Come Follow Me - Hebrews 1-6
Although traditionally attributed to Paul, the actual authorship of Hebrews is unknown. In the fourth century AD, St Jerome supported Paul as its author and is likely the reason the tradition continues today.
However, unlike the other Pauline letters, Hebrews does not claim who wrote the epistle. While the teachings are Pauline in nature, they are not in the language Paul would normally use. Some scholars also note that Hebrews 2:3 suggests it could not have been Paul, as he was among the first generation that heard the Lord’s voice (albeit in a vision).
While there are many possible candidates for the authorship of Hebrews, scholars consider Barnabas (Paul’s missionary companion) and Apollos (one of Paul’s junior companions) as the two most likely authors of Hebrews. Because it is traditionally attributed to Paul and is Pauline in nature, I will use traditional attribution.
To whom the letter was specifically written is unknown. The writings show that it was probably directed to a group of Jews or Jewish Christians who had access to and knowledge of the Hebrew Bible. It is based upon Psalms 110 as its theme, and so the reader would have been very aware of the text of that psalm.
Because the epistle discusses the Tabernacle/temple imagery, it is thought by many to be written prior to the destruction of the Jewish Temple (70 AD).
Purpose of the Epistle to the Hebrews
Hebrews was written to strengthen the waning faith of some Jewish Christian members, who were being harassed, perhaps by Jews and local leaders. It was also written as a logical explanation of how Jesus as Messiah could fit into the Mosaic landscape. The temple and the Law of Moses were administered by priests of Aaron, of the Levite priesthood line. How then, could Jesus, who was descended from Judah, ever be able to fill the priestly duties of the Messiah.
While many Jews awaited a kingly Messiah (Messiah ben David), Jesus did not seem to fill those sandals in his mortal life. Rather than leading armies to expel the Romans, Jesus taught to “render unto Caesar.” Paul would describe Jesus as a priestly Messiah.
In the Dead Sea Scrolls (written around the time of Jesus), the Qumran people foresaw a coming priestly Messiah of Aaron that is similar to Jesus’ role as Savior of the world. Given Jesus was not a descendant of Aaron, he could not be that Messiah. Paul will spend much of the epistle, using Psalms 110 as his text, explaining how Jesus could not only be the descendant of King David, but also be the servant who would make the eternal sacrifice.
Christ - the Image of God
Paul begins by explaining to the Jewish Christians that Jesus has greater power than most realize. Through Christ, God has created the worlds. While God spoke through prophets anciently, he now called his heir to speak to mankind during Jesus’ personal mortal ministry.
Jesus was heir of all things, and different than the angels, because God proclaimed at Jesus’ baptism, “Thou art my son, this day I have begotten thee” (Heb 1:5, Luke 3:22 - where some early copies of the Gospel of Luke actually repeat Paul’s quote). No one had been begotten of God before. Because of the Fall, all mankind was removed from God’s presence. But Jesus opened the door for a spiritual adoption and reconciliation with God.
Jesus receives the throne and scepter from God (Heb 1:8, Ps 45:6). Paul is using the ancient Jewish teachings and important current Christian writings to show Jesus is fulfilling them. In fact, a major portion of his discussion on Christ will revolve around Psalms 110.
“But to which of the angels said he at any time, Sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool?” (Heb 1:13).
Compare this question regarding the status of angels to the Psalmist’s prophecy of the Lord:
“The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool” (Ps 110:1).
God said unto the Lord Jesus to sit at his right hand until all things are finished and the wicked are destroyed. Paul will continue using Psalms to explain Jesus’ divine nature and calling.
In Hebrews 2:6-8, Paul quotes Psalms 8:
“What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that thou visitest him?
Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honour, and didst set him over the works of thy hands:
Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet.”
He then explains that Jesus was below all the angels and all things in his death and suffering. Yet, Paul previously noted that the resurrected and glorified Jesus “being made so much better than the angels” (Heb 1:4) as a stark contrast to the cross.
“For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham” (Heb 2:16).
Jesus did not merely become an eternal servant of God, but an heir of Abraham and so an heir of God the Father, as well. In his later discussion, Paul will explain how all can become heirs of Abraham, rather than merely servant angels.
Apostle and High Priest
“Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus” (Heb 3:1).
We find two interesting points here: First, Jesus is an apostle and a high priest. Second, Paul insists that the members of the church are “partakers of the heavenly calling.”
Discussing the second point, we may ask what is the heavenly calling? It is exactly what Jesus’ life, ministry and resurrection has shown forth. All mankind may become heirs of God, receiving all that God has through Christ, rather than being serving angels in the eternities.
That Jesus is an apostle and high priest denotes his holy calling. Apostle is a Greek word meaning, “Sent”. Jesus was sent as a special messenger of salvation to mankind. Through the power of the apostleship, he would be able to restore the ancient authorities and powers, which the Jews had lost through disobedience. Included would be ordinances and teachings that would sanctify mankind. Through the Gift of the Holy Ghost via the laying on of hands, mankind would be made holy and worthy of being divine and an heir with Christ of all God’s blessings and promises.
As high priest, Jesus would be in the position to perform the great sacrifice required to save mankind from sin. Jesus’ sacrifice would open the door for mankind to believe and repent, making people guiltless. Mankind receives justification through the Savior’s great expiatory event.
Paul then compared Jesus to Moses. Moses was a great prophet in Israel, but it was Jesus as Jehovah and Lord that created Israel in the first place. While Jews focused much honor on Moses as the great law giver, Jesus gave Moses the law to Moses. Israel sinned in Moses’ day and lost the promised land. They were literally cast out of God’s presence when they chose to rebel against Moses, and so were not allowed to enter the Lord’s rest (presence). Through Christ's atonement, we may regain the eternal Promised Land and be reconciled to God.
In modern revelation we see that Moses recognized the Lord's importance as the center of salvation. The Lord explained that Moses attempted to bring Israel into the presence of God on top of Mount Sinai. The people refused to ascend the mount, and instead chose to rebel and sin. Because of this, the Lord took the higher priesthood and law from them, giving them the Law of Moses and the lesser priesthood (D&C 84:19-26).
“So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief” (Heb 3:19).
Levitical/Aaronic Priesthood vs Melchizedek Priesthood
So, how could Jesus perform high priest duties without being a Levite or holding the Aaronic Priesthood? Paul explains that there was a priesthood that preceded and excelled above the Aaronic Priesthood:
“4 And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.
5 So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee.
6 As he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec” (Heb 5).
No one could hold any priesthood office, unless called of God, as Aaron was called of God through the prophet Moses. Just as God had proclaimed at Jesus’ baptism that he was begotten of God, so the Father also proclaimed him a high priest after the order of Melchizedek (Psalms 110).
Melchizedek was king of the ancient city of Salem. The name “Melchizedek” literally means, “King of Righteousness.” This king was so righteous that Abraham paid tithes to him. Melchizedek offered a holy supper to Abraham and others after a successful conquest (Genesis 14, see JST Gen 14). Abraham was the first Hebrew, but honored Melchizedek as someone who was greater than himself.
Melchizedek was a Gentile, and yet held a priesthood greater than Abraham. Some traditions hold that Melchizedek was Shem, the son of Noah. That Levi and Aaron were subordinate to Father Abraham shows that the Levitical or Aaronic priesthood is subordinate to the Melchizedek order of priesthood. This is the direction Paul taught in explaining how Christ could be the Great High Priest, who could enter the Holy of Holies.
Of Melchizedek, the Lord revealed to Joseph Smith:
“26 Now Melchizedek was a man of faith, who wrought righteousness; and when a child he feared God, and stopped the mouths of lions, and quenched the violence of fire.
27 And thus, having been approved of God, he was ordained an high priest after the order of the covenant which God made with Enoch,
28 It being after the order of the Son of God; which order came, not by man, nor the will of man; neither by father nor mother; neither by beginning of days nor end of years; but of God;
29 And it was delivered unto men by the calling of his own voice, according to his own will, unto as many as believed on his name.
30 For God having sworn unto Enoch and unto his seed with an oath by himself; that every one being ordained after this order and calling should have power, by faith, to break mountains, to divide the seas, to dry up waters, to turn them out of their course;
31 To put at defiance the armies of nations, to divide the earth, to break every band, to stand in the presence of God; to do all things according to his will, according to his command, subdue principalities and powers; and this by the will of the Son of God which was from before the foundation of the world.
32 And men having this faith, coming up unto this order of God, were translated and taken up into heaven.
33 And now, Melchizedek was a priest of this order; therefore he obtained peace in Salem, and was called the Prince of peace.
34 And his people wrought righteousness, and obtained heaven, and sought for the city of Enoch which God had before taken, separating it from the earth, having reserved it unto the latter days, or the end of the world;
36 And this Melchizedek, having thus established righteousness, was called the king of heaven by his people, or, in other words, the King of peace.” (Genesis 14 JST) https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/jst/jst-gen/14?lang=eng
In Melchizedek, we have a prototype and foreshadow of Jesus Christ. Melchizedek took a wicked people and made them fit to be translated or taken up into heaven and the presence of God. He was able to do great works and miracles through the power of his priesthood. This priesthood preceded him, held by Enoch and Adam, who received it from the premortal Christ. Melchizedek was called the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6), as a symbol of Jesus Christ’s role as the ultimate Prince of Peace.
So important was Melchizedek and his priesthood that in the Dead Sea Scrolls’ 11Q Melchizedek, the fragment tells us: “Melchizedek is El (God)!” and “Melchizedek is Yahweh (Jehovah).”
This is not to be taken literally that the mortal Melchizedek is God the Father (El) or Jesus Christ (Jehovah). It is to say that Melchizedek is a symbol of the Father and Son. Yes, as a divine heir with Christ of all the Father has given, Melchizedek the man also became a king in heaven, sitting on God’s throne (we’ll discuss more in the upcoming lessons in Revelation), etc. Remember, Melchizedek literally means, “King of Righteousness.” Jesus is our eternal King of Righteousness under Father’s direction.