The Dongola Times

(Anachronistic) Dispatches from the Kingdom of Makuria.
11th of October, 2013

The Body of Christ and Sanctification Theology in the Epistle to the Hebrews

I find that “the body of Jesus Christ” shows up very often in the context of sanctification in the epistle to the Hebrews.

Hebrews 10, for instance, goes repeatedly over the fact that God prepared a body for Jesus, that He might come and do His will. But what will?

… then He said, “Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God.” He takes away the first that He may establish the second. By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Emphasis mine.

This theme develops in Hebrews, because everything that was written there was written to show the truth to a certain viewpoint. No other epistle starts off by taking two chapters to argue that Jesus is far above angels. When you understand it well, you understand to whom it was written. Contrary to what it may seem like today, there were many viewpoints in Israel during the New Testament times, even though the dominant ones were necessarily few (Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes). 1 Enoch didn’t preserve itself.

For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.

The Hebrew relates the sprinkling of water for purification, in the Law of Moses, with the sprinkling of pure water by the body of Jesus. There is no explicit mention of the Roman solider piercing His side, such that water and blood came out—and it is even possible that the Hebrew didn’t know of that—but the picture is very clear that some, like Paul (or “the other letters of Paul”, as one would say, who believes that Paul wrote Hebrews), are more interested in the blood, rather than the water. Fine. Very good! The blood has purposes! By it we are covered from the wrath of God.

But to the Hebrew, obsessed as he is with the Levitical law, the issue is what the sacrifices show. Because he says that:

For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect.

Which means that he is convinced that this one makes perfect those who approach. It is not just something having a shadow. The Law is not even the shadow itself; it only has the shadow. After all, the Law doesn’t ever promise righteousness even to those who follow it perfectly. Go and check! The only thing it promises is material benefits to the nation and individual. It was never even a guide for moral living; moral living cannot ever be reduced to something written down. This is why it is necessarily true, as the Bible says, that believers have the Holy Spirit. He is our true moral compass. (No laws, none, can ever replace the indwelling of God as the true moral guide. Just the truth. Forgetting this extremely crucial truth is the always-open wide gate to privileging the traditions of men over the commandments of God, love, mercy, seeking peace, charity, and lots of sound fun. True religion is neither liturgy nor rituals, but honest response to the bidding of God in our hearts: defend the weak, provide for the destitute, acknowledge Jesus Christ.)

And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.
But the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us; for after He had said before, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord:I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,” then He adds, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin.

If the writer of Hebrews were a priest, you can see the disillusionment he would have suffered, as the Holy Spirit told him already about the new covenant, and the ineffectiveness of the Law in making perfect those who draw near.

Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

Now we have read there that he recognises the flesh of Jesus Christ to be the veil. The veil kept the mere mortals out of the Holiest place. Now he is encouraging us to enter that Holiest place, since the route to there has been consecrated through the flesh of Jesus Christ.
So we saw that “we are sanctified” by the body, and now we see that “a new way was consecrated” by the flesh.

But it gets richer, when you follow the flesh further beyond the temple. The last chapter, Hebrews 13:

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines. For it is good that the heart be established by grace, not with foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them.

In the NIV, that first sentence is decoupled from the one that comes after it, by a section heading[1]. Clearly, though, the Hebrew is saying that since Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (something he also touches on in the first chapter), the teachings on Jesus Christ should not change. So he says “Do not be carried about with many and varying doctrines.” Why? Because it is good that the heart be established by grace, not with the sacrifices that only have a shadow of the good things that are now here. It is seldom discussed, and even more-rarely understood, that the reason Jesus Christ instituted the cup and the breaking of bread was to replace the need to sacrifice again. Hence the importance of the breaking of break—“My body”, whose tearing, like the tearing of the veil, made a new and living way. This is why the wine is there, as well, because it is the blood. We do these in remembrance, since Calvary was done “once for all.”

Closing with an added exhortation to calmly leave the mainstream, reproaches notwithstanding, a call as urgent and important and pressing in our days as it was in their days:

We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach.

Sanctify the people with His blood.

[1] The NIV, in its introduction, says that section headings will prove to be better than chapter and verse markings. Naïve, but nice try. I think it was James Ross who had an essay called, Immaterial Aspects of Thought, which could have warned them about what they may encounter. Even so, nice try.