in the Holy of Holies for more than a brief period.

In contrast to the Levitical High Priest, the “Son” entered the true Sanctuary “once-for-all” and “sat down” where he has remained ever since interceding for his Assembly - (Leviticus 16:1-34).

This modified picture stresses the finality of his priestly act, and he will remain in his Father’s presence in the “real Tabernacle” interceding for his brethren until God again “introduces the firstborn Son into the habitable earth.

HE SAT DOWN


The term “sat down” in the opening paragraph alludes to another passage of great importance to Hebrews, once again one that is found in the Psalms. This text prophetically summoned the Messiah, the “High Priest after the order of Melchizedek,” to do this very thing:

  • Yahweh said to my Lord, SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND until I make your enemies your footstool” - (Psalm 110:1. Compare Hebrews 12:1-2).
  • We have such a high priest who SAT DOWN 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 not man” - (Hebrews 8:1-2).
  • And every priest indeed stands day by day ministering and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, the which can never put away sins. But he, when he had offered one sacrifice for sins once-for-all, SAT DOWN ON THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD - (Hebrews 10:11-12 – Emphasis added in the preceding passages).

River - Photo by Trevor Vannoy on Unsplash
[River - Photo by Trevor Vannoy on Unsplash]


The passage in Chapter 10 contrasts the position of the Levitical priests with that of the “
High Priest after the order of Melchizedek.” The ancient priests “stood” in the Sanctuary while performing their duties but Jesus “sat down” in the Greater Tabernacle “not made with hands,” namely, in the very presence of God “in the Heavens.”

The repeated animal sacrifices performed by the Levitical priests were and remain incapable of “putting away” the stain of sin or cleansing the conscience, but the one-time sacrifice of the Son did exactly that, and he did so “once-for-all.”

Especially for these reasons - the removal of sin’s stain and his intercession for his people - the “Word of the Son” is superior to and supreme over all others, surpassing even the word given “in the prophets” or mediated through “the angels” to the greatest of the prophets, Moses. To discard and abandon the “word spoken” in Jesus is, therefore, a transgression of the worst kind.



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