Jesus is our priest, our atoning sacrifice—and our brother? In this episode, join Tim, Jon, and special guest the Rev. Amy Peeler, Ph.D., as they discuss the book of Hebrews and how the many characteristics of God found in this epistle set him apart as wholly other and also form our identities as his followers.
As a teenager, Hebrews scared me. We might think of [Jonathan] Edwards, “It’s a fearful thing to fall into the hands of a living God”––that’s Hebrews. “Our God is a consuming fire”––that’s Hebrews. Why I appreciate those statements is that Hebrews never backs away from the sovereignty, the holiness, even the judgment of God. … If you have that picture of God’s distance, then you have to ask the question, “Well, how can I bridge that distance?” … You long for, you have this knowledge that there is a gap to be filled. And that’s where the story of Jesus comes in.
In part one (0:00-13:15), Tim and Jon kick off their interview with the Rev. Dr. Amy Peeler about her study of the book of Hebrews as it relates to our series on priests.
Amy’s doctoral dissertation, published and available for purchase as You Are My Son: The Family of God in the Epistle to the Hebrews, was originally birthed from her study of Hebew Bible (Old Testament) quotations throughout the epistle to the Hebrews. Unlike Paul, who often cites the Hebrew Bible as “that which was written,” the author of Hebrews refers to it as “that which is spoken,” with God as the speaker in question. In a culture where persuasive speech was considered the height of intellectual power, the author refuses to state his own identity and puts the spotlight on the voice of God.
In her book, Amy focuses on the author of Hebrews identifying God as Father and how that shapes the rest of the epistle.
In part two (13:15-28:20), Tim, Jon, and Amy take a closer look at quotations from the Hebrew Bible throughout the epistle to the Hebrews.
You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin. And you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when you are punished by him. For whom the Lord loves he disciplines, and he punishes every son whom he accepts.”
Here the author of Hebrews quotes Proverbs 3:11-12 but adds the personal pronoun “my” to the beginning, referring to believers as God’s children. This calls back to Hebrews 1:5, which refers to Jesus as God’s Son. Although the author slightly changes the wording of the original proverb, it is to make a point—he is equating the divine sonship of Jesus to the sonship and daughtership of all believers, which makes Jesus our brother.
In many of our contemporary church traditions, we distance ourselves from thinking of Jesus as our brother. But for the author of Hebrews (more than any other New Testament author), this was an important concept because the oldest brother in a family would eventually take over the father’s responsibilities of leading and caring for the family.
Seeing Jesus as our brother highlights his humanity and also elevates the calling of all humanity. Jesus is the first human to fulfill his calling to reign over the earth.
In part three (28:20-38:30), Tim, Jon, and Amy explore Hebrews 1-7 and why the author stresses Jesus’ greatness over heavenly rulers, Moses, Melchizedek, and Aaron the high priest.
Amy points out that the ideas of temple mediators and rituals wouldn’t have been strange to ancient readers since the priesthood and sacrifices were common aspects of daily life and relating to any deity. While Paul emphasizes Jesus as the fulfiller of the new covenant, the author of Hebrews presents Jesus as both the ultimate priest and the atoning sacrifice. Each of the comparisons he makes in Hebrews 1-7 are designed to showcase that. Angels act as priests in the heavenly realms, ministering to God. Moses, Melchizedek, and Aaron were all mediators between God and humanity. They all portray God’s holiness, yet Jesus is more holy still.
Without the backdrop of centuries of Levitical sacrifices, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross carries less weight. When viewed as the fulfillment of these God-given priestly duties, Jesus’ atonement can be seen for the magnificent culmination that it is.
In part four (38:30-51:30), the team explores Hebrews 7 and Jesus’ superiority to Melchizedek.
Early Jewish believers likely would have questioned Jesus’ priestly status because he was from the tribe of Judah, not Levi. In Hebrews 7, the author argues that there has always been another, superior priestly line––that of Melchizedek, to whom even Abraham (great-grandfather of Levi) paid homage. For the author of Hebrews, this was a vital argument to validate Jesus’ role as the great high priest of humanity.
Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.
Here the author of Hebrews is not saying Jesus is like Melchizedek, but that Melchizedek, in his priesthood, is like the Son of God. Because no mention is made of Melchizedek’s genealogical heritage or his death, we can imagine him eternally acting as a priest, after the pattern of Jesus.
In part five (51:30-end), Tim, Jon, and Amy take a look at the author of Hebrews’ pastoral understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity.
The book of Hebrews is widely considered one of the most intimidating New Testament books to study, largely because it never backs away from the sovereignty, holiness, or judgment of God. However, the sense of reverence and awe inspired by the author’s handling of these concepts is the perfect backdrop for his understanding of Jesus and the Trinity. Seeing God as infinitely other forces us to ask the question, “How can I possibly bridge the gap between myself and God?” The only answer is that we can’t, and we need the Son of God as our mediator. The Spirit is our present day connection to God.
Interested in more? Check out Tim’s library here. Amy L. B. Peeler, You Are My Son: The Family of God in the Epistle to the Hebrews Amy L. B. Peeler and Patrick Gray, Hebrews: An Introduction and Study Guide Madison N. Pierce, Divine Discourse in the Epistle to the Hebrews: The Recontextualization of Spoken Quotations of Scripture
Show produced by Dan Gummel and Cooper Peltz. Show notes by Lindsey Ponder.
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