In his book, Rejoice and Tremble, Michael Reeves makes the following insightful comment:
When people, through misunderstanding, become simply afraid of God, they will never entrust themselves to him but must turn elsewhere for their security. In fact, it is when people have this confused fear of God that they turn to other gods.Michael Reeves, Rejoice and Tremble
One of the primary benefits of reading God’s Word and sitting under its preaching is that we might gain a sense of security. An improper fear of God jeopardizes that security. The solution is to have a better understanding of God.
The temptation for the original audience, a small house church of Jewish believers in Rome, was to return to the temple. They were told that participation in the sacrificial system of the old covenant would bring relief. Later passages in Hebrews will make this very clear (Heb 6:6; 9:13-14; 10:1-18). So the author is addressing their concerns right from the start, keeping the issue of their redemption at the forefront of their minds. If they decide to reject Christ they will remain in their sin.
As long as we live in this body of flesh we are tempted to either make peace with our sin or to make up for our sin. We either grow complacent and numb to the consequences of sin, or we think we can address our guilt through some personal means of penance.
The humiliation of the Son accomplished our redemption and his exaltation secures it.
Read Hebrews 1:1-4.
This prologue opened with the idea that God’s final word has been “spoken to us by his Son” (Heb 1:2). That revelation has come in the person and work of Christ. In his person, Jesus perfectly reveals God’s character and attributes. In his work, Jesus perfectly saves God’s people from their sins.
The Greek is clear, this purification has been fully accomplished by the Son. And we know that he did not do it in the same way that he upholds the universe, “by the word of his power.” Rather, he made purification for sins, by putting sin to death in the sacrifice of himself upon the cross. Later on, the author will clarify that this purification required the shedding of blood (Heb 9:14, 22; cf 1 Jn 1:7-9).
The idea of purification implies that sin defiles a person. This Son is capable of purifying others because he himself was without sin (Heb 4:15). In the Old Testament, a person was made clean by the sprinkled blood of a sacrificial animal. Here, even under the old covenant, there was a connection between cleansing and atonement (Ex 30:10; Lev 16:30).
His death accomplished the purification that he himself did not need. This is where the idea of “substitution” enters the doctrine of atonement. We call it penal substitutionary atonement because Christ took the penalty that we deserved. He suffered upon the cross in our place. He shed his own blood that we might be cleansed, once and for all!
No Room For Self-Justification
Martin Luther had to learn, that “there is no room for self-cleansing or self-justification on the part of man” (Hughes).
Melanchthon, Luther, and Reformation theology broke decisively with this medieval concept of merit. The believer’s acceptance to eternal life, they maintained, was not some far-off goal, grounded in the storing up of moral or spiritual qualities in the believer’s life. It was a present reality, here and now; and as far as the demands of the law were concerned, it was based on the imputation to the believer of Christ’s righteousness.Nick Needham, 2,000 Years of Christ’s Power
We explain justification simply as the acceptance with which God receives us into His favour as righteous people. And we say that it consists in the forgiveness of sins and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.John Calvin, Institutes 3:11:2
It is not from works that we are set free by the faith of Christ, but from the belief in works, that is from foolishly presuming to seek justification through works. Faith redeems our consciences, makes them upright, and preserves them, since by it we recognize the truth that justification does not depend on our works, although good works neither can nor ought to be absent, just as we cannot exist without food and drink and all the functions of this mortal body.”Martin Luther, “Concerning Christian Liberty”
Attempting to purify yourself is like lathering up with mud in swamp water. Instead of getting clean, you only exacerbate the problem.
Jewish believers in Rome might have thought that they would find some sense of relief from cultural pressure were they to abandon their faith in Christ. But surely they were not excited to return to ritualistic purification. All of the types and shadows of Christ that could be seen in the temple would only expound the shame of their apostasy.
They needed to consider the impact of their spiritual purification, and the cost the Son paid in order to bring it about. The same is true for any believer who has become enamored by the fleeting pleasures offered by this fallen world, our lustful flesh, and the deceitful temptation of the devil.
We must fight against every temptation with the sword of the Spirit, clothed in the whole armor of God (Eph 6:10-20). We must put on the belt of truth, acknowledging that this substitutionary atonement could be accomplished by no one else—especially us!
It is remarkable that the same Son who radiates God’s glory would take upon himself the rags of mankind. The same Son who perfectly represents God’s nature took upon himself a human nature. The same Son who sustains the universe died upon the cross to cleanse the whole world of her sins (1 Jn 2:2).
Anyone and everyone who places their faith in Jesus Christ will have the stains of sin washed as white as snow (Isa 1:18). Christ’s atonement is sufficient for all, but efficient only for some. Jesus’ death has infinite meritorious value, but it only saves those who believe in him.
By reminding his audience of the purification accomplished by the Son, those who were saved would reflect upon genuine relief they felt when their shame was removed and their stains were washed away. True purification took place when they stopped pursuing salvation by works.
Whether you have grown complacent in your fight against sin or you are trying to once again earn your own salvation—you need the Spirit to grant you the faith to know the pride shattering doctrine of the Son’s penal substitutionary atonement.
› This purification was not hypothetically or partially accomplished, it was a prerequisite for his enthronement that followed. After fully completing the purification of all who place their faith in him he received his…
This is the main idea of this opening sentence. Every other clause is subordinate to the aorist active verb “sat down.” Every other descriptive phrase justifies the heavenly enthronement of the Son.
The author shifts from the cross to the throne, leaping over the resurrection and ascension. Of course, this is not to minimize the importance of those redemptive events, but to emphasize the exaltation of the Son in a concise manner. Jesus would not be on the throne without his resurrection and ascension, but they all belong to the providential plan that placed him there. He came to earth to make purification for sins, then he sat upon his throne.
There is an important principle to consider here. Some Christians have the impression that the Gospel should be expressed in a consistent formulaic fashion. You should go from steps 1-5 without skipping anything in between. Scripture is rarely so formulaic.
The author is alluding to Psalm 110:1, which he will quotes in Heb 1:13 and alludes to again in Heb 8:1; 10:12; 12:2. Some have suggested that “Psalm 110:1serves as a key to the structural development of the book” (CNTUOT).
If the people think they will return to the temple to worship the One True God, they are mistaken. How could they worship God while ignoring the Son who is seated at his right hand? The temple is an earthly copy of the heavenly throne room in which the Son is continually ministering to his Church (Heb 8:1-5).
It Is Finished!
We should also emphasize the symbolism of Jesus sitting down. If He stands in order to act (Acts 7:55-56), then he sits to indicate that the work has been finished. Unlike the high priests in the temple, who are still standing because their service never ends (Heb 10:11-12), the sacrificial work of Jesus Christ is complete. This is why he declared “It is finished!” before giving up his spirit as he hung upon the cross (Jn 19:30).
The phrase “It is finished” is a translation of the Greek word “Τετέλεσται”. It is the perfect passive form of “τελέω” which means to complete or finish. When a father sent his son on a mission, he did not return until he completed the last act. When he did, he would announce his accomplishment with the triumphant declaration “Τετέλεσται”. As the Son breathed his final breath, he reported his completed mission to his Father. And his Father rewarded him by giving him occupancy of the highest, most honored seat.
The same body that was crucified, is now exalted. Jesus was resurrected, ascended, and enthroned in his glorified body! He is seated at God’s right hand. This is an anthropomorphism, using human characteristics to describe God. This language helps us to understand the power and glory that Christ enjoys. The right side was reserved for those with the highest honor.
So Bathsheba went to King Solomon to speak to him on behalf of Adonijah. And the king rose to meet her and bowed down to her. Then he sat on his throne and had a seat brought for the king’s mother, and she sat on his right.1 Kings 2:19
Calvin argues, “To sit at the right hand of the Father is nothing else than to govern in the place of the Father, as deputies of princes are wont to do to whom a full power over all things is granted.”
If the Son is seated on his throne, then no amount of cultural pressure can finally rip you from his grip. John 10:28 “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”
Christ’s heavenly enthronement shows that our salvation is not temporary, but secure. And what we see of his kingdom on this earth is not the measure of his power. So even when your faith is weak, he remains seated in glory—keeping your inheritance “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” (1 Pt 1:3). “If we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim 2:13).
The Son was exalted to the right hand of the Majesty on high to display his glory. His heavenly enthronement reveals the divine acceptance of his redemptive work and shows the authority he received. It also makes plain that the Son is able to save those who draw near to him by faith, making continual intercession for them (Heb 7:25).
How doth Christ make intercession? Christ maketh intercession, by his appearing in our nature continually before the Father in heaven, in the merit of his obedience and sacrifice on earth, declaring his will to have it applied to all believers: answering all accusations against them, and procuring for them quiet of conscience, notwithstanding daily failings, access with boldness to the throne of grace, and acceptance of their persons and services.Westminster Larger Catechism 55
Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts (Heb 3:7-8; cf Ps 95:7-8)! Trust in the finished work of the Son that he completed for you on the cross and now keeps secure through his continual intercession for you. The Son’s substitutionary atonement makes you completely pure and his heavenly enthronement keeps you eternally secure. Then join in the chorus of the saints—across the globe and those whose souls have already entered into glory—giving praise and honor to the Son!
The Son is the True Prophet whose final word God has spoken to us; He’s the True Priest who made purification for our sins; and He is the True King who sits enthroned at the right hand of the Majesty on high.