|Study of Hebrews|
By E.H. “Jack” Sequeira
Jesus Christ rested on the Sabbath when He finished His first phase of the plan of salvation. After the resurrection He went to heaven and was installed as our High Priest. His priestly work is not for the world but for the believers.
We will begin our study on the high priesthood of Christ at Heb. 4:14 and go through to chapter 8:6. And even beyond that Paul gives his attention to Christ as our High Priest. Why does Paul spend do much time on Christ as our High Priest? I want to remind you that Paul is writing to very discouraged Christians. They are Jewish Christians who are being persecuted and who are discouraged because the coming of Christ in their thinking was delayed. There were those who were being tempted to give up their faith and go back to Judaism and so he is spending all this time because Christians need to know that they have a Mediator in heaven Who is on their side. Now I would like to give you three main reasons why a priest is important to us:
1. A priest is a mediator or a “go-between” for a holy God and sinful man. We need that go-between. Now Christians, even though they stand justified in Christ, are still sinners. We are still sinners and, because we are sinners, we need a Mediator. Here are some texts that point that out. In these chapters that we are studying you will notice that Paul is comparing Christ’s priesthood to the Levitical priesthood and he says that Christ is superior. In verse six of chapter eight he says:
For now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the Mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.
The Levitical priesthood could not really mediate because they were using the blood of bulls and goats and lambs and that cannot remove sin. We have a better Mediator and better promises in Jesus Christ.
Turn to Romans chapter eight and you will notice that when Jesus went up to heaven after finishing a perfect work on this earth He did not go there on sustentation. He did not go to relax. He went there to work for His work was not finished. He had only finished His past phase, which was good, wonderful, perfect. Yet we need a priest to bring the restoration. In Rom. 8:34 we read:
Who is he that condemeth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, Who is even at the right hand of God, Who also maketh intercession for us.
We need an intercessor. And He is spoken of again in 1 John 2:1:
My little children, [I’m giving you the good news, not that you will condone sin, but if you fall, if you sin...] we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
So number one, we need a priest because we are still sinners. We need a Mediator.
2. We need a priest because we are still living in Satan’s territory. Satan gives the believers no peace. If he gives you peace, watch out; you’re in trouble. It’s because you’re lukewarm and he’s quite happy with your lifestyle. Christians are living in enemy territory. They are constantly coming under fire from Satan. It may be physical persecution or it may be mental or social. He will bombard you with all kinds of problems. We need a Mediator who will give us assurance in our struggles of life. Here is a text in Heb.10:19-22, talking to discouraged believers:
Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus.
One of the most powerful methods Satan has is to put Christians under guilt. He will convict you that you are not good enough to be saved. It doesn’t matter how young you are or how old you are, he always enjoys putting us under guilt. Too often we fall for his suggestions. Now, he’s right. We are not good enough to be saved, but we are saved because God is love and we are saved by grace. So we can come boldly to God’s very presence in the holiest of all through the blood of Christ:
By a new and living way, which He has consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; And having an high priest over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.
What does it mean to have our bodies washed with pure water and our conscience clean? You see, in Christ we have two wonderful standings with God:
He has redeemed both by His doing and dying. He took to heaven a perfect redemption for us. So whether it is our nature that condemns us or whether our performance, we must remember that we have a Saviour and we can come boldly to Him. We need a Priest.
3. Life in this world is always a struggle. This struggle can take all forms. It can be economic problems. It can be spiritual. It can be physical or it can be social. Whatever they are, we need a priest Who understands our problems, Who sympathizes and can help. We human beings have a tendency to go to some other human being for sympathy. We go to our pastor or someone else whom we think we can trust for sympathy and help. I’ll tell you, though, that human sources are not reliable. You never know when they will let you down. Christ will never let you down. He understands your problems. He can sympathize and, above all, He can help.
When people come to me for counselling, I try to lead them to the wonderful Counsellor. By the way, He doesn’t charge you fifty dollars an hour. He is a free Counsellor and a most wonderful Counsellor. You cannot find a better counsellor than Jesus Christ. In Heb. 2:17,18 we are told:
Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, [the word “behoved” means, “it was necessary in all things to be made like us.” Why?] that he might be [two things—number 1] a “merciful” and [number 2] a “faithful” high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that He himself hath suffered being tempted, He is able to succour [or help] them that are tempted.
He understands our struggles. He has gone through it and He came out victorious. Therefore, He is able to help us and look after us. Go now to Heb.4:15,16:
For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us, therefore, [in view of this] come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
In chapter 4, verses 14, 15, and 16, Paul is introducing to us Christ our High Priest. We will spend the rest of this study only on those three verses because they are loaded. I want you to notice how he introduces Christ as our High Priest. He says in verse fourteen:
Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, [that means in the very presence of God] Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.
In other words Paul is saying, “Please don’t get discouraged. God has not forsaken you. Christ is not relaxing up there enjoying yoghurt ice-cream. He is up there interceding for us. We have a high priest who has gone into the very presence of God for us.” And that is why he says, “Don’t be discouraged.”
The book of Hebrews is full of warning and encouragement. What we get here is encouragement, “Please don’t give up your faith because we have a High Priest.” Now to verse fifteen in more detail:
For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.
This passage has caused a lot of problems in the Christian church. There are two things here that we need to look at:
These are two things that have caused a lot of discussion, debate, controversy—you name it. Let’s start with the word “infirmities.” What does that word mean? First, I want to read the statement that he makes at the end of verse fifteen: “Yet without sin.” A German scholar by the name of Weiss makes a statement on this section, “The words ‘yet without sin,’ Heb. 4:15, mean that, in our Lord’s case, temptation never resulted in sin.” He never committed the act. He was tempted like us but He never gave in. The Good News Bible (Today’s English Version) puts it very clearly, He did not sin:
Our high priest is not one who cannot feel sympathy with our weaknesses. On the contrary, we have a High Priest Who was tempted in every way that we are, but did not sin. [TEV]
Now the reason that I’m bringing this up is because some people, including some in our church, will say that “without sin” (KJV) means He had no pull towards sin in His nature. It was like Adam before the fall; you know the controversy. But here is a Greek scholar who tells us that this phrase “without sin” means that even though Christ was tempted, He never sinned. “Temptation never resulted in sin.” In other words, Christ never gave in, not even by a thought. Now let’s go to the word, “infirmities.” Let me quote him (Weiss):
”The word infirmities is “astheneia” [that’s the Greek word]. It means moral weakness that makes man capable of sinning. In other words, the totally depraved nature [interpreting this expression, ‘He Himself also is compassed with infirmities,’ Hebrews 5:2].... The High Priest has infirmities, sinful tendencies lying around Him, i.e., He is completely encircled by sin since He took a sinful nature which, if unrepressed, will control His entire being.” [In other words, what Weiss is saying that Christ was tempted like us through the flesh, but Christ never gave in.]
This brings us to the next point: “tempted like as we are.” There is a problem here. Did Paul mean that Christ was tempted by every temptation with which we are tempted? The answer is “No.” Christ was never tempted to overindulge in television. It never existed in His day. Christ was not tempted with the specific temptations that comes to rich people because he belonged to a poor family. And so we can go on and on.
Then what does Paul mean when he says Christ was tempted in all points as we are? Please notice that the text does not say that He was tempted with every temptation as we are, but in all points like as we are. Notice the words “like as we are.” How are we tempted? Let the Bible answer that. Turn to James 1:13,14; here James describes how we are tempted:
Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God [don’t blame God for your temptations]. for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man [so God never tempts you]. But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust....
What is lust? Is there a difference between lust and desire? Is it wrong to have desire? No. Do we have desires as human beings? Yes, God gave them to us. He gave us hunger desire, sex desire, all kinds of desires. When do these desires become wrong? When they are controlled by the flesh rather than by the will of God. Is that clear? When a desire becomes dominated by self rather than by the Spirit of God, it becomes lust. So a lust is a perverted desire.
How do you know the difference? Well, that’s why God gives us guidelines. He gives us guidelines through the Scripture, He gives us guidelines in the Spirit of Prophecy through which you can distinguish, but He also does it through the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
Our question now is, “What is temptation?” In our human body, we have drives. We call them sinful drives because we have a fallen nature. What James is saying is that every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lusts and enticed. When then does that temptation become sin? Verse 15 tells us:
Then when lust has conceived....
When does lust conceive? When you do the act or when the will says O.K.? When does a temptation become conceived? The desire for sin comes from our members. The flesh can never do the act without the consent of the mind. Let us say I am walking down the street and I look at the bakery shop and I see some hot-cross buns and the devil tempts me through my lust. I don’t have any money in my pocket so I enter with my brother. (I’m talking of an incident that took place when I was a kid.) I tell my brother, “You keep the fellow busy.” I had coveted that food, and I told my brother to keep him busy. This was on Africa, a market in the street, and I planned to steal the pastry.
My mind had already decided to steal. We must remember that we human beings define sin as an act, but God doesn’t do that. The moment my mind says “yes” to the desire, it has become sin. And this is what James is saying. Please notice, he differentiates conception from the act. Listen to his next statement in James 1:15:
Then when lust hath conceived it bringeth forth sin, and sin when it is finished, [i.e., the act] bringeth forth death.
Please notice, the moment you say “yes,” it becomes sin. For example, if I’m travelling on the highway, it’s a hot day, and I’m travelling from here to, let’s say, Seattle, and I stop at Yukema. And I’m thirsty, and I go to a 7-11 place, and I fill up with gas, and I want a drink, and I go to the fridge and there’s no pop at all. And I go to the man and he says, “I’m sorry, there’s no pop at all. All we have is beer.”
And the devil says, “Why don’t you take a can? Nobody’s here that knows you.”
And I look around, and say to myself, “Surely, nobody knows me here in Yukema.” And so I say, “Okay, I’ll have one.” And as I look around, I see brother _________’s car driving into the place, and I say to the vendor, “I’m in a hurry; forget it.”
I haven’t taken the can of beer. Have I sinned, by the way? In God’s eyes, yes. In the shopkeeper’s eyes, I have not stolen; I have not sinned. And, maybe in my own eyes, I have not sinned. So please remember that temptation comes from within, and is then conceptualized by a decision of the will, and then comes the act and, of course, the act brings death.
Now turn to Romans 7, and there Paul explains the problem. Now Romans 7, and I’ll go into detail when we come to Romans sometimes in the future. The issue that Romans 7 is discussing is not whether it’s a believer or unbeliever. The issue of Romans 7 is, “Sinful nature and a holy law,” and the two are incompatible. That’s what Romans 7 is dealing with, especially verse 14 onwards. He makes a statement in verse 14:
For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. [And then he goes on to describe our situation.] For that which I do I allow not, for what I would, that do I not. But that which I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good, but then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwells in me.
[And then in verse 18, he makes the statement:] For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh [i.e., in my human nature] dwelleth no good thing. For to will is present with me but how to perform that which is good I find not.
In other words, we human beings have a nature that is pulling us towards sin. And then in verse 22, he calls it, “the law of sin.” Please remember, the word “law” here means a principle, just like we have the law of gravity. Now, if Brother _______ would jump up from the balcony, would he go up or would he go down? Well, he will go up for a few seconds, and then he would go down. Why? Gravity. If he does it at midnight, would it apply? Or two in the morning? 24 hours a day? Yes.
The word “law” means a constant, unending force. Our willpower is not a law. Why? Because it’s not constant, it fluctuates, it moves in different directions. So it is possible by your willpower to defy temptation, the force of sin. But when the willpower gets weak, what happens? The force of sin takes over, and what happens? You do even that which you don’t want to do. And what Paul is saying,
We have a law in our members that is causing us to do this. O wretched man that I am!
Now here’s the problem: did Christ have this force to struggle with?
The Son of Man has come not to do His own will, but the will of [Whom?]
What is He talking about? Was there a contradiction between His will and God’s will as God? No. But as a man he struggled with this folks, he struggled. Now can you conquer the power of sin? No. Can God do it? Did He do it? In Whom? In Christ. But does Christ understand your struggles? Yes. Can He sympathize? Yes. Can He help you? Yes. Let me give you a text, Romans 13:14:
Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh.
But now we still haven’t answered the question, “in all points.” [Hebrews 4:15] What did Paul mean by “in all points”? As I already mentioned, he did not mean, “by every temptation.” Temptation is always to sin. What is sin? The transgression of the law. Remember, we divided the law into two parts: the first four commandments are towards God. And remember, I explained to you that we keep the first four commandments by faith. Our faith turns towards God. Faith is turning your eyes to God.
Okay, what’s the opposite of faith? No, not works. It’s unbelief. Unbelief is a willful, deliberate, turning your back towards God. So by the way, is unbelief sin? Yes, it is a sin against God. When we commit the sin of unbelief we are breaking the first four commandments. Keep this in mind, because the issue in the last days over the Sabbath is if you are breaking the Sabbath you are not simply breaking a rule, it is the sin of unbelief. That will be the issue.
Okay, the other six commandments in our relationship to man can be counted as a sin of.... well, Paul will reduce all the six commandments into one word. And the heart of every sin against our neighbour is what?
I had not known sin except the law says, “Thou shalt not covet” [Romans 7:7].
In other words, we can divide temptation into ten points, and we can reduce those ten points into two. The first four are the sin of unbelief; the other six are the six against our neighbour. Was Christ tempted in both these points, in both these areas? Yes. You remember on the cross, how did the devil tempt him three times? “Come down from the cross and save yourself.” What was the temptation there? Self-reliance. “Don’t depend on God.” Why? “Because He has forsaken you. You must depend on Yourself.” But remember what Christ prayed in Gesthemane, “Not My will, but Thy will....”
Please remember that when Paul says He was tempted in all points like as we are, He was tempted to sin against God through the sin of unbelief, and He was tempted to sin against His neighbour, just like we are: the six commandments. Therefore, when Paul says that He was tempted in all points like as we are, he means in every point that you and I can be tempted in terms of the law, the ten commandments, which is the measuring stick of righteousness. There is not a single temptation that cannot be included in the area of the ten commandments. If you can sin a sin that is outside the ten commandments, then the ten commandments are not a perfect rule of faith. But remember what Paul says in Romans 3:20:
The law gives us the knowledge of sin.
The law can’t save us, but it gives us the knowledge of sin. Does it give you a knowledge of 90% of sin, or 100%? 100%! There is no sin that you and I can commit that’s outside of those ten points. And that’s how Christ was tempted. He was tempted to break every one of those ten points, just like you are. The temptation itself may not be the same.
For example, if I am tempted to withhold my tithe, Malachi calls it a sin of stealing. “You have robbed Me.” But if you were given some money by someone to take to a friend and you are tempted to put it in your pocket instead, you are being tempted with a different temptation, but the issue is the same. So all temptations can be reduced to only ten points. The temptation itself may not be the same. But the issue is always the same. And so Christ was tempted in every point that you and I are tempted. The only difference is, we give in. Did Christ give in? No. If He gave in only once, do you know that He never could have been resurrected? So He was tempted in all points like as we are, but He never sinned.
But now, was the struggle that He went through the same as ours, or worse? Why was it worse? Please don’t say, “Because He was God,” because remember, He laid aside the prerogatives of using His Divinity. I’ll tell you why it was worse, because the Devil will tempt you until you give in. If you don’t give in, his temptations become harder, and harder, and harder—is that clear?—until you fall.
Since Christ never sinned, He experienced the full force of every temptation. He experienced it. The worst temptation was on the cross, where the temptation was good-bye to life forever. No human being has ever been tempted and will ever be tempted in that direction. Even the ones who are lost will never be tempted because they will have no choice. You see, a temptation is only a temptation when you have a choice. At the end of the millennium they will have no choice. Am I correct? Probation had closed. But Christ had a choice on the cross.
And that’s why we have a statement, I will not give you the reference, you look for it, find it in the New Testament where it says, “How many of you have resisted unto death?” Only Christ, folks. Christ resisted even unto the second death. He resisted temptation. But I thank God that, because He struggled, He can sympathize with this rascal; He can sympathize with me. So when I go to Him, I don’t go to somebody who doesn’t know my struggles, but Somebody Who has gone through it, but still better, somebody Who has conquered, Somebody Who can give me peace, Who can give me mercy, forgiveness, plus He can give me grace. And that’s how it concludes. Please look now at verse 16 of Hebrews 4:
In view of this, [in view of two things: 1] we have a High Priest Who can be touched with the feelings of our infirmities... [and 2] ...but was in all points like us tempted, yet without sin. Let us, therefore, [in view of this] come boldly unto the throne of grace.
And when we come, He doesn’t say, “Why can’t you get the victory!?” He doesn’t say that. He says:
Now the word “grace” here is used in the sense of power. Please turn to Philippians 4:13 and you will see what I mean by the “power of grace”:
I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.
That is the grace that He can give you. Or turn to 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. Paul had a problem, he doesn’t tell us what the problem is. He prayed three times. The problem was allowed by God, it came from Satan, it was...
...a thorn in the flesh, it’s a messenger of Satan to buffet me [to keep him humble] lest I should be exalted above measure. [Now look at verse 8...] For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. [And listen to the answer...] And He [i.e., Christ] said, My grace is sufficient for thee, for My strength is made perfect in weakness [in infirmities]. Most gladly, therefore, will I rather glory in my [What? I’m quite happy to be weak] that the power of Christ may rest on me. Therefore, I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake, for when I am weak, then I am strong.
That’s the kind of priest we have folks. Number 1: He is a priest Who has mercy on you. So when the devil comes to you and says, “You are no good,” turn to him and say, “I have found mercy.” You know Paul said, “I was a persecutor, but I found mercy.”
But also, number 2: please remember that He is a God that doesn’t only forgive you, but also gives you strength to overcome. So we have “such a high priest” that we can go boldly, not afraid, because He is a God Who understands, He sympathizes, and He helps. That’s the kind of priest we have, and that’s the kind of priest we need to know.