Here is a paper I wrote as a freshman in college on the Book of Hebrews. Note that my last name was Holm before I married, and note the note quite politically correct, though historically correct title – what is essential is that Jesus was fully human (and fully divine); he also happened to be a First Century Galilean Jewish man.
Christ the Man: Jesus’ Identity with Humanity and its Significance for Faith in Hebrews
Eric Holm (Lemonholm)
Introduction to Biblical Studies
Dr. David M. Scholar
April 19, 1990
The Letter to Hebrews gives two contrasting views of Jesus, his deity and his humanity. The letter’s Christological duality is echoed elsewhere in the New Testament, notably in the Gospel of John, but nowhere is it as explicit as in Hebrews. The unknown author of Hebrews takes two seemingly exclusive and contradictory natures, spirit and flesh, and synthesizes them in Jesus Christ. John tells us that “the Word [Jesus] became flesh; he came to dwell among us, and we saw his glory.”1 But why did the Christ, the Son of God, have to become a human, and was he truly human? The writer of Hebrews gives his (or her) answers to those questions, and this paper will look at his2 views on the deity and humanity of Jesus, and on his function as Savior or High Priest, in the hopes of gaining an understanding of the subject.
Hebrews stresses Jesus’ glory as the Son of God perhaps more than any other New Testament book. Jesus is greater than the angels; he has been “raised as far above the angels, as the title he has inherited is superior to theirs.”3 In addition, and maybe of more importance to the Jews at the time, Jesus “has been deemed worthy of greater honor than Moses, as the founder of a house enjoys more honor than his household.”4 Jesus is not just another prophet or lawgiver; he is far greater than that, for God “has spoken to us in the Son whom he has made heir to the whole universe, and through whom he created all orders of existence: the Son who is the effulgence of God’s splendor and the stamp of God’s very being, and sustains the universe by his word of power.”5 The author’s Christology certainly gives Jesus a very exalted position.
Jesus, however, was also fully human. He hungered, grew tired, felt emotions, cried, suffered, and died. Hebrews tells us that he was “tested in every way,”6 and “he learned obedience in the school of suffering.”7 Jesus “endured the cross, making light of its disgrace.”8 According to Hebrews (and the rest of the New Testament), Jesus, although the Son of God, was a human being in the flesh.
This leaves unanswered the question of why the humanity of the Son of God is so necessary, and why the writer to the Hebrews considered Jesus’ humanity so important for understanding the Christian faith. To deal with this question, the author introduces the idea of Christ as a high priest. Every year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest went behind the veil and into the Most Holy Place (or “the Holy of Holies”) in the temple, into the very presence of God, and he would intercede on the behalf of the people of Israel. In a complex set of rituals, he sacrificed various animals for his own sins and the people’s “sins of ignorance.”9 But this system of ritual intercession was not adequate, because “The offerings and sacrifices there prescribed could not give the worshipper inward perfection.”10 Moreover, the laws and rituals given to Moses as a part of the old covenant were not sufficient, for they did not bring God and humanity together; people were separated from the presence of God by the veil of their sins, and outward rituals could never join them. This was recognized by the prophets and by David, who wrote, “Thou hast no delight in sacrifice; if I brought thee an offering, thou wouldst not accept it, My sacrifice, 0 God, is a broken spirit; a wounded heart, 0 God, thou wilt not despise.”11 And Samuel told Saul, “Obedience is better than sacrifice, and to listen better than the fat of rams.”12 Because he recognized the limitations of the old covenant, with its laws and rituals, and its emphasis on outward rather than inward purity, Jeremiah speaks of “a new covenant,” when “I [God] will set my law within them and write it on their hearts; I will become their God and they shall become my people. No longer need they teach one another to know the Lord; all of them, high and low alike, shall know me, says the Lord, for I will forgive their wrongdoing and remember their sins no more.“13
According to Hebrews, Jesus “is the mediator of a new covenant“14 as our high priest. Jesus had to become a human, because “a consecrating priest and those whom he consecrates are all of one stock, and that is why the Son does not shrink from calling men his brothers.”15 Part of his effectiveness as high priest is that he has been through every human difficulty, through grief, pain, suffering, temptation, and death, and he overcame them. Thus, he can “sympathize with our weaknesses,” because he “has been tested in every way, only without sin.“16 Indeed, “he had to be made like these brothers of his in every way, so that he might be merciful and faithful as their high priest before God, to expiate the sins of the people.”17 Jesus was “made perfect through sufferings.”18 Throughout the New Testament, Jesus is portrayed as the suffering servant of humankind. Paul tells us: “For the divine nature was his from the first; yet he did not think to snatch at equality with God, but made himself nothing, assuming the nature of a slave. Bearing the human likeness, revealed in human shape, he humbled himself, and in obedience accepted even death-death on a cross.“19 It is interesting that Hebrews stresses Christ’s identification with humankind as much as his identity as the exalted Son of God.
Jesus is the perfect high priest, because he is “a ministrant in the real sanctuary,“20 in the presence of God in heaven. His sacrifice is better, because “the blood of his sacrifice is his own blood, not the blood of goats and calves; and thus he has entered the sanctuary once and for all and secured an eternal deliverance.“21 And “the priesthood which Jesus holds is perpetual, because he remains forever….he is always living to plead on their behalf.”22 He does not need to sacrifice for his own sins, because he is “devout, guileless, undefiled, separated from sinners, raised high above the heavens. He has no need to offer sacrifices daily.“23 Christ “has appeared once and for all at the climax of history to abolish sin once and for all by the sacrifice of himself.”24 Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, the barrier between us and God has been “torn in two from top to bottom.“25 “The blood of Jesus makes us free to enter boldly into the sanctuary by the new, living way which he has opened for us through the curtain, the way of his flesh.“26 And thus, if we “run with resolution the race for which we are entered,”27 and remain faithful to the will of God, we can enter the Most Holy Place with Christ, by the grace and mercy of a loving God. We can be with our loving Father from now through eternity.
Footnotes and Biblical References
1John 1:14, The New English Bible.
2For the sake of simplicity, I will refer to the author as a male, although his or her gender is not known.
3Hebrews 1:4. 4Heb. 3:3.
5Heb. 1:2-3a. 6Heb. 4:15. 7Heb. 5:8.
8Heb. 12:2. 9Heb. 9:7.
12 1 Samuel 15:22b.
27Heb. 12: lb.