By Tyson Thorne

March 27, 2018
 

Hebrews 11 Large

In the opening verse of chapter eight we see that the chapter break is in a bad place. The author tells us he is about to provide the reason, or main point, of all he has discussed in chapter seven. While some of his reasoning is redundant, having already been argued, there are a few gems of interest he mentions along the way. Before we get to those, however, we need to review what the author is trying to prove, namely, that Jesus is a superior high priest to any among the Levitical priesthood, superior to Moses and even greater than Abraham.

Our high priest, Jesus, is superior because he shares the throne room with God the Father. (verse 1). Furthermore, Jesus serves in the tabernacle, or temple, of heaven rather than the one set up on earth. This is an interesting argument, made nowhere else in the New Testament. Skipping over the verses that discuss the offerings made by the two priesthoods, we find this description of the temple: "The place where they serve is a sketch and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary..." This is not Pauline language, but it is representative of language used by another philosophy that grew popular during the early days of the church.

That philosophy, known as Hermetism, grew out of Plato's teachings. Plato believed that everything that existed on earth was a shadow, or a representation of the perfect thing in heaven. His example was often a chair, stating that every chair on earth is a dull reflection of the True Chair. In Hermetism this is expressed by a phrase used in occult groups to this day, "As above, so below." This is part of the reason I believe Hebrews was written by Apollos rather than Paul. It is debatable if Paul would have been familiar with such philosophies, but for a man educated at the Library of Alexandria it would have been core curriculum. Regardless of authorship, the underlying philosophy is unique unless one considers the Lord's Prayer, "Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." In fact, the Message Bible (which I abhor, by the way) translates this section as, "Do what is best — as above, so below."

Even if this philosophy is suspect on the whole, it applies in this specific case. God did give Moses specific instructions to build the tabernacle (verse 5), likely so it represents what is in heaven. It leads one to wonder how much the entire priesthood represents heaven. The author answers that question, the best sinful man can represent perfection is as a shadow.

We are then treated to a word picture of how much greater this heavenly tabernacle and priesthood are in comparison. The chapter concludes with a quote from Jeremiah 31, showing how the prophets of old foresaw, incompletely, God's eternal plan and the new covenant. To borrow another phrase from Hermetism, "so mote it be."

 

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