“Ye men of Galiliee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” - Acts 1:11
Jesus had surely promised to come again, and the disciples had hoped that His return would not be long in coming. But thirty years later, no further word had come from Him or His angels about His return. In vain they scanned the heavens for some sign of their returning Lord and Saviour. Why did He not come? Why the delay?
The Church of that time in its infancy had no clear understanding of the significance of Christ's mediatorial work, or His plan for the salvation of mankind. It would involve passing centuries, even millenniums before the end would come. So easy for us to comment on that now with hind-sight, but difficult for the disciples when the promise of His return was so fresh. True, Jesus had spoken of certain events that had to transpire before His return, but His words were dimly comprehended and the believers clung to anything that seemed to promise an early return.
Jesus had also voiced the impending destruction of Jerusalem ahead of them, that they would have to endure, and He said it would happen in their generation. It would be absolutely necessary that the people be informed about the high priestly work that Jesus had gone to perform to help them through this time. A clear understanding of His work would not only help them see the reason for His delay, but it would give them an understanding that the ceremonial law and the temple services had ceased to be necessary as they had known them.
These ceremonial services had been instituted by God Himself and were considered sacred, in that there was no doubt, so only God could draw them to a close. If the life of Jesus on earth would make such huge changes to abolish their system of worship that had held for centuries, the Hebrew people must be shown that Jesus was God. So consequently, Paul was given the call from God to write the account of the deity of Christ, opening up the book of Hebrews with its beautiful truths, of which we, down at the end of time, still need its informative and valuable knowledge.
To open the book to the struggling Jews, Paul tries to bring some continuity from the past when he states, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds.” - Heb 1:1,2
This wasn't new to the Jewish people of Paul's day. God had spoken by many means in times past. In visions and dreams, in disasters and wars, in suffering and famine, by direct voice, by writing on the wall, by earthquake and fires, by the still small voice, by priest and prophet, by king and commoner, by dumb beast and by even an apostate prophet, by signs in the heavens and by calamities on earth, whatever way He chose, it was God Who spoke in these “divers manners”.
Obviously, this puts the level of communication throughout the Old Testament on a very high level. In Hebrews 1:2, God links the current communications at the writing of Hebrews, with Jesus Christ from Old Testament history. As the Son of God, One with the Father, Christ was given the gift of the creation of the worlds which means they are His by right of creation. It was through Christ that God 'made the worlds' – the One who took Adam's place and was appointed heir of all things.
The Magnificence of God
As we try to grasp the magnitude of God's creation, of the however many millions of worlds circling the throne of Deity, we get an enlarged conception of the greatness of God. Wonderful in wisdom, knowledge and power must be our God. If we can think of the significance of what this world is in relation to the whole universe, it takes on even greater proportions. “He created it not in vain, He formed it to be inhabited.” – Isa 45:18
All the worlds have been created and run by an ordered government, created not only by Him, but for Him, even more, He wanted – and still wants – to even dwell with His creation. “What is man, that thou are mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him?” – Ps 8:4. The God who made the laws of the universe, who determined the laws of nature, also made the laws governing man's mental and physical nature. He is also the same God who gave the Ten Commandments as a guide to life. It is this God, in Jesus Christ, who gave the law and required obedience to it, who was willing to abide by the conditions that He had laid down for others, and upon man's failure, to take his place and suffer the penalty that He Himself had ordained.
With these facts in mind, we can never charge God with injustice. He does not require anything which He is not willing to do Himself. This qualifies Him for being the final judge of mankind, the decider of humanity's destiny.
“Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person...” – Heb 1:3 This verse certainly brings Christ to the same magnificence as the Father. His being is in reference to His existence, eternal existence. John brings out the same intention that “In the beginning was the Word...All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made...And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” – John 1:1,3,14
He did not come into existence in the beginning. In the beginning He was. When He came to this world He became flesh. He had not previously been flesh. By way of contrast He did not become the brightness of the Father's glory, He always was. This is the essential and eternal ground for His personality. 'Brightness' can also be worded, 'outshining', 'reflection'. It has the same relation to God's glory as the rays of the sun to the sun. Rays can’t exist without the sun, nor the sun from its rays. The two are inseparable.
So with the Father and the Son. The Son reveals the Father, is the outshining of the Father. Through and in Him we see God. As when we look at the sun we see not the sun but its light so we see not the Father but the Son, God being invisible, “dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, or can see.” – I Tim 6:16 The glory of God is the total of His attributes – of His being. (Ex 33:18; 34:6,7)
But in His divine being, Christ accomplished a great work for mankind, “when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.” – Heb 1:3. These words introduce Christ as High Priest. What He did, He did by Himself, He had no helper but His Father, He trod the winepress alone. (Isa 63:3) By His atonement Christ accomplished both the cleansing of sins and the cleansing of the person from sin. The purging of sins was finished on the cross; the purification of sinners is still in progress and will not be finished till the last souls is saved.
On the cross Christ finished His work as victim and sacrifice. He shed His blood and thus provided a “fountain opened...for sin and for uncleanness.” – Zech, 19:1. But His work as intercessor was not finished on the cross; nor is it yet finished. He is still our advocate with the Father, one who is “able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he every liveth to make intercession for them.” – Heb 7:25
Christ voluntarily took our sins upon Him. Every temptation we have to meet, He met, until Satan's darts were exhausted. With no other help from God that we may have, He demonstrated that it is possible to resist sin and have constant victory over every temptation. His body temple, which Satan had attempted to defile, was spotless.
Christ Faces Gethsemane
When Christ faced Gethsemane, He sustained a different relationship to the Father from that which He has sustained before. Before-hand, He had relied on the Father's protection and care, and though severely tried, He was always conscious of the Father's love and care, but now He was to take the place of the transgressor and suffer in his stead. He was to be treated as the sinner deserves to be treated, and at last be forsaken of God, till in anguish of soul He cried out “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” – Mark 15:34
Would Christ be able to stand the ordeal? In past trials God had always come to His rescue, but now every hope and comfort must be removed. The knowledge that His sufferings would not be in vain had been a source of strength to Him. What if this incentive was taken away; what if every incentive was removed?
Gethsemane and Golgotha bear witness to both the severity and the outcome of the test Christ went though. To all appearances Christ went in the grave forsaken of God and man. He definitely did tread the winepress alone. “The Saviour could not see through the portals of the tomb. Hope did not present to Him His coming forth from the grave a conqueror, or tell Him of the Father's acceptance of the sacrifice. He feared that sin was so offensive to God that their separation was to be eternal. Christ felt the anguish which the sinner will feel when mercy shall no longer plead for the guilty race. It was the sense of sin, bringing the Father's wrath upon Him as man's substitute, that made the cup He drank so bitter and broke the heart of the Son of God.” – Desire of Ages, p.753
Christ is Victor
However, let us not for one moment think that Christ died with defeat. He died a victor. “Amid the awful darkness, apparently forsaken of God, Christ had drained the last dregs in the cup of human woe. In those dreadful hours He had relied upon the evidence of His Father's acceptance heretofore given Him. He was acquainted with the character of His Father; He understood His justice, His mercy, and His great love. By faith He rested in Him whom it had ever been His joy to obey. And as in submission He committed Himself to God, the sense of the loss of His Father's favor was withdrawn. By faith, Christ was victor.” – Ibid, p.756
Christ had demonstrated in His own body that it was possible to be completely victorious over sin; but the question would naturally arise as to whether His victory was merely a singular accomplishment made possible by His unique relationship with His Father, or whether others could do what He had done? Could mankind overcome as He had overcome?
To complete Christ's work and make it efficient for man, such a demonstration must be made. It must be shown that man can overcome as Christ overcame. The plans have long been in place – even from eternity – but the actual demonstration has been delayed. But the time has now come for the appearing of the sons of God. In the 144,000 the final demonstration will be made. They have followed – and they do follow – the Lamb whithersoever He goeth. They stand without a mediator, face death and remain true.
“When He leaves the sanctuary, darkness covers the inhabitants of the earth. In that fearful time the righteous must live in the sight of a holy God without an intercessor.” – The Great Controversy, p.614
With Job they will say, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust Him.” They fully answer Satan's accusation of having ulterior motives for doing God's will. Satan's sneering challenge will be met by the saints of the last generation. When the answer is given, Christ has at last completed His work and stands glorified in His saints, then the prophecy will be fulfilled: “Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.” – Rev 14:12
Thus there are three phases of Christ's work of atonement. In the first phase He met sin face to face and conquered. He did not fail in one instance, not one stain contaminated His pure soul. His body temple was holy, a fit place for God to dwell.
The second stage included Gethsemane and Golgotha. There the sins which He had met and conquered were placed upon Him, that He might bear them up to the cross and annul them, this being the meaning of “putting away”. – Heb 9:26
In the first phase He bore sins for the purpose of conquering them and eliminating them for life. In the second phase He bore sins for the purpose of suffering and dying for them, that in His, “death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil.” – Heb 2:14 These first and second phases of Hebrews 1:3 refer to the purging of sins.
The third phase is that Christ demonstrated that man can do what He did, with the same help He had. This part of Christ's ministry includes His work at the right hand of God, His high priestly ministry and the final display of His saints in their last struggle with Satan and their glorious victory. Then the death sentence, first pronounced in the garden of Eden will be carried out. This was made certain when Jesus repelled every advance of Satan on earth; it was doubly certain when He died on the cross, destroying death and him that had and still has the power of death, and it will at last be executed when Satan demonstrates that he has not changed, that he will kill the saints as he killed Christ, and that he does not hesitate to attack even the very city of God and God Himself. Then, finally sin and sinners will be no more and the complete end of sin will have come.
“ ‘And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.’ - Revelation 5:13
The great controversy is ended. Sin and sinners are no more. The entire universe is clean. One pulse of harmony and gladness beats through the vast creation. From Him who created all, flow life and light and gladness, throughout the realms of illimitable space. From the minutest atom to the greatest world, all things, animate and inanimate, in their unshadowed beauty and perfect joy, declare that God is love.” - The Great Controversy, p.678
Based on ‘The Book of Hebrews’ by M L Andreason, p.1-34