1 Therefore, holy brethren, who share in a heavenly call, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession.
We are going to deal with only one verse this time, because there is so much here. This verse actually belongs with the previous section, as the “therefore” indicates. It is the author’s conclusive statement to what he has just been telling his readers. In fact, as we have seen by the use of “for” in earlier verses, we can say that this statement is a conclusion to all that the author has said so far in this letter.
Up until now, our author has been reflecting on the wonderful reality of God’s healing, restoring, glorifying work for us, in and through His Son, His “word” that He speaks in these last days. By starting this sentence with “therefore”, it is as if the author is saying, “Because all that I have told you is reality, because God Himself has met us and healed us in His Son… consider Jesus” This is the first imperative, the first command of the letter.
But before we can look at this command, we need to look at how the author addresses his readers here. He calls them holy brethren. Both words refer back to what he has told them about what God has done for them in Christ. Holy is from the same Greek word as sanctify, which means to make holy. And as we saw in the last section, holiness is about belonging to the Holy God, being made able to be with Him, to dwell in His presence. They are holy because Jesus, the one who sanctifies, has sanctified them by partaking of their humanity and tasting death for everyone. And because He has done this, He is not ashamed to call them brethren. So, here the author wants to pointedly remind them of their real identity—this is who they are, not who they need to become or might get to be someday. They belong to God, are a part of His family. We are holy brethren to Jesus because of who he is: one with us in our humanity and one with God in his divine Person.
But he doesn’t stop there. He tells them that they have a share in a heavenly call. The word translated “share in” here means to partake of and is the same word that the author used earlier to speak of Jesus "partaking" of our humanity (2:14). And the heavenly call takes us back to God’s intention to bring many sons to glory (2:10). God, in His Son, doesn’t just come close to speak to us, but unites Himself to our broken humanity, is tempted as we are, dies for everyone and is now crowned with glory and honor as the pioneer of our salvation. Because He has shared in all that for us, we now have a real share in the glory and honor, the heavenly call, that Jesus has won for us. What’s His is ours!
And what are they to do, as the holy brethren? The author tells them to “consider Jesus.” While “consider” can mean primarily a mental action, the Greek word includes the idea of sight. It means to fix one’s eyes on, to continue to focus on or give attention to. The verb is in present tense, so it denotes continuing action.
The readers have begun to drift from their first trust in Jesus, adding in other rituals or even other beings to trust in to help them deal with the stresses, conflicts, and suffering of their lives. They are tempted by the desire to find some additional “key” that will help them to be secure, pain-free, or more successful. The author has agreed with them that they live in the “not yet.” God’s intention for humanity is to crown them with glory, to have dominion over creation. But here and now, these Christians are in the midst of a world and life that stills seems very much broken and incomplete. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him (2:8). These Hebrew Christians are tempted to believe that really, their circumstances tell them what reality is, and so they are looking for what they can add to their faith to make their more obvious circumstances better.
If our circumstances cannot tell us the truth, what can? Well, the author tells them that we do see Jesus, and He is the one now exalted. He's the one who tells us the truth, not our view of our current circumstances. So, he is telling them to keep on looking away from themselves and looking on Jesus. They are to consider, that is, dwell on, actively fix on the reality and presence of Jesus moment by moment.
Now we may be wondering, practically, how exactly to do this. Do we use Jesus’ name as a sort of mantra, saying it over and over? Do we ignore the circumstances of our lives, pretend they don’t exist, and try to “trust” by our sheer willpower that Jesus cares? I think the author has anticipated these misguided responses all along. He calls Jesus the apostle and high priest of our confession. They need to know, and continue to know better, the Jesus they are considering. Only by soaking in real state of affairs, the state brought about now that God has spoken by His Son, can they, and us, see their current circumstances with any clarity.
What does this phrase mean about Jesus being the apostle and high priest of our confession? Actually this can be viewed as a summary of all that the author has written so far. Jesus is both the one in whom God comes to us and in whom we are able to come to God. To better understand this, we need to look back to the Old Testament. The story of the Jews is really the story of the God who came to them and committed Himself to covenant relationship with them. This God wasn’t their idea. They weren’t seeking for a new god to worship. Their story is about the God who came to them and continued to come even in the face of their great resistance to Him. He told Abraham and later his descendents, “I will be your God, and you will be my people.” In order to be their God, the one who dwelt in their midst, God continually unfolded for them His good and faithful character and purposes for His creation. They found they couldn’t manipulate or try to appease Him as the pagans did with their gods. They kept smacking up against the hard reality that He was, indeed, the God who is-- “I am that I am” as He said to Moses.
God both came to them and revealed much about Himself over time, but He also made the way for them to come, to respond rightly, to Him. For, after all, how were these sinful creatures going to dwell with the Holy Creator and Sustainer Himself? As James Torrance, the late Scottish theologian, says in Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace (IVP) God provided them their worship and sacrificial system as “ordinances of grace”. He gave precise, detailed instructions to Moses for the construction of the tabernacle, the choosing of the priests, the kinds of sacrifices, etc. They were given no room to try and invent some way to approach or appease God on their own. God did not leave them guessing as how they were to be His people. He provided the way for them to respond to Him.
They learned that this God, who had come to them, was utterly other, above the creation that He made—the Holy One. But, at the same time, they learned that He would provide the way for them to dwell with Him. God told them how to consecrate, or make holy, objects and people to enable His people to receive from Him, to know Him, to have Him live in their midst. But, yes, the access to Him was still limited. The tabernacle was divided into 3 sections: the outer courtyard where all the people could come, the Holy Place, where the priests could go, and the Holy of Holies, which was entered only once a year and only by the high priest.
That day was the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur. It was the day that gathered up all the worship, all the sacrifices of the year. There is a lot we could say about the significance of this day and how it was observed, but we can do that later, because it will continue to be significant in this letter (you can also read more in Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace). For now, I just want to say a couple of things about the high priest’s role on the Day of Atonement. The high priest had the dual role of representing the people to God, and God to the people. In order to enter into the Holy of Holies, the high priest had to go through special preparations and wear special vestments. His breastplate, and the shoulder stones had etched on them the names of all the tribes of Israel. As the high priest entered into the Holy of Holies, these names pointed to the idea that all of Israel entered with him. The people waited outside, in the courtyard while he made his way in, carrying on behalf of them all the blood from the sacrifice to sprinkle on the altar for all of their sins. After God had atoned for their sin in accepting this sacrifice, the high priest returned to the people, this time as God’s representative to them, announcing their forgiveness and giving them a blessing.
This is the imagery the author has in mind here when he speaks of Jesus as our apostle and high priest. As the author told his readers at the beginning of the letter, God has sent out His word, in many and various ways, by the prophets. And now, in these last days, He has sent out Himself in the person of His Son. In Jesus, the apostle of our confession, God has come to us, has “tabernacled” among us as John says in the prologue to his gospel. He is the very self-revelation and presence of God in the midst of His creation.
And Jesus is the high priest of our confession. He has grabbed hold of our fallen humanity, become like us in every respect, and He makes our response to God, in our place and on our behalf. He provides us with his response as our response. Jesus is the reality that the Day of Atonement and the high priest pointed to. He comes to us to reveal the nature, character, and purposes of the Holy God and He partakes of our sinful nature, to purify us and heal us from the inside out and take us back up to the Father.
T. F. Torrance (brother of James), in his book Atonement (IVP) says this about this verse:
In the three instances of homologia or ‘confession’ in the epistle to the Hebrews what is set forth is primarily the confession made by the high priest as he enters within the veil into the holy presence of God. It is the confession of our sin and the confession of God’s righteous judgement upon our sin. As apostle Jesus Christ bears witness for God, that God is holy, and brings that holiness to bear directly upon humanity and human sin. As our high priest Jesus Christ acknowledges that God is holy, acknowledges God’s holy wrath against our sin and says amen to it. Again as apostle he confesses the mercy and grace of God, his will to pardon and reconcile. As our high priest he intercedes for men and women and confesses them before the face of God as his own flesh and blood….and Jesus does this, not only in word, but in deed and life, in concrete reality” (p.89)
Amazing how much there can be to say on just one verse! There is a lot in Hebrews that can seem somewhat foreign to us, and we may start to feel a bit overwhelmed by all of the background. Don’t worry. Because the author is really, in many ways, just warming up to his subject, I think what he is saying will become more and more clear…and wonderful!
Let me wrap this up with a few thoughts. The author, to reach the point of telling his readers to consider Jesus, has been doing just that with them all along! He has been speaking of Jesus, pointing to Him for His readers to look upon, reminding them of the tremendous change that has taken place since God has spoken by His Son. They, and we, are to fix our eyes on Jesus, because only He can tell us what is true and real, who He is and who we really are. In the midst of all their daily concerns and struggles, they have started to turn their eyes to angels or other objects that might help them to suffer less or be more successful. But they were drifting because they had an inadequate or even faulty view of their salvation in Christ. The author encourages them to consider Jesus because He is present, with them, bringing the whole triune God to them, and them into the very presence and communion of God. And that's what we're doing when we study Hebrews as the author intends and now exhorts us explicitly to do.
When we don’t consider Jesus, isn’t it often because we don’t trust that He is present and faithfully active to bring about His good work in our lives? We forget (don’t we?) that He knows more of our circumstances, relationships, and even ourselves than we do. And when we do forget, other things seem to loom larger and have more real weight and take more heightened effect. But as we reconsider!--we remember we can rely on His active, living grace to be at work in every moment of our day as Lord of all, and over all. What did the Hebrew Christians need to hear? What do we need in the midst of all we are facing? To gaze on the actual grace of God that has come all the way to us in Jesus to give us a share in His wonderful life—this is the reality, the key that enables us to see the truth about everything else, the One who puts everything in its true perspective.