Relevant Verses: Hebrews 7-10
Leading Question: If the earthly sanctuary was intended to be a bridge between sinful humanity and a holy God, how are modern Christians to relate to that sanctuary in the light of the revelation of God in Christ Jesus?
One of the more striking New Testament passages dealing with God’s presence among us, is this one from 1 John 1:1-4:
1 We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— 3 we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete (NRSV).
Thus we see God with our eyes and touch him with our hands. This God takes children into his arms, lays his hands on them and blesses them (Mark 10:16).
Question: With such a picture of God, why do we need to talk about the earthly sanctuary, which represents a holy God who carefully keeps his distance from us and warns us to keep our distance from him?
The book of Hebrews represents a bold attempt to build a bridge between the distant God, represented by the earthly sanctuary, and the approachable God, represented by Jesus. And the author of Hebrews tackles this monumental task by using the earthly sanctuary as his primary teaching tool! Two observations about Hebrews’ approach are crucial:
1. Jesus is the better way. The opening lines of the book stress the superlative nature of God’s revelation through Jesus:
Hebrews 1:1 Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 3 He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs (NRSV).
2. Through Jesus, we can break through to the holiest of holies. In the earthly sanctuary, the holiest place was separated from the rest of the sanctuary by a curtain or veil. Hebrews tells us that it was Jesus who broke through that veil for us:
Hebrews 10:19 Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching (NRSV).
Question: What are we to make of the statement in 1 John 4:18 that “perfect love casts out fear,” when God continues to use fear as a motivating force?
On the use of fear, two points from a New Testament perspective:
1. Fear as a choice. The apostle Paul did not hesitate to use fear as a motivating force. Indeed he offered fear as an option to the believers: “What would you prefer? Am I to come to you with a stick, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?” (1 Cor. 4:21, NRSV).
2. Rejecting any of God’s initiatives is dangerous. But rejection of the best revelation of all triggers a fearful judgment. While stressing the “better” way of Jesus, Hebrews is not afraid to say that if you reject the better revelation in Jesus, great trouble will come upon you. It is Hebrews 10:31 that tells us: “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (NRSV). And it is Hebrews who tells the believers that they haven’t come that scary mountain, but to Zion. But note his rationale and the punch line in 10:29: “Our God is a consuming fire.”
Hebrews 12:18 You have not come to something[ that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, 19 and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. 20 For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.” 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
25 See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven! 26 At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; 29 for indeed our God is a consuming fire.
Question: Could it be possible that the careless will confront judgment from the setting of the heavenly sanctuary while the careful and sensitive will be able to take comfort by the mediation that comes through Christ – also from the heavenly sanctuary? In short, is it possible that all possible motivational options are provided by the vision of the heavenly sanctuary?