Once For All Sacrifice
The Letter to the Hebrews highlights several aspects of the Son of God, especially his priesthood and one-time sacrifice. In doing so, the stress falls on the permanence of his priestly office, and the non-repeatable nature of his sacrifice. In his death, he “achieved the purification of sins,” and consequently, he now intercedes “forevermore” for his people as their High Priest. And his unique sacrifice dealt with sin “ONCE-FOR-ALL.”
The Letter begins by stressing that after Jesus “achieved the purification of sins,” he “sat down” at the right hand of the “majesty in high places.” The wording of the passage alludes to the first verse of Psalm 110 where Yahweh tells the Davidic Messiah to “SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND until I make your foes your footstool.”
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The Author intends for his readers to understand by the term “sat down” that the “Son” now occupies a permanent position in the presence of God. He “sat down” in the heavenly Tabernacle and remains there to this day. This contrasts sharply with the High Priest under the Levitical system who only entered the inner sanctum briefly once each year, and he NEVER sat down.
AFTER THE ORDER OF MELCHIZEDEK
And in this first paragraph, the Letter introduces Psalm 110 which thereafter becomes one of his main proof texts from the Old Testament. The point is not to validate the proposition that Jesus is now the supreme ruler over all things, but to emphasize his appointment as High Priest. He “sits” continuously at God’s “right hand” as the “High Priest” of his people.
The fourth verse of the Psalm figures prominently in the Letter - “Yahweh has sworn and will not repent, YOU SHALL BE A PRIEST FOREVERMORE AFTER THE ORDER OF MELCHIZEDEK.”
The Letter anchors several of its arguments in the priesthood and the sacrifice of Jesus, and it discusses at length the vastly “superior” New Covenant that has been inaugurated by his non-repeatable sacrifice, an act that rendered the “former covenant… obsolete” – (Hebrews 8:13).
The declaration that this new priesthood will endure “forevermore” is not metaphysical speculation about the “eternal” nature or divine sonship of Jesus, but instead, highlights the enduring nature of his priestly office - His priesthood will “endure forevermore.”
And this again contrasts with the old Aaronic priesthood and Levitical sacrifices that required an endless cycle of new priests and repeated animal sacrifices due to humanity’s weakness and mortality, and the inability of animal sacrifices to purify sins.
The “Son” occupies his office permanently because of his endless resurrection life. In other words, his life and exalted status as our “High Priest” endure because of his resurrection.
The very fact that Jesus “BECAME the High Priest after the order of Melchizedek” demonstrates that this position is not eternal since it had a beginning, though it now “endures forever” (among other things, ‘eternal’ means without beginning or end).
The prophesied priesthood “after the order of Melchizedek” differs significantly from the Aaronic priesthood. Rather than one generation of priests after another, along with repeated animal sacrifices, his priesthood is based on his ONCE-FOR-ALL SACRIFICE and his endless resurrection life.
And one consequence is that he now possesses the priesthood “unchangeable,” or more accurately, “not transmissible.” In other words, unlike the Aaronic priesthood, the “Son” is the one and only High Priest “after the order of Melchizedek.” There will never be another.
And the Letter emphasizes the one-time nature of his sacrifice and the permanence of its effect by applying the Greek adverb ephapax several times when describing his sacrifice, a term which means “at once, once only, ONCE-FOR-ALL” - (Strong’s #G2178). For example:
- (Hebrews 7:23-27) – “And they indeed have been made priests many in number, since by death they are hindered from continuing, but he, BECAUSE HE ABIDES FOREVERMORE, HOLDS HIS PRIESTHOOD UN-TRANSMITTABLE. Wherefore also he is able to save to the uttermost them that draw near to God through him, seeing HE EVER LIVES TO MAKE INTERCESSION FOR THEM. For such a high priest became us, holy, guileless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; who needs not daily like those high priests to offer up sacrifices, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people: for this he did ONCE-FOR-ALL [ephapax] when he offered himself.”
- (Hebrews 9:24-28) – “For not into a holy place made by hand entered Christ, the antitype of the real holy place, but into the heaven itself, now, to be manifested before the face of God in our behalf, nor yet that, ofttimes, he should be offering himself just as the high-priest enters to the holy place year by year with alien blood. Else had it been needful for him, ofttimes, to suffer from the foundation of the world; but now, ONCE-FOR-ALL [ephapax], upon the conclusion of the ages, for a setting aside of sin through his sacrifice, has he been manifested, and since it is in store for men ONCE-FOR-ALL [ephapax] to die, but after this judgment, thus, also, the Christ, having been offered ONCE-FOR-ALL [ephapax] for the bearing of the sins of many, a second time, apart from sin, will appear to those who for him are ardently waiting for salvation.”
- (Hebrews 10:10) – “By which will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ ONCE-FOR-ALL [ephapax].” – (Emphasis added above).
As for the recipients of the Letter (and other believers), why revert to the “shadows” of the former and impermanent system of endless priests and repeated sacrifices since they now have the permanent and glorious reality according to the “Word of the Son”? Why return to the “glimpses and shadows” of the “former covenant,” including its now “obsolete” priesthood and impotent animal sacrifices?
And if any man does so because of pressure from outside the church, he may escape persecution for the present, but he will not escape a far more severe punishment in the future since he has rejected the “purification of sins” provided by God through the “once-for-all” sacrifice of His Son.