Imagine, if you will, a situation in which a headlight on your new car blew and you found that the design of the headlight fixture was so unusual that you needed to consult the owner's manual of the car in order to know how to fix it. Flipping through the owner's manual, you find that the headlights are mentioned in several different sections: sections devoted to topics like "Driving Safety" and "Your Car's Electrical System." Now, reading through these sections might tell you many things about your car's headlights. But if there were a section specifically devoted to the topic "Headlights," then it would make the most sense to turn to this section first to find out the answer to the question, "How do I change my headlights?" Relying on other parts of the owner's manual alone, rather than examining the most relevant section, may actually lead you to wrong conclusions about how to change your headlights and cause great frustration to you and to others.
In a similar way, when looking to examine a particular doctrine found in Scripture, we should begin by exploring the section of God's Word that is most relevant to the discussion of the teaching in question and not by trying to draw conclusions from various other Bible passages. So that when asking a specific question regarding the atonement made by Christ on the Cross, we must diligently search the Scriptures for sections that explore this doctrine in depth and form our understanding of Christ's work based on these sections and not on isolated verses. In this post it is my intention to briefly examine one passage dealing specifically with the atonement and to demonstrate how this passage presents teachings that are only consistent with a 'limited' view on the intended extent of the atonement.
The Passage in View
[9:11] But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation;  and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.  For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh,  how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
 For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.  For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it.  For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives.  Therefore even the first covenant was not inaugurated without blood.  For when every commandment had been spoken by Moses to all the people according to the Law, he took the blood of the calves and the goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people,  saying, "THIS IS THE BLOOD OF THE COVENANT WHICH GOD COMMANDED YOU."  And in the same way he sprinkled both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry with the blood.  And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
 Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be cleansed with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.  For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us;  nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own.  Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.  And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment,  so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.
[10:1] For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near.  Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins?  But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year.  For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.  Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, "SACRIFICE AND OFFERING YOU HAVE NOT DESIRED, BUT A BODY YOU HAVE PREPARED FOR ME;  IN WHOLE BURNT OFFERINGS AND sacrifices FOR SIN YOU HAVE TAKEN NO PLEASURE.
 "THEN I SAID, `BEHOLD, I HAVE COME (IN THE SCROLL OF THE BOOK IT IS WRITTEN OF ME) TO DO YOUR WILL, O GOD.' "  After saying above, "SACRIFICES AND OFFERINGS AND WHOLE BURNT OFFERINGS AND sacrifices FOR SIN YOU HAVE NOT DESIRED, NOR HAVE YOU TAKEN PLEASURE in them" (which are offered according to the Law),  then He said, "BEHOLD, I HAVE COME TO DO YOUR WILL." He takes away the first in order to establish the second.  By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.  Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins;  but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD,  waiting from that time onward UNTIL HIS ENEMIES BE MADE A FOOTSTOOL FOR HIS FEET.  For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.  And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; for after saying,  "THIS IS THE COVENANT THAT I WILL MAKE WITH THEM AFTER THOSE DAYS, SAYS THE LORD: I WILL PUT MY LAWS UPON THEIR HEART, AND ON THEIR MIND I WILL WRITE THEM," He then says,  "AND THEIR SINS AND THEIR LAWLESS DEEDS I WILL REMEMBER NO MORE."  Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin. [Hebrews 9:11-10:18 NASB]
The Focus of This Passage
This section of Scripture under consideration, as well as the entirety of God's Word
, is focused upon the Person and Work of Jesus: on who He is and what He has done. This is the content of the gospel: the Good News message of the Bible. It is very important to note that what Jesus has done is a crucial part of this Good News, for there are many teachers today who wish to proclaim that the Gospel message is simply that "Jesus is Lord," so that all people who are willing to affirm these three words- whether Protestant, Catholic, or Greek Orthodox- are thought to be co-laborers in the Gospel, no matter how much these belief systems might differ in answering questions about the work of Jesus. But since this Work is deemed so important to the central message of Scripture in passages such as the one presently under consideration, we must strive for a biblical understanding of what Jesus has done. If anyone strays too far from a biblical understanding of the work of Jesus, then they have truly forsaken the gospel message itself.
In the next two sections, it is my intention to briefly summarize what Hebrews 9:11-10:18 has to say about the Person and Work of Jesus.
The Person of Jesus in Hebrews 9:11-10:18
Several descriptions of who Jesus is are found in this passage. Jesus is named:
1. High Priest (9:11)
2. Mediator (9:15)
3. Sacrifice (9:26)
In addition to the three titles listed above, the name for Jesus used throughout this section- "Christ"- tells us another important fact about who Jesus is, for "Christ" means "Messiah" or "Anointed One."
The Work of Jesus in Hebrews 9:11-10:18
Inseparably related to the above discussion of the Person of Jesus is the description of what Jesus has done in accordance with each of the names He is given in this passage. Jesus has:
1. Entered the Most Holy Place, as High Priest (9:11)
2. Obtained the promise of the eternal inheritance, as Mediator (9:15)
3. Been offered to obtain eternal redemption, as Sacrifice (9:12)
According to the name "Christ," Jesus was anointed by God for His supreme work in creation and He perfectly fulfilled the Old Testament prophesies concerning the Messiah.
The Limit of Jesus' Work in This Passage
That Jesus is the focus of this passage necessitates that topics other than who He is and what He has done will not be directly expounded upon in the text. So that the answer to the question, "who was Jesus' work intended to benefit- each and every individual in world history or only a certain portion of the total world population as determined by God?"- a question which focuses on the beneficiaries of what Jesus has done rather than on Jesus Himself- can only be obtained from this passage on the atonement by reasonable inferences drawn from specific phrases as defined by their overall context- that is, by letting Scripture interpret Scripture.
The Work of Jesus is exalted in this section of Scripture as obtaining a new and better covenant of eternal redemption. This Work is presented as perfect and finished, not needing any addition or repetition. The limit of Jesus' work can be ascertained through the understanding that this work is declared to accomplish certain effects in the lives of a particular group of individuals. This group of individuals is referred to as "those who have been called" in 9:15. According to this verse, these called ones are those who actually benefit from the redemption and "receive the promise of the eternal inheritance." In 9:28, the "called ones" are mentioned as the "many" whose sins Jesus bore on the Cross. And in verse 10:14 this same group is named as "those who are sanctified"- "sanctified" meaning "set apart"- which group "He has perfected." Notice that the past tense, "has perfected," is used to indicate the certainty that the sanctified ones will be made complete by the power of Jesus' atonement.
The Called. The Many. The Set Apart. These are the collection of individuals for whom Jesus' atonement was intended to benefit with eternal blessings. In being limited to this certain group, the work of Jesus is magnified, bringing Him glory, in that the intention of His Work is demonstrated as having been fulfilled. That those for whose sins Jesus died will also be eternally perfected is a glorious inevitability. That God has set apart certain individuals and called them to Himself, needing no other power than Jesus' sacrifice on the Cross to obtain their perfection, indicates that the atonement is limited to the kind intention of God, who works everything according to the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11).
Glory to God alone!
[The blogpost above was originally published on 11/29/05.]
Labels: Bible study, Reformation Theology