As World Calamity Nears—‘Consider Jesus’
“Holy brothers, . . . consider the apostle and high priest whom we confess—Jesus.”—HEBREWS 3:1.
1, 2. How can we benefit from an ancient calamity commemorated in Rome?
YOU can find in Rome graphic testimony to a calamity—a calamity that should have a major impact on your life. In the ancient Roman Forum stands the Arch of Titus, commemorating General Titus’ capture and destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. A relief on the arch shows manacled Jews, and Roman soldiers carrying spoils from the city.
2 We as Christians can benefit from that calamity by examining timely Bible counsel that evidently was written nine years or so before that destruction. It is in the book of Hebrews, which the apostle Paul wrote to Hebrew Christians in Jerusalem and Judea.
3. What made the situation of Hebrew Christians in Jerusalem difficult?
3 Our brothers back then were in a very difficult situation. Though Judea seemed to be firmly under the control of Rome, many of the Jews were rebellious. (Acts 5:36, 37) Imagine the fierce pressure such Jews would have put on Jesus’ followers who, being “no part of the world,” would not side with the Jews against Rome. (John 17:16) Another cause of persecution against Hebrew Christians was the Jews’ feeling of superiority because they had been chosen by God, taken into the Law covenant and given a way of worship involving Levitical priests and sacrifices.
4. (a) Why could it be said that Jesus had appeared at “the conclusion of the systems of things”? (b) What did Jesus foretell regarding that conclusion?
4 However, the Jewish epoch—with its systems of temple sacrifices, priests, festivals and Sabbaths—ended first after the Messiah’s sacrificial death. (Galatians 3:24, 25; Colossians 2:13-17) Paul could thus write that God’s Son was manifested as a man “once for all time at the conclusion of the systems of things.” (Hebrews 9:26; 1:2) That conclusion was soon to become undeniably clear, with the destruction of the temple. When Jesus foretold that destruction, his disciples asked, “When will these things be?” (Matthew 23:37–24:3) Jesus replied that there would be wars, food shortages, earthquakes, pestilences and an extensive Kingdom preaching work before the end would come. (Matthew 24:4-14; Luke 21:10, 11) Those words came true in the generation between Jesus’ giving the prophecy and Paul’s writing Hebrews. Christ also foretold for Jerusalem a ‘great tribulation such as had not occurred since the world’s beginning.’ (Matthew 24:21) The destructive tribulation that came on Jerusalem in 70 C.E. was unparalleled and unrepeatable for that city. Yet it was only a miniature fulfillment. Why? Because a “great tribulation” for all the world of mankind was to take place in the distant future.
5. How is it that there will yet be on a larger scale a “great tribulation”?
5 The facts prove that the prophetic words of Jesus have a larger, a major, fulfillment at the time of his “presence and of the conclusion of the system of things.” (Matthew 24:3) Revelation chapter 6, written decades after Jerusalem’s tribulation, also foretold war, famine and sickness. This would involve far more than Judea, for Revelation said that the war would “take peace away from the earth.” (Revelation 6:4) Global developments since World War I in 1914 to 1918 show that we are living in the conclusion of the present wicked system of things, which will climax in a “great tribulation.” This tribulation will eliminate wickedness from the earth, making way for a Paradise under the rule of God’s Kingdom.
6. What indicates that the book of Hebrews was written with our time in mind?
6 The book of Hebrews points down to our time. In it Paul wrote that Christ was then in heaven “awaiting until his enemies should be placed as a stool for his feet.” (Hebrews 10:13) The book also speaks of the time “when [God] again brings his Firstborn into the inhabited earth.”a (Hebrews 1:6) That is now! The evidence shows that Christ has received kingship and acted against God’s enemies in heaven. (Revelation 12:7-12) Christ has turned his attention to the inhabited earth, being invisibly present. So, as Jesus foretold, we will soon face the climactic removal of God’s enemies from our globe. What counsel, then, does Hebrews have for us?
7, 8. Why did Hebrews fittingly focus on Jesus?
7 Paul particularly focused attention on Jesus. He wrote: “Now as to the things being discussed this is the main point: We have such a high priest as this, and he has sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens.” (Hebrews 8:1) Why was that especially appropriate counsel for Christians living at the conclusion of a system of things?
8 Distorted views of Jesus have long existed. First-century Jews were proud that they descended from Abraham, practiced a religion given through Moses and had priests of Aaron’s lineage. So they might have thought: ‘This Jesus of Nazareth is merely a Galilean carpenter’s son.’ They even accused the Son of God of being a demonized Samaritan. (John 7:52; 8:39-41, 48; 9:24, 28, 29) Hence, God wisely encouraged Hebrew Christians to ‘consider Jesus,’ because a proper, balanced view of and relationship with the Son of God would help those Christians to be faithful.
9. What makes the counsel to ‘consider Jesus’ appropriate today, but against what danger do we need to guard?
9 The divine counsel in Hebrews is also helpful to us because false or distorted views of Christ still abound. Many people today, rather than downgrading Jesus as did Jewish opposers, exaggerate his role. Their churches assert that Jesus is part of a triune deity and that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are equal. Yet, who gets most of their attention? Jesus. He is pushed into the foreground, and the Father is squeezed into the shadows. This poses a challenge for true Christians. At John 14:28 Jesus said that his Father was greater, and Psalm 83:18 states that “you, whose name is Jehovah, you alone are the Most High over all the earth.” But we must not overreact to the distorted views about Jesus and unconsciously minimize his true position. As with the Hebrew Christians, a balanced and accurate estimation of Jesus will be of immense value as we face the future.
10. What does Hebrews indicate about Jesus’ position?
10 The book of Hebrews begins by focusing attention on Christ’s superior position. He is now a glorified spirit, “the exact representation of [God’s] very being.” This does not imply that the Father and the Son are one person or one god, for Hebrews 1:3 adds that Jesus has “sat down on the right hand of the Majesty [“of God,” Today’s English Version] in lofty places.” Texts such as Hebrews 2:10 and Heb 5:5, 8 also indicate that Jehovah is superior to the Son. Still, Christ now has “a name [position or reputation] more excellent than [the angels’].”—Hebrews 1:4.
11. (a) How do God’s angels treat Jesus Christ? (b) How is Hebrews 1:6 to be understood?
11 As the faithful angels do, we also need to recognize Christ’s exalted position. Quoting from Psalm 97:7 (Greek Septuagint Version), Hebrews 1:6 says: “Let all God’s angels do obeisance to him.” As other versions render this, the angels “fall before,” “bow down before” or “pay homage” to the Son.b The context suggests that this means that even the angels render homage to Jesus as God’s chief representative and exalted Son. They appreciate that he has been “crowned with glory and honor” and given authority over the inhabited earth to come.—Hebrews 2:5, 9.
12. Why is it important for us to pay attention to Jesus’ words?
12 How should this affect us? After showing Jesus’ superiority over the angels, Paul says: “That is why it is necessary for us to pay more than the usual attention to the things heard by us, that we may never drift away.” (Hebrews 2:1) As the Hebrew Christians knew, the Jews long paid attention to God’s Word, or Law, given through Moses. It is much more vital for us to pay attention to divine guidance provided through Jesus.
13. How might Christians benefit from attention to Jesus? Illustrate.
13 Bearing this out, recall what Jesus Christ had said about fleeing when Jerusalem was surrounded by encamped armies. (Luke 19:43, 44; 21:20-24) The Romans surrounded rebellious Jerusalem in 66 C.E. but then mysteriously withdrew, whereupon Christians fled the city. Their paying attention to Jesus saved their lives when the Romans returned, bringing calamity in 70 C.E. Let us learn a lesson from this: With a world calamity just ahead, ask: ‘Am I giving keen attention to Jesus’ words? For example, does the amount of time I spend in recreation, my attitude toward my job or business, or my view of secular education indicate that I have given attention to Jesus’ words at Luke 12:16-31?’
14. (a) In what way is Jesus the ‘Chief Agent of salvation’? (b) Jesus was “made perfect” in what sense?
14 Hebrews 2:10 calls Jesus the ‘Chief Agent of salvation.’ That is first the case as to anointed Christians who are his “brothers.” (Hebrews 2:11-17) But all who hope for life on a Paradise earth also depend on him for salvation. Paul wrote: “Although he was a Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered; and after he had been made perfect he became responsible for everlasting salvation to all those obeying him, because he has been specifically called by God a high priest.” (Hebrews 5:8-10) Of course, Jesus had been a perfect spirit, and on earth he was physically perfect. Still, in view of his role as our priest, Jesus had to be perfected in another sense. On earth he received training—education, disciplining and testing of his obedience even to death—to perfect him as a merciful and sympathetic high priest.
Confidence in Our High Priest
15. Why do we find so much said about priests in the book of Hebrews?
15 In reading Hebrews you can see that it has much to say about priests. This is to build our understanding of and appreciation for the “high priest whom we confess—Jesus.” (Hebrews 3:1) Paul explains that “every high priest taken from among men is appointed in behalf of men over the things pertaining to God, that he may offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.” (Hebrews 5:1; 8:3) Much of the Law covenant centered on the fact that humans are sinners. That is why sacrifices were offered in their behalf by priests, who also made offerings to cover their own sins. Yet, the animal sacrifices that were repeated time after time did not overcome sin or make any of the people perfect. (Hebrews 7:11, 19, 27; 10:1-4, 11) This proves that a new covenant was needed, along with a new sacrifice and a new high priest.—Jeremiah 31:31-34.
16. How does Jesus as a priest excel over Israelite priests?
16 We have such in Christ. Foreshadowed by Melchizedek, whose lineage is not given in the Bible, Jesus did not become a priest through natural descent from Levi or Aaron. God appointed him directly. (Hebrews 7:1-3, 15-17; 5:5, 6) If God thus approves of Jesus as high priest, can we not have full confidence in him? Furthermore, he will not soon die and need replacement, as was the case with priests under the Law. He was able to offer a final sacrifice, his own body; it was perfect, and the sacrifice would never have to be repeated. Christ our high priest took the value of his life blood to heaven and presented it before God. He is still there, serving as a priest for us.—Hebrews 9:24-28; 10:12-18.
17. In what ways are we helped by having Jesus as high priest?
17 We can have confidence in our high priest as we face the coming world calamity. Unlike the sacrifices under the Law, Christ’s perfect sacrifice can fully cover our sins. Beyond that, it can “cleanse our consciences from dead works [both past wicked pursuits and any personal efforts of self-justification before God] that we may render sacred service to the living God.” (Hebrews 9:14; 10:1-4) We must agree that, when in a difficult situation and under pressure, a clear conscience before God is of immeasurable value. (Hebrews 10:19-22) In other ways, too, we can delight in having Jesus as a permanent high priest in heaven.
18. Why was it, and is it, good to know that our high priest is sympathetic?
18 The book of Hebrews assures us that Christ is a sympathetic priest. You can imagine the decisions and problems that the Hebrew Christians faced in the patriotic environment of Jerusalem as they prepared to flee, leaving their homes, relatives and employment. Yet they were not entirely on their own. Paul wrote: “We have as high priest, not one who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tested in all respects like ourselves, but without sin.” How comforting that must have been to them, and it should be the same to us in the closing days of this system of things! With such a sympathetic high priest “we may obtain mercy and find undeserved kindness for help at the right time.” (Hebrews 4:15, 16) No matter what trial arises, “he is able to come to the aid of those who are being put to the test.”—Hebrews 2:17, 18.
The Perfecter of Our Faith
19, 20. How is Jesus the “Perfecter of our faith”?
19 Our faith is specifically involved as we ‘consider Jesus.’ After mentioning “the sin that easily entangles us”—lack of faith—Paul speaks of our ‘looking intently at the Chief Agent and Perfecter of our faith, Jesus.’ (Hebrews 12:1, 2) Why is that vital during the conclusion of the present system of things?
20 From its first prophecy in Genesis 3:15 the Bible points to the Christ. He is the focal point of much that is foretold and typified in the Bible. Many of the features of the Mosaic Law mentioned in the book of Hebrews were “a shadow of the good things to come.” (Hebrews 9:23; 10:1) But “the reality belongs to the Christ.” (Colossians 2:17) Yes, Jesus’ birth, earthly ministry, sacrificial death, resurrection and priestly service in heaven bring to completion, or perfection, all the prophecies, types and patterns concerning these things.
21. In what additional sense is Jesus the “Perfecter of our faith” today?
21 While Paul could recognize Christ as the “Perfecter of our faith,” we have added reason to do so today. We see the major fulfillment of Jesus’ words about the ‘sign of his presence and the conclusion of the system of things.’ (Matthew 24:3) So our faith has a more solid basis. Salvation into “the inhabited earth to come” is also so much closer than it was in Paul’s day. Let us, then, continue to consider Jesus, the Perfecter of our faith, confident that God “becomes the rewarder of those earnestly seeking him” in faith. (Hebrews 2:5; 11:6) As the following article will show, the book of Hebrews can help us to have the needed faith and Christian outlook to be in position to receive the marvelous reward.
a See “Questions From Readers,” page 31.
b Paul employed the Greek word proskynéo, which The Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich) says was “used to designate the custom of prostrating oneself before a person and kissing the feet, the hem of the garment, the ground.” (1 Samuel 24:8; 2 Kings 2:15) It may also signify “worship,” which is how some Bibles read at Hebrews 1:6. If that is the correct sense here, it evidently means a relative worship, a worship of Jehovah God directed through his glorified Son.—Compare Revelation 14:7; The Watchtower of November 15, 1970, pages 702-704.
Can You Explain?
□ How does our situation parallel that of the Christians to whom Hebrews was written?
□ Why do we need to have a balanced view of Jesus and pay attention to his words?
□ Why does Hebrews have much to say about sacrifices and priests?
□ How do you feel about Jesus as High Priest and Perfecter of faith?
[Box on page 18]
OBEISANCE or WORSHIP
In Hebrews 1:6 the Greek word proskynéo may mean:
1. Rendering respectful obeisance, as ‘bowing down,’ to Jesus as the one whom Jehovah God has honored and glorified
2. Worshiping Jehovah God through or by means of his chief representative, his Son Jesus
[Pictures on page 19]
Jesus offered a sacrifice of more lasting value than those that priests offered at the temple