Friday, September 9, 2011

Hebrews: Jesus Christ, "The Author and Finisher of Our Faith"


Have a bowl of small treats, such as mini chocolate bars, on display on the table.  Don't mention them or answer any questions about them, but don't allow anyone to have one.

If the book of Hebrews was studied and understood by the other Christian sects of the world today, it would change their beliefs and doctrines drastically.  Here is a very general outline of Hebrews.


Paul's primary calling was to bear witness of Christ.  Therefore, Paul opens every single epistle by witnessing of the godhead and what they are like.  In this epistle, he opens with the most explicit description of all:  Jesus Christ is
  1. Heavenly Father's Son
  2. Heir of all things
  3. Creator of the worlds
  4. The brightness of his Father's glory (a much expanded "apple of his eye" statement)
  5. The express image of his Father's person.
All of chapters 1 and 2 are devoted to teaching about Christ's character and calling.

An allusion to the following section is made in 2:17--He became part mortal in order that he might become a "merciful and faithful high priest."  4:14-15--We have a high priest who understands us.

What does it mean to say that he was a high priest?  Well, as you can imagine, if you have been paying attention the past few weeks and learned of Paul's other epistles, it is going to have to do with the Atonement.


Chapters 7-9 detail the duties of the high priests of the Old Testament and explain that all of their responsibilities were types of Christ--in other words, they symbolized and foreshadowed Christ and his Atonement.  Foreshadowing is put in literature to allude to an important event later in the story.  Foreshadowing in the Old Testament is to explicitly point the people to Christ.

Melchizedek was the greatest high priest and the greatest type of Christ.

"For this Melchesedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him; to whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace" (7:1-2).

The rest of chapter 7 tells about high priests of the Aaronic Priesthood, under the Law of Moses, compared to Christ and the Melchizedek Priesthood.  Ordination to the Melchizedek Priesthood depended upon personal righteousness, not lineage, as did the Aaronic.  (See v. 3.)  (Be sure to note the three large JST passages in the footnotes.)

The summary is found in 8:1-4 (with JST footnote):  "Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; a minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man.  For every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices: where it is of necessity that this man have somewhat also to offer.  Therefore while he was on the earth, he offered for a sacrifice his own life for the sins of the people.  Now every priest under the law, must needs offer gifts, or sacrifices, according to the law."

The high priests, under the Law of Moses, had a tabernacle or a temple (9:2).  Josephus, the ancient Jewish historian, reported that Melchizedek had a temple (Ogden/Skinner, New Testament Apostles Testify of Christ, p. 255).  Within this temple, once a year, the high priest would enter the Holy of Holies alone in behalf of the people, to offer a sacrifice for their sins (9:3-7).  This was symbolic only; he could not actually pay for the sins of the people. 

"But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come"  [isn't that a nice phrase:  "an high priest of good things to come"] "by a greater and more perfect tabernacle [his body], not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us." (9:11-12).  He sacrificed his own blood, and he entered, not just the Holy of Holies, but what the Holy of Holies symbolized:  Eternal Life.

The result of this for us is found in 10:17-22:  "And [our] sins and iniquities will [he] remember no more.  Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin [no more need for the earthly high priest to offer blood sacrifices].  Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest [the Holy of Holies, or Eternal Life] by [because of] the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh [his bodily sacrifice provides the entryway for us to enter that Holy of Holies, as the veil in the temple does] and having an high priest [Christ] over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts [purified] from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water [the Living Water of Jesus Christ's atonement]."

The arch shows the relationship between the concepts taught in Hebrews.  In his teachings about the Melchizedek Priesthood, Paul links back to his witness of Christ, calling Christ the Great High Priest.


First we find a definition of faith, or perhaps the formula under which faith grows:  "Now faith is the substance [assurance or guarantee] of things hoped for, the evidence [proof] of things not [yet] seen" (11:1).

"The assurance is founded upon a correct understanding about and trust in God and enables us to press forward into uncertain...situations...The witness we obtained after the trial of our faith is the evidence that enlarges and strengthens our assurance...Assurance leads to action and produces evidence" (David A. Bednar, CES talk given February 3, 2006).  So as something tries our faith, and our trust in God is rewarded, we have more proof that God is there and that he helps us, and so the next time, our faith has a greater assurance.  This cycle continues throughout our lives, if we continue to exercise faith.

Following this definition or formula, we are given 18 great examples of faith.  "For by [faith] the elders [ancestors, forebears] obtained a good report [a beneficial result]" (2:2).

You may want to ask your class to look over vs. 3-40 and see how many examples of faith they can find.

The greatest and first example, of course, was Christ.  We speak of the necessity of having faith in Christ, but Christ also exercised faith, because faith is the principle upon which the Priesthood works.
  1. "Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God [Christ], so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.  (Things were physically formed from spiritual creations or ideas.)
  2. "By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain..."  (Abel's sacrifice was "more excellent" than Cain's in that it was in exact obedience to God's command, and in that it symbolized Christ's atonement.  Cain made up his own sacrifice, which symbolized nothing.)
  3. "By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found [on the earth any longer], because God had translated him; for before his translation he had this testimony[:] that he pleased God.  But without faith it is impossible to please him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him."  This perfectly matches Joseph Smith's first Lecture on Faith:  That we must know God, know his character, and know that our lives are pleasing to him in order to exercise faith.
  4. Noah
  5. Abraham
  6. Sara
  7. Isaac
  8. Jacob
  9. Joseph
  10. Moses
  11. Joshua (walls of Jericho)
  12. Rahab
  13. Gideon
  14. Barak
  15. Samson
  16. Jephthae
  17. David
  18. Samuel
The stories of all these faithful people can be found by following the footnotes.

Ask your class whether they have faith in you as a teacher and your willingness and ability to give them a treat.  Undoubtedly, they will all say they do in hopes of getting a treat.  Give most of the class members a small treat, like a bite-size chocolate bar.  Ignore the rest of the class.  Everyone will protest loudly, but continue with the lesson.

Note that faith does not always immediately produced the hoped-for results.  Although some "through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions...received their dead raised to life again..."  (11:33-35), "others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection (JST says "first resurrection"): and others had trials of cruel mockings and scourgings...they were stoned, they were sawn asunder...And these all, having obtained a good report [satisfactory result--can this be a satisfactory result?] through faith, received not the promise..."  (11:35-39).

What?  Is it a satisfactory result to not receive the "promise," the answer you wanted?

Yes, in fact, it's always more than satisfactory because if God does not give the requested blessing, it is because he has prepared a better one.

"...God having provided some better things for them through their sufferings, for without sufferings they could not be made perfect."  (11:40 JST footnote).

Now ask those class members who didn't get a treat before whether they still have faith in your desire and ability to give them a treat.  They will say yes in hopes of a treat.  Give them a full-size candy bar.  Explain that often God has better blessings in mind for us than we have for ourselves, but he expects us to exercise our faith in patience and wait for the greater blessings.

And the message is summarized (in the next chapter) with an injunction to follow the perfect example of faith:  Jesus Christ.  "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience (patience and faith are inextricably connected) the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author (originator--see 11:3 regarding his faith to create our world) and finisher of faith (who made it possible for us to be finished, perfected); who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God" (12:1-2).  (Notice the word "our" in "finisher of our faith" is in italics, indicating that the King James translators added it in, so I have taken it out.  Christ is the author and finisher of faith itself, not just our faith.)  (See also 12:11.)


Paul was an apostle, and therefore a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.  In every epistle he shows the proper function of his priesthood calling.  (See D&C 121:36, 41-44.)  Paul had the "doctrine of the priesthood distilled upon his soul."  Just as every epistle of Paul the Apostle begins with his witness of Christ, every one is also filled with Paul the High Priest "maintaining power" by "persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, and [the summary of these:] love unfeigned;" some of them with Paul "reproving..with sharpness as moved upon by the Holy Ghost," and all of them "showing afterwards an increase of love."  Every epistle contains (usually at the end) an encouragement--a blessing--a pep talk.  Paul knew that encouragement was a powerful motivator and a necessary tool of priesthood authority.

Paul gave some truly great "pep talks" that we may want to reread ourselves from time to time.  If King James' English had used exclamation points, I have the feeling Paul's writings would be full of them.

As a teacher, you may want to write up each of these on a little handout or fridge magnet, put them in a basket, and let each student randomly choose one out to read, and then to keep and take home to encourage himself throughout the coming week.  There are plenty of others which you can choose from in Paul's writings, but here are a few:
  • "Be content with such things as ye have; for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee"  (Heb. 13:5).
  • "Stand fast in the faith"  (1 Cor. 16:13).
  • "I have confidence in you" (Gal. 5:10).
  • "Put on the whole armour of God" (Eph. 6:13-18).
  • "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" (Philip. 4:13).
  • "Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies" (Col. 3:12-15).
  • "Ye are all the children of light" (1 Thess. 5:5).
  • "We have confidence in the Lord touching you that you both do and will do the things which we command you" (2 Thess. 3:4).
  • "Fight the good fight of faith" (1 Tim. 6:12).
  • "Run with patience the race the race that is set before you" (Heb. 12:2).
  • "Look unto Jesus the author and finisher of faith" (Heb. 12:3)
  • "Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord" (Heb. 12:14).
  • "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers; for thereby some have entertained angels unawares" (Heb. 13:2).
  • "The Lord is my helper" (Heb. 13:6).


Janae said...

Once again, I would love your charts!

Aaron said...

Great job! Excellent compilation of Hebrews and a FANTASTIC way to show how the entire epistle points back to the Savior. I love, love, love it. Thank you again for an excellent lesson!