Hebrews’ Threatening Christology

Hebrews provides a wonderfully rich depiction of Jesus.  He is highly exalted, already enthroned as ruler over the coming new world.

And Jesus is thoroughly human.  Hebrews’ pretty “earthy” description of Jesus may leave readers incredulous.

In the days of his flesh, he offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the one able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his piety, even though he was a son.  He learned obedience from the things which he suffered. And having been brought to completion, he became to all those who obey him the source of eternal salvation, being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 5:7-10).

The church in certain eras has struggled to come to grips with different aspects of Jesus’ identity.  Some in the early church couldn’t reckon fully with Jesus’ divinity.

It seems that in our day, many hesitate to come to grips fully with Jesus’ humanity.  Our imaginations are shaped by the familiar depictions of a serene and placid figure calmly and assuredly walking through life unaffected by events unfolding around him, head halo-encircled.

Head of Jesus, Warner Sallman

Because of that, we flinch at Hebrews’ depiction of Jesus’ humanity.  It’s too threatening.  Can it really be that Jesus was like us “in every way” (Heb. 2:17), and that his experience of the complexities, difficulties, and temptations of life was fully like ours (Heb. 4:15)?

It’s unfortunate that we’ve lost sight of the full humanity of Jesus because it is the basis of serious comfort and encouragement for God’s people (Heb. 4:14-5:3).

Perhaps our vision of Jesus ought not only to be threatened, but completely dismantled and rebuilt according to the Scriptures.

8 thoughts on “Hebrews’ Threatening Christology

  1. joey

    The wilderness temptations of Jesus were not just a threat to his divinity. They were a threat to his humanity. Had Jesus by divine fiat “called ten thousand angels” to establish his Kingdom the whole enterprise would have been undone.

    1. timgombis

      Or, we could say that the temptation was a threat to Jesus and his mission, leaving aside discussion of which “part” or “aspect” of Jesus is in view. Because of all the discussions about Jesus and his nature(s) throughout history, its easy to speak of this or that nature of Jesus rather than just Jesus as Jesus.

      It may be better, actually, to see how each Gospel writers speaks of the temptation, to determine what role Jesus is playing in overcoming temptation (the ideal Israelite, the true human, the Son of God, etc.).

      But your point’s a good one — if he had failed, the whole thing would have failed (yet again!).

  2. John Thomson

    Not at all Tim. It is entirely consistent with Hebrews. Hebrews has a suffering trusting Christ but never a morally vulnerable one or one likely to fail. Where is even the hint of potential failure in:

    Heb 2:14-15 (ESV)
    Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.

    Indeed I would challenge you to find a morally vulnerable Christ in Scripture. Christ is always ‘my servant who will not fail’. It’s a case of letting Scripture speak.

    I notice though your struggle to avoid a ‘heavenly’ hope in Hebrews. Flinching perhaps!

    1. timgombis

      Hebrews is clear that Jesus never sinned. It doesn’t comment at all on whether he could have or couldn’t have. That’s an anachronistic theological discussion that later theologians undertook. But that discussion to a large extent evacuates the power of the writer’s exhortations to his audience. It’s one way that later readers recoiled from Hebrews’ Christology.

      1. John Thomson

        Tim

        I am not building on ‘apart from sin’ though I do think this is much stronger than never sinned. I am building on texts like the one cited. It is infused with certainty.

        At one point I would have been more comfortable with your position but I have come to realise it is philosophically rather than biblically driven. There is simply no suggestion that Jesus may fail rather the opposite. The OT is full of predictions of the son/king/servant/prophet who would triumph. The NT temptation narratives have no note of dubiety or uncertainty – Jesus is stronger than the strong man. There is no equality of contest.

        In any case, I don’t want a champion who is vulnerable to sin (finds it hard to resist) like I do. I want one free of sin. I want one whom I can utterly rely on. I want one who hates sin and loves righteosness. I want a new creation Christ not an old creation Christ.

        I want one who understands what it is to stand against the hostility of Satan, sin and the world and invincibly resist it. One whose faith will not waver for a moment. He is able to my High Priest for he knows exactly how to teach me to live the path of righteousness in a fallen world.

        Your Christology I would argue is anachronistic.

      2. timgombis

        I think it’s the safer course to affirm what Hebrews does and be careful about making Hebrews weigh in on issues it doesn’t address.

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