Meditations in Hebrews 1: 9. Sin Purifier
Heb 1:3b After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
We will only consider the first half of this sentence here and leave the second part until the next study. It is a slightly strange description of Jesus’ work on the Cross, because that is what it is, the only reference to his work of redemption in this short-hand or potted description of Jesus. It is strange because it has a completely different emphasis to it. Let’s see its usual use in presentation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The angel speaking to Joseph in a dream said of his future son, “you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Mt 1:21) At the Last Supper Jesus himself said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Mt 26:28). Speaking of John the Baptist, Mark records, “John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mk 1:4) His father, Zechariah in his prophetic prayer, spoke of his son, “you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.” (Lk 1:76,77) On the road to Emmaus, Jesus taught the two disciples that, “The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations.” (Lk 24:46,47) On the Day of Pentecost at the end of his first sermon, Peter declared, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” (Acts 2:38)
And so we could carry on. The big emphasis in every single one of those verses about the work of Jesus, is on forgiveness. That is the main New Testament thrust, which is slightly different from the Old Testament thrust. Speaking of the work of the high priest Moses writes, “on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the LORD, you will be clean from all your sins,” (Lev 16:30) which accords with what we now have here in Hebrews, “After he had provided purification for sins……”
Let’s see how some other versions put it: “After he finished the sacrifice for sins.” (Message version). “He is the one who died to cleanse us and clear our record of all sin” (Living Bible). Understandably the Easy to Read version of the Bible puts it most simply: “The Son made people clean from their sins.” Yes they each place this emphasis rightly on us being ‘cleansed’ from our sins. So why did I suggest that this is an Old Testament emphasis. I suggest there are three things to say.
Well, first, because the Old Testament Law was all about behaviour, how to live righteously as the people of God and so when it came to the Day of Atonement it was all about having sins washed away so that the individual could continue to carry on being one of God’s people free from their past sin so they could walk anew and free from its guilt and, even more, its practice, tomorrow. It was all about behaviour.
Second, by contrast, the New Testament salvation is all about relationship with God. It is all about now being free from guilt and shame to live Spirit-empowered and Spirit-directed lives, as adopted children of God, that are pleasing to our Father in heaven. To be able to do that, we must first know that we are FORGIVEN. That is why all those verses above put the emphasis on forgiveness.
But there is a third thing. The writer to the Hebrews is writing to Jews and Jews would know their history and that included about the Day of Atonement and would know the thrust there was on cleansing. Moreover, as he goes through his ‘book’ he is going to explain the work of Jesus in terms of the High Priest. It will all be Old Testament language and concepts and the big thrust there, as we have said several times, is on being cleansed from our sins.
Now interestingly the apostle John in his first letter brings these two things together: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9) or as the old RSV that I grew up with put it, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” To emphasis it, let’s check a couple of the other versions: “He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing.” (Message) and “he forgives our sins and makes us thoroughly clean from all that is evil.” (JBP)
So there it is. Today we have this double emphasis of the work of Christ on the Cross. When we receive his work, we are forgiven (so we can live at peace with God) AND we are cleansed (so that we can live new righteous lives). Do you see the fruit from that work? First it is peace with God and second, it is newness of life. Hallelujah!