The Theology of the book of Hebrews
This book sets out a very definite teaching about Jesus:
1. Jesus is the son of God, who has shared in the creation of the universe and continues to share in God’s rule.
2. Jesus is the human son of God, who has lived in a human body, experienced human temptation and suffering, died a human death and is therefore expert in human weakness.
3. Jesus is the pioneer of human perfection because he has conquered all the obstacles to perfection.
4. He has completely offered himself to God, not in a ritual way, but in his complete obedience to God’s command and dedication to God’s goodness.
5. Does this book explicitly call Jesus “divine”? Certainly it gives him titles such as Lord and attributes such as eternity which are commonly reserved for God, but it does not declare him to be divine. We can say that he fully shares the divine life without ceasing to be human. Perhaps rather than seeing this as a limitation of the status of Jesus we should see it as an extension of the status of God: God is also human.
We are also given specific teaching about what Jesus has done for humanity:
1. He has opened a way for human beings to share the ultimate Sabbath rest of God, beyond the Sabbath of past creation, beyond the gift of the promised land to the Jews. This is complete safety and freedom from all ills. Although the fullness of this rest is doubtless reserved for the end times, it can be known “today” by those who listen to him.
2. This rest is also salvation, meaning the definitive rescue of human beings from the power of sin. Jesus is the originator of this rescue by his own conquest of sin and death.
3. This conquest is achieved by his offering of his life to God’s goodness by which he acts as a high priest for humanity, especially in the offering of his blood, that is, in his death on the cross. It is important to follow the author in understanding this not as ritual, but as living history: sin is expiated when human beings identify in their history with the offering made by Jesus in his. Jesus makes the perfect offering, once (one time) for all (all times and places). His offering is not made instead of humanity’s but as the means by which human beings can make their own, albeit imperfect, offering of themselves to God.
4. The offering of one’s human life to God is made through faith, meaning trust in God. Trust is needed because sin and death rather than God’s rescue and rest are obvious in this world. Faith is a rebellion against obvious reality: it is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. It allows the believer to face the reality of the world with confidence in the reality of God. The great heroes of Israel exhibited this faith, as did Jesus, who faced suffering and death for “the sake of the joy set before him.” Such faith puts God’s faithfulness to the test, but “God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”
5. The community of Jesus is the pilgrim community of faith which includes Jews and Gentiles in which by mutual love to each other and to strangers, faith is maintained. Falling away from the community means falling into unbelief, which is not atheism but idolatry. Believers are part the New Covenant mediated by Jesus, anticipating by their faith the arrival of the city of God.
The strength and originality of this theology is clear; it should be more used by contemporary theologians than it is.