Not long ago, as I was preparing to teach the book of Hebrews to our gospel doctrine class, I was struggling to fit together the message Paul wanted to convey to his Jewish brethren and to future saints. As I studied, pondered, and sought for understanding through the Spirit, I felt like I could see an overall message in Paul's letter to the Hebrews. In writing to those who are of Jewish descent and tradition, Paul desired to show them that Jesus, whom they crucified, came to bring them a better covenant; not made of outward performances and ordinances, but one which would change the very nature of the person. While this new covenant would bring greater light and blessing, it would also require greater obedience, diligence, and faithfulness. Christ would be the Great High Priest who would sacrifice himself to fulfill all of the ordinances of the physical, outward tabernacle so that all people might take the covenants inwardly and be able to pass through the veil and enter into the rest of the Lord; something that had been withheld from the common people since the days of Moses and the golden calf experience on Sinai.
Rather than come as a high priest who would hold himself aloof from the common man, as had become the custom of the high priests in the days of Jesus, he came among the people to suffer with them, be touched with the feelings of their infirmities, and then sacrifice himself to pay the price of their weaknesses so that, through faith in him, they could go forward to perfection in the kingdom of God (Hebrews 6:1-2).
Paul begins his letter by showing the Jews the nature of Jesus as the Creator, the Firstborn Son of God in the spirit, and the Only Begotten Son of God in the flesh (Hebrews 1:1-8). He was greater than the prophets who had been sent before to testify of him. He was even greater than the angels, but he condescended to be made like unto man in the flesh so that he could feel our infirmities with us, and then provide redemption for us (Hebrews 2:9-18).
God called Jesus to be the Great High Priest (Hebrews 3:1, 14) so that he could open the way back into God's presence and allow all of us to enter the rest of God. Paul cautions the Saints not to be like the Israelites who were not allowed to enter the Promised Land, or the rest of the Lord, because of the hardness of their hearts (Hebrews 3:6-19; 4:1-7). He admonishes all saints to look to Christ who is not a high priest who could not be touched with the feelings of our infirmities. He was in all points tempted but overcame the temptations which we all face. Having gained power over all temptations which we might encounter, Christ now stood in a position to provide mercy and grace that we all might come boldly before the throne of God and enter into his presence (Hebrews 4:8-16).
Paul then shows Jesus as greater than Moses or Joshua, who led the people into the Promised Land. Christ possessed a greater priesthood than that of the Levitical Order held by the priests in Israel. He was called a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek who was able to lead his people back into the very presence of God (see JST Genesis 14:25-36). Christ's priesthood did not come to him by lineage, but by ordination from God (Hebrews 5:1-10). He was a priest of a higher order than the Levitical priesthood. His was a priesthood to whom even Abraham, the father of the faithful, gave his tithes and offerings, in offering them to Melchizedek (see Hebrews 5 & 7).
Paul shows Christ as the hope that is set before us; providing an anchor to our souls that one day we will also be able to enter in to where Christ, the forerunner, has gone before us; not just into a better land, but into God’s presence (Hebrews 6:17-20). With this hope and knowledge, we are to press forward toward perfection, obeying the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ; namely faith in Jesus, repentance, baptism, laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, the resurrection, and enduring to the end by striving to live as a God would live, or in other words, live an eternal life (Hebrews 6:1-2).
Paul tells the Hebrews that the sum of all his teachings rests in the fact that we have a high priest who now sits in the heavens at the right hand of God, mediating a better covenant for all the house of Israel so that their sins will no longer be remembered (Hebrews 8:1-2, 12). Christ, the only true high priest, would not only fulfill the old covenant, but he would also establish a better covenant than contained in outward performances. He would make the way possible for all of us to enter the presence of the Lord. He would make the covenant more than something we do outwardly, but he would put it into our hearts and minds so that we could come to know him and become like him (Hebrews 8:6-13)
The first covenant contained in the physical tabernacle was insufficient to bring Israel into the presence of God, evidenced by the fact that the high priest in Israel could enter the Holy of Holies only once a year, on the day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). In this observance, the Holy Ghost was witnessing that the way back into the presence of God was not contained in the ordinances alone, but in the person of Jesus Christ who was the embodiment of the true tabernacle (Hebrews 8:2; 9:1-10).
As the Great High Priest, Christ offered himself as a sacrifice to allow him entrance into the Holy of Holies. His was a perfect sacrifice; needing only to be offered once and not year after year as the offering made by priests who stood as symbols of him. His was a one-time offering which bore the sins of all mankind and opened the way into the holy place made without hands (Hebrews 9:11-28). His redemption opened the way for all to enter (Hebrews 9:12-14). In opening the way, his blood had to be shed to seal the covenant and purge our consciences from the dead and meaningless works which some attempt to use as justification for themselves before God (Hebrews 9:15-28)
Paul teaches that the law of sacrifice was simply a shadow of the great and last sacrifice of Christ. In and of themselves those sacrifices could not cleanse us from sin but served as a reminder that we had need of an eternal sacrifice (Hebrews 10:1-5). Christ came to do the will of the Father and make himself an offering once and for all for sin. Only through this offering can man be sanctified and have their sins remembered no more (Hebrews 10:6-18). Paul admonishes the Saints on multiple occasions to come boldly to the throne of grace so that we can receive help from the Savior, and enter through the veil, that is to say his flesh, by the blood that he shed. This would be a new and living way; one by which we could draw near to the throne of God with a full assurance of faith that Christ had purified our hearts and minds to enable us to feel comfortable dwelling with God (Hebrews 10:19-23).
Paul then admonishes us to go forward and not draw back nor cast away our confidence because of the trials that we shall face or must endure (Hebrews 10:35-39). Endurance requires patience and faith that the promises will come. Faith requires that we act, based on the evidence of what has taken place, though we ourselves may not have seen. If we will exercise faith, as the prophets and patriarchs of old, we shall inherit with them in the kingdom of heaven (Hebrews 11:1-2). The first level of faith is the action that we take on what we believe. In the eleventh chapter of Paul's letter, he describes the action that people take based on what they know. This is the second level of faith, which leads one to have the power of God in their lives (Hebrews 11:3-40). These prophets, knowing the power of Jehovah and the immutability of his promises, acted in this second level faith. Though they did not receive the promises in this life, they could see them afar off and were persuaded by them, embraced them, and lived differently than others in this world, confessing that they did not fit in nor belong to this earth, and were seeking to live so that they could dwell in a far better world prepared for them by God (Hebrews 11:13-16).
Paul draws his epistle to a close by admonishing the Saints to lay aside the sins that so easily beset us and look unto Christ as the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2). When we are in the midst of temptation, we should think on Christ – the contradiction against his nature that he endured, and yet resisted, even unto blood (Hebrews 12:3-4). Focusing on the “joy that was set before him,” Christ was able to overcome all the temptations and trials that come to man through the negative effects of the Fall of Adam and Eve. In the midst of his agony, joy filled Jesus’s mind and heart as he saw his seed (Isaiah 53:10). Christ focused on the eternal joy of redemption for all mankind that His atonement would provide and gained strength to endure Gethsemane and the cross of Calvary. His triumph over temptation, sin, afflictions, and death gave him power to save all mankind who would come unto him and partake of his tender mercy through repentance and living after the manner of his life. As the ultimate, sinless example of a child of God, Christ’s victory brought to him the power and authority to open the way back to God for all Heavenly Father's children. Through the cleansing of his redeeming blood and the divine help and enabling power provided through his atonement, we too can be cleansed from sin, receive power to resist temptation, overcome the natural man, and become like our Father in Heaven, so that we can enter the rest of God.
Having been cleansed through Christ and accepting the chastening and correction which God provides to those who are his children (Hebrews 12:5-15), Paul admonishes us to come unto Mount Sion and the city of the living God, where Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant, will make all just men perfect (Hebrews 12:22-24) and provide them an unshakable kingdom (Hebrews 12:25-27). With this hope and assurance of our faith, Paul invites us to come, receive of the grace of Christ, and to live in a godly way in this world by serving God and helping our fellow man to worship Christ so that they also may enter into the rest of the Lord.