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Epistle to the Hebrews
by Richard D. Draper
Many passages in this New Testament letter have particular significance for Latter-day Saints. In general conferences of the Church, the most frequently cited scriptures from the book of Hebrews are those concerning the Godhead (Heb. 1:1-3; 12:9; 13:8); the obedient suffering of Jesus (Heb. 2:14-18; 4:15-16; 5:8-9; see also Atonement); the eternal priesthood of Jesus Christ (Heb. 7-8); how one must be called by God in order to hold the priesthood (Heb. 5:1-4); the nature of true faith, which motivates people to righteous action (Heb. 11); going on "unto perfection" (Heb. 6:1); and enduring to the end (Heb. 12:4-11). These themes are essential pillars of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The main point at the center of the epistle is that Jesus Christ is the eternal "high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; a minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle" of God (Heb. 8:1-2). This theme is developed throughout the epistle, showing how eternal salvation comes through the greatness, sufficiency, and supremacy of Jesus Christ. The letter was written to devoted converts from Judaism to the early Christian church, who already understood the first principles of the gospel and had received its basic ordinances (Heb. 6:1-4). Step by step, it systematically strives to persuade them "to hold fast to their faith" (Buchanan, p. 266), to keep the covenant, and to realize the incomparable hope and irrevocable promises given to them by God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. With its explication of the Atonement in terms of priesthood, oaths, covenants, and temple imagery, this entire epistle resonates and harmonizes with LDS concepts and practices.
Chapter 1 begins by boldly declaring that Jesus is the sole mediator between God and all human beings; he is superior to, and supersedes, both prophets and angels. As a separate and distinct personage in the Godhead, he is the God of creation and the perfect revelation of godhood for all time. He is the express image of his Father, both spiritually and physically; he alone purged the sins of mankind and sits on the right hand of God the Father (Heb. 1:1-3). The Father brought the Savior (who was his "firstbegotten" in the premortal existence [See Firstborn in the Spirit]) "into the world" (Heb. 1:6; cf. D&C 93:21; 1 Ne. 11:18). As the firstborn, Jesus is the heir of all things (Heb. 1:2), and those who are faithful become joint-heirs with him (see Heirs).
Chapter 2 holds a strong warning to heed the word of God given through Jesus Christ (Heb. 2:1-4). The next world is in subjugation to Christ alone (Heb 2:5-10). God made him a little lower than "the gods" (taking the marginal reading of Ps. 8:4-6). Because God is the Father of all, even Christ is subject to him. Christ is second only to the Father, yet he is the spirit brother of mankind (Heb. 2:17). Like his brothers and sisters in mortality, he suffered temptation, but unlike them, he never sinned (Heb. 2:18; 4:15-16). Through this suffering, he learned obedience and gained compassion for all God's children.
The admonition of chapter 3 counsels people to contemplate the greatness of the Lord and to commit themselves to him. The total obedience shown by the Savior to his Father marks the way. The time for commitment is "today." The gospel is not always available to mankind, and so it is necessary to respond covenantally "this day," lest individuals be left like the rebellious Israelites to die in the deserts of their own lives (Heb. 3:7-17; cf. Josh. 24:14-25; Jacob 6:5-7; D&C 64:23-25).
Chapter 4, drawing in part upon Israelite temple symbolism, admonishes the Saints to enter into the rest of the Lord (Heb. 4:1, 11). This comes by believing, softening the heart, laboring, standing openly before God, relying on the compassion of Jesus the High Priest, and coming boldly to the mercy seat of God to find grace in time of need (Heb. 4:7, 11, 13, 15, 16).
Chapter 5 explains how Jesus obtained his authority to act as Israel's great High Priest. He did not presume to take this honor upon himself. As with Aaron, God chose him and bestowed authority upon him as "a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec" (Heb. 5:6; Ps. 110:4).
Chapter 6 calls upon all members of the church to "lay hold upon the hope" of perfection and eternal life, which has been extended to them by an immutable oath and covenant (Heb. 6:1, 13-20; see also Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood). Diligence in serving Christ will bring a full assurance of extraordinary promises, as God covenanted with Abraham and promised him eternal increase (Heb. 6:13-14; cf. D&C 132:30). This hope, made possible in Christ, is an anchor for the soul, since God cannot lie. However, those who once have tasted the good word of God and have partaken of the Holy Ghost and then fall away and "crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh," the sin is so grievous that they cannot be renewed again unto repentance (Heb. 6:6-10).
God's promises to Abraham are extended to all who come unto Christ: Jesus was a priest after the order of Melchizedek, who was the priest who blessed Abraham, in whose loins was Levi. The superiority of Christ's Melchizedek Priesthood over the Levitical priesthood and the Law of Moses is developed in chapter 7. Melchizedek was a type of Christ. His priesthood was more enduring than the Levitical priesthood, which was limited to blood lines and was not given with an oath and whose priests did not continue because of death and needed daily renewal (Heb. 7:3, 21, 23, 27). The Melchizedek order of priesthood, however, was directed by Jesus Christ, who, unlike the high priest under the Law of Moses on the annual Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:4), did not need to "offer sacrifice for his own sins, for he knew no sins" (JST Heb. 7:26). His priesthood was aparabatos, meaning "permanent, unchangeable, and incomparable" (Heb. 7:24). No other priesthood will succeed it. It will be the permanent power of salvation and eternal lives within Christ's church forever more (TPJS, pp. 166, 322).
As the great High Priest, Jesus offered himself as the eternal atoning sacrifice and became the mediator of this new and better covenant (Heb. 8:6), putting the law of God into the hearts of his people (Heb. 8:10; 10:16). The old law (of Moses), with its performances and sacrifices, had been fulfilled. Through the new covenant, God promised to remember the sins of the repentant no more (Heb. 10:17), and each Saint was challenged to enter into "a new and living way" through the blood of Christ (Heb. 10:15-20). Those who were willing to do so in patience and faith would be justified and receive the promise (Heb. 10:35-38).
Chapter 11 then concentrates on faith and its outward effects in the lives of Israel's spiritual heroes. Faith is the actual substance or substantiation or assurance (hypostasis) and the evidence or evincing (elenchos) of things not seen that are true (Heb. 11:1; Alma 32:21). True faith necessarily manifests itself in works of righteousness. Chapter 12 thus exhorts the faithful to endure the chastening and correction of God, who is the Father of their spirits. By inheriting the blessings of eternity as sons of the living God, his Saints are able to come to the new Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, being made perfect, an assembly of "firstborns" (prototokon), having inherited all with the Firstborn.
Chapter 13 concludes by noting that "marriage is honourable in all," and by counseling all to "let brotherly love continue," to "be without covetousness," and to be loyal to Jesus alone, "bearing his reproach, for here [on earth] have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come" (Heb. 13:1, 4-5, 13-14). Those who enter into this holy order and keep its covenants prepare themselves for eternal life, and fulfillment of the invocation that "the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will" (Heb. 13:20-21).
(See Basic Beliefs home page; Scriptural Writings home page; The Holy Bible home page)
Anderson, Richard L. Understanding Paul. Salt Lake City, 1983.
Buchanan, George W. To the Hebrews. Garden City, N.Y., 1972.
Gentry, Leland H. "Let Us Go On unto Perfection: Paul's Message in the Book of Hebrews." In Sidney B. Sperry Symposium, pp. 135-44. Provo, Utah, 1983.
Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 2, Hebrews
Copyright © 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company
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