Monday, January 29, 2007

Hebrews: A Human Messiah in Chapter 2

There are many issues briefly addressed in the last verses of chapter 2 of Hebrews that I've been pondering. Paul skips through them like they were nothing. However, they are weighty nuggets and Paul links them together in this context.

To restate, the context here is that Paul is encouraging the Hebrews to grow in their faith in Christ. He is doing so in this part of his letter by revealing Christ through related comparative dichotomies, in that Christ was revealed in the law and the prophets with which the Hebrews were already well familiar. Verse 14 begins with "therefore", but this is hardly the culminating passage of the letter. So, we can take the following passage (vv14-18) as an intermediate conclusion of some sort derived from this first section of the letter.

The first thing I notice is the reference to "flesh and blood." It sounds like he's writing about the Lord's Supper. The "children" are a reiteration of the quote from Isaiah 8:18 in the previous verse and is a reference to the elect, otherwise I would say that the apparent reference is merely coincidental and this has nothing to do with the Lord's Supper.

The debate between sacrament and ordinance is founded on the question, "What is the bread and wine?" On the one hand we have the hermeneutical principle that we should take the Bible literally except where it is obviously figurative. On the other hand, how could Christ have meant it as His literal body at the Feast of Unleavened Bread when He was standing right there? Did He create some meat and blood miraculously that had his DNA in it? Besides, Christ was known to speak figuratively and be misunderstood as speaking literally. On the way to raise Lazarus from the dead, Christ said Lazarus had "fallen asleep." The disciples didn't have a clue because they took Him literally. The fact is, the Bible doesn't answer the question clearly enough. In my mind, that means it's the wrong question. The question should be, "What is the body and blood of Christ?" Paul answers this clearly in I Corinthians 10:3-4;16-17:

2
and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea;
3
and all ate the same spiritual food;

16 Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ
17 Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.


Compare also Heb 2:18 with I Cor. 10:13:

18 For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.

13 No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.


The underlying truth is that the elect, while made up of individuals, is a corporate entity that shares a failure to resist temptation. We also share the grace whereby Christ came as one of us to be tempted as one of us, but to exhibit divine resistance. He did this to demonstrate His worthiness to pay for our failure on the cross. But Paul jumps over this as though the Hebrews don't need much explanation. This because the context of the crucifixion during Passover was still fresh in the minds of the Hebrews who understood Christ already as the Lamb of God - the only Passover Lamb who could remove sin once and for all. They understood their identity as the ones for whom the token lamb had been slain each year prior.

A curious comment is made by Paul regarding the means by which He rendered "powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil..." I notice it only because we've been studying this in Sunday School. I need to do a study of the Greek to see if this is accurate, but I notice that the English of the NASB is here rendered temporally: "had". If accurate, this means that the devil no longer has the power over death. Paul writes later about those of faith who came prior to Christ. If their faith is accounted to them as righteousness, then the devil never really had power over death. I'll take any insight to the meaning of this. Perhaps Paul merely took a turn to the rhetorical. I'd like to ascribe better accuracy to Paul's comments than that, however.

Another observation is that this appears to be what Christ HAD to do in order to render the devil powerless. It could be that this is simply the way God CHOSE to handle it because it was more fitting to demonstrate His gracious nature than simply denying any of the devil's requests to work ill in the hearts and lives of men.

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