Bibliotheca Sacra 130 (July, 1973) 195-212.

          Copyright © 1973 by Dallas Theological Seminary.  Cited with permission.

 

 

                     The Blood of Jesus and His

                Heavenly Priesthood in Hebrews

 

                          Part II: The High-Priestly Sacrifice of Christ

 

 

                                           Philip Edgcumbe Hughes

 

 

            HISTORICAL VIEWS OF THE HEAVENLY SACRIFICE OF CHRIST

 

            The view that it is in heaven, rather than on earth, that our

High Priest offers the sacrifice of Himself was propounded in the

seventeenth century by the Socinians on the basis of their own

characteristic interpretation of Hebrews 9:12-14, which speaks of

Christ's entry into the heavenly sanctuary and of His offering of Him-

self to God. There is no mention here, they argue, of the offering

of His blood or of the cross, and this is sufficient for them to conclude

that this self-oblation of Christ takes place, not on earth, but in the

heavenly sanctuary. John Owen objects, however, that it was pre-

cisely in the offering of His blood that Christ offered Himself, and to

suggest that the sacrifice of Christ took place or takes place in heaven

"utterly overthrows the whole nature of his sacrifice"; furthermore,

our redemption is everywhere constantly in the Scripture assigned

unto the blood of Christ and that alone — Eph. i. 7; Col. i. 14; 1 Pet.

i. 18, 19; Rev. v. 9."1 As Owens observes, nowhere is the appearance

of Christ in heaven called His sacrifice or offering of Himself. The So-

cinian interpretation destroys the analogy of the tabernacle cere-

monial, in accordance with which the sacrifice at the altar preceded

the entry into the holy of holies; it overthrows the true notion and

nature of the priesthood of Christ; indeed, it robs the incarnation of its

primary purpose, the substitutionary atonement accomplished at Cal-

 

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second in a series of articles entitled "The Blood

of Jesus and His Heavenly Priesthood in the Epistle to the Hebrews," which

were the W. H. Griffith Thomas Memorial Lectures given by Dr. Philip

Edgcumbe Hughes at Dallas Theological Seminary on November 14-17, 1972.

 

1 John Owen, An Exposition to the Epistle to the Hebrews (Philadelphia,

1869), VI, 277.

                                                            195



196   /   Bibliotheca Sacra — July 1973

 

vary.2 And it does violence to the text, which declares that it was after

he had secured (eu[ra<menoj, aorist) our eternal redemption, and

through or by virtue of (dia<) His own blood shed on the cross, that

He entered into the heavenly sanctuary (Heb. 9:12).

            In Hebrews 9:24-26 one reads: "Christ has entered into heaven

itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was

it to offer himself repeatedly ... ; for then he would have had to

suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he

has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the

sacrifice of himself." Does this passage teach a self-oblation of

Christ in the heavenly sanctuary? Delitzsch, in company with a num-

ber of other German scholars (Tholuck, De Wette, Ebrard, Lune-

mann), holds that the offering spoken of here "cannot be the self-

sacrifice of Christ upon earth, but a self-presentation subsequent to

that."3 It is plain that, unlike the Socinians, Delitzsch has no desire

to bypass the cross and that he is postulating a distinction between

the decisive act of His sacrifice of Himself at Calvary and a subsequent

presentation of Himself on our behalf in the heavenly, sphere.

            Another view, which is similar only in incidental respects and

which is advocated in the main by Anglo-Catholic and Roman Catho-

lic scholars, is that in the heavenly sanctuary a perpetual sacrificial

offering by Christ of Himself takes place. This interpretation is com-

monly linked with a particular doctrine of eucharistic sacrifice taking

place simultaneously here on earth. It is argued, further, on the

basis of Hebrews 8:3, according to which "every high priest is ap-

pointed to offer gifts and sacrifices," so that "it is necessary for this

priest (the ascended Lord ministering in the true tabernacle, 8:1-2)

also to have something to offer," that if Christ is not offering sacri-

fice He cannot fulfill the priestly function, and that therefore His role

in heaven must be that of a constantly sacrificing priest. Because of

the emphatic teaching of the New Testament, and not least the

Epistle to the Hebrews, regarding the final once-for-all character of

Christ's atoning sacrifice on the cross, it is hardly open to anyone

to suggest that in heaven He offers an atoning sacrifice other than

that which He offered on the cross; consequently the explanation is

proposed that it is a perpetual offering of this same sacrifice that

takes place in the heavenly sanctuary.

 

2 Ibid., VI, 301.

3 Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, trans. by

Thomas L. Kingsbury (3rd ed.; Edinburgh, 1887), II, 264.

 



                          The High-Priestly Sacrifice of Christ   /   197

 

            The concept, however, is much confused. Not only are the

suffering and death of the cross unrepeatable, but they are also

unprolongable. Christ lives to suffer and die no more. Therefore what

is conceived of as a self-offering in heaven cannot be the same thing

as the self-offering on earth. At most it is the presentation of a

fait accompli. It is the efficacy of the one offering made at Calvary,

not the offering itself, which is perpetual. But the concept of the

offering of an atoning sacrifice in the heavenly sanctuary would

seem to a considerable degree to be dictated by an a priori notion

of the eucharist as, so to speak, an extension of Calvary in one's

earthly sanctuary. The so-called "sacrifice of the altar," though blood-

less, is seen as one, sacramentally, with the sacrifice of the cross.

The immolation of the sacred victim takes place not so much again

and again (though phenomenally this would seem to be so) as

perpetually, and corresponds to and is simultaneous with the sacrifice

continuously being offered in heaven. Christ, apparently, has been

cast in the part of a eucharistic priest sacrificing in the sanctuary

above. And the scene has become further confused by the revival of

the notion of the eucharistic "offertory," in which the offerings of

human life and labor, symbolized by the presentation of the every-

day elements of bread and wine, are supposedly united with Christ's

unique offering and thereby made acceptable to God.

            Although the doctrine of eucharistic sacrifice is not recent, the

concept of Christ's continuous sacerdotal self-sacrifice in the heavenly

sanctuary seems to have been developed only in modern times.

Thomas Aquinas, for example, makes a precise distinction between

the actual offering of the sacrifice of Christ and its consummation,

between the event of the sacrifice and the purpose and effect of the

sacrifice. Of the ceremonial of the Day of Atonement under the

levitical system he says:

 

            It is noteworthy that the goat and the calf were slain, not in the

            holy of holies, but outside. Likewise Christ has entered into the

            holy of holies, that is, into heaven, furnishing a way of entry for

            us by the power of his own blood which he shed for us here on

            earth.

 

"The passion and death of Christ are never to be repeated," but "the

efficacy of his sacrifice remains for ever."4 Aquinas defends the

description of the eucharisit as a sacrifice by invoking the Augustinian

 

4 Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologiae iiia. 22. 5.

 



198   /   Bibliotheca Sacra — July 1973

 

principle that the images of things are called by the names of the

things of which they are the images: "the celebration of this sacra-

ment is an image representing Christ's suffering, which is his

true sacrifice; accordingly the celebration of this sacrament is

called Christ's sacrifice." And on this same basis it is equally

true to say "that Christ was sacrificed even in the figures of the

Old Testament"; hence the declaration of the New, that He is "the

Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8).5 The

notion of a perpetual sacerdotal self-offering by Christ in heaven is

unknown to Aquinas. This is evident from the quotation just given:

it would be impossible, with reference to the Old Testament figures,

to imagine a self-sacrifice in the heavenly sanctuary when Christ

had not only not yet entered the heavenly sanctuary as high priest but

also had not yet offered up Himself on earth; and it is also evident

from the commentary of Aquinas on Hebrews 9:24 ("Christ has

entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God

on our behalf"), where, so far from indicating any such opinion,

he says:

 

            The Apostle is alluding to the ritual of the old law, according to

            which the high priest, when he entered the holy of holies, stood

            before the mercy-seat in order that he might pray for the people;

            so also Christ entered into heaven, insofar as he is man, in order

            that he might be the advocate before God (ut astaret Deo) for our

            salvation.6

 

            Early in the sixteenth century we find Jacques Lefevre d'Etaples

(Faber Stapulensis) speaking, in his commentary on the Epistle to the

Hebrews, of a perpetual self-offering of Christ in the heavenly sanct-

uary (on 9:2 4 ff.): "After once entering into the holy of holies above,

he continues in the presence of God offering himself without inter-

mission for all who are to be saved even to the end of the world."7

At first sight this seems like a departure from the doctrine of Aquinas,

but in fact in commenting on 7:26 ff., Lefevre propounds a view

which is entirely in harmony with that of Aquinas. Stressing that it

was by one offering that Christ made satisfaction for the sins of the

whole word, an offering "more powerful than the innumerable victims

offered with endless repetition" (potentior innumeris infinities iteratis

 

5 Ibid., iiia. 83. 1.

6 Thomas Aquinas Epistola ad Hebraeos ix. 5 (Opera Omnia [Parmae, Italy,

1862], XIII, 743).

7 Jacques Lefevre d'Etaples, Commentariorum in Epistolas Beatissimi Pauli

Liber (2nd ed.; Paris, 1515), p. 245a.

 



                   The High-Priestly Sacrifice of Christ   /   199

 

hostiis) under the former dispensation, he affirms that "those things

which are performed daily in the ministry of his priesthood [that

is, in the eucharist] are not repetitions of his offering but rather

the remembrance and recollection (memoria ac recordatio) of that

one same victim who was offered once only," in conformity with the

command, "do this in remembrance of me."8 This indicates an

agreement between Lefevre and Aquinas regarding the perpetual

virtue and efficacy of Christ's one sacrifice offered not in heaven but

on earth, and consequently the self-offering in heaven spoken of in

the former quotation must be taken to mean Christ's presentation

of Himself in the presence-chamber of the sanctuary above as our

advocate and intercessor.

            It is worthy of note that in the Roman Catholic position officially

formulated at the Council of Trent in the mid-sixteenth century no

doctrine of a continuous high-priestly offering in the heavenly sanct-

uary is propounded. The Tridentine fathers do no more than men-

tion the heavenly session of Christ. Thus the Decree on the Sacrament

of the Holy Eucharist states:

 

            In the first place the holy synod teaches and openly and simply

            professes that, in the august sacrament of the holy eucharist, after

            the consecration of the bread and wine, our Lord Jesus Christ, true

            God and man, is truly, really, and substantially contained under

            the species of those sensible things. For neither are these things

            mutually repugnant — that our Saviour himself always sits at the

            right hand of the Father in heaven, according to the natural mode

            of existing, and that, nevertheless, he is sacramentally present to

            us in his own substance in many other places ...9

 

Again, in the Doctrine on the Sacrifice of the Mass, it is declared:

 

            He, therefore, our God and Lord, though he was about to offer

            himself once on the altar of the cross to God the Father, there by

            means of his death to effect an eternal redemption; nevertheless,

            because his priesthood was not to be extinguished by his death, in

            the Last Supper, on the night in which he was betrayed, that he

            might leave to his own beloved spouse the Church a visible sacrifice,

            such as the nature of man requires, whereby that bloody sacrifice,

            once to be accomplished on the cross, might be represented and its

            memory remain even to the end of the world and its salutary virtue

            be applied for the remission of those sins which we daily commit —

            declaring himself constituted a priest for ever, according to the

 

8 Ibid., p. 239a.

9 Council of Trent: Session xiii. 1.

 



200   /   Bibliotheca Sacra — July 1973

 

            order of Melchizedek, he offered up to God the Father his own

            body and blood under the species of bread and wine ...10

 

The Catcheism of the Council of Trent adds nothing to this teach-

ing. Consequently it is clear that officially Roman Catholicism en-

visages the continuing priesthood of the glorified Christ as finding

its fulfilment in the daily offering on earth of the sacrifice of the

mass, which is regarded as one with that of Calvary.

            The controversy between John Jewel, Bishop of Salisbury, and

the Roman Catholic apologist Thomas Harding took place at a

time immediately following on the conclusion of the Council of Trent.

Harding wished to maintain the precarious position that "Christ

offered and sacrificed his body and blood twice: first, in that holy

supper unbloodily, . . . and afterward on the cross, with shedding of

his blood";11 and he postulated, further, a third offering in heaven,

simultaneously with that on earth, thereby teaching the offering of

the sacrifice in heaven even before the entry of Christ into the

heavenly sanctuary, though thereafter it is explained as continuing

for ever. He writes as follows:

            And at the very same instant of time (which is here further to be

            added as a necessary point of Christian doctrine) we must under-

            stand that Christ offered himself in heaven invisibly (as concerning

            man) in the sight of his heavenly Father; and that from that time

            forward that oblation of Christ in heaven was never intermitted, but

            continueth always for our atonement with God, and shall without

            ceasing endure unto the end of the world.12

 

As, however, Harding goes on to explain that by the continually

enduring oblation of Christ in heaven "we understand the virtue of

his oblation on the cross ever enduring [and] not the oblation itself

with renewing of pain and sufferance continued," and as, moreover,

he points out that on earth "we do perpetually celebrate this oblation

and sacrifice of Christ's very body and blood in the mass, in remem-

brance of him, commanded so to do until his coming,"13 it would

appear that after all his position is not radically different from that

of Aquinas, who, as we have seen, also emphasizes the ever enduring

virtue of the sacrifice offered at Calvary and the eucharist as a re-

membrance of this unique oblation.

 

10 Ibid., Session xxii. 1.

11 The Works of John Jewel, ed. John Ayre (Cambridge, 1847), II, 717.

12 Ibid., II, 718.

13 Ibid., II, 719.



                     The High-Priestly Sacrifice of Christ   /  201

 

            Some years later another and more famous Roman Catholic

scholar, Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621), insisted that the concept

of Christ's everlasting priesthood demanded that He should always

be offering sacrifice. He writes, with reference to Heb. 7:27 (cf.

9:25-26):

            When Paul says that there was no necessity for Christ to offer him-

            self frequently he is obviously speaking of the bloody oblation, which

            was fully sufficient (sufficientissima), indeed of infinite cost and

            worth. Other oblations were and are repeated because they are of

            finite worth. With respect, however, to the eternal priesthood of

            Christ, it is necessary that he should frequently offer, by himself

            or by his ministers, not indeed in a bloody manner, but in some

            other manner.14

 

For this opinion he cites the authority of Hebrews 8:3 ("For every

high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; hence it is

necessary for this priest also to have something to offer"), from

which, he holds, it necessarily follows that "Christ is not a high

priest for ever unless he offers something assiduously" and that "it

is not enough that he once offered himself in a bloody manner."

How, then, does He continuously offer Himself? "Without doubt,"

Bellarmine answers, "in the most sacred eucharist," the sacrament

which He instituted and now celebrates daily by His ministers.15  His

heavenly intercession, further, is explained as taking place through the

offering of sacrifice, the sacrifice, namely, of the eucharist, "which

is continually (jugiter) offered by Christ to God through human

ministry."16 It is apparent, therefore, that for Bellarmine as for

Aquinas the notion of a perpetual offering of sacrifice by Christ means

the specific concept of eucharistic offering here on earth, not a con-

tinuous self-oblation in heaven.

            As has been remarked, the Socinians taught that Christ's high-

priestly function, including His offering of Himself, had its commence-

ment not on earth but on His entry into the heavenly sanctuary.

Teaching very much to the same effect has become current again

in the present day, though its advocates otherwise have little if any

sympathy for the distinctive opinions of Socinianism. At the be-

ginning of this century, for example, Charles Gore wrote, with ref-

 

14 Roberto Francesco Romolo Bellarmino De Missa i. 6 (pp. 733-34).

15 Roberto Francesco Romolo Bellarmino De Sacramento Eucharistiae vi. 15

(p. 643).

16 Bellarmino De Missa  i. 6 (p. 735).



202   /   Bibliotheca Sacra — July 1973

 

erence to the doctrine of the Epistle to the Hebrews, that in the

sacrificial ritual of the Day of Atonement,

            the moment of offering and of atonement was not the moment of

            the slaying of the victim, but that of the entrance of the high priest

            with the blood of the victims into the most holy place to sprinkle it

            upon the mercy seat.17

 

In accordance with this interpretation, he concluded that

            in the Epistle to the Hebrews all that goes before the ascension is

            the preparation of Christ for His priestly work. . . . It is at His en-

            trance into heaven, and not upon the cross, that He accomplishes

            His atonement for us, according to the Epistle to the Hebrews; and

            His work as high priest, which begins with His entrance into heaven,

            is perpetual.18

 

            The Englishman, Gore, was, apparently, to some degree indebted

to the Scottish scholar, A. B. Davidson, for these views, though it is

hardly likely that Davidson would have found himself in agreement

with the manner in which they were developed, in particular euchar-

istically, by Gore. In his commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews

(published in 1882) Davidson had declared that it was certain

"that all the Son's priestly acts in heaven belong to the sphere of His

Melchizedec priesthood,"19 and that it was doubtful "if the Epistle

anywhere regards the Son's death considered merely in itself as a

priestly act."20 It is the Son's entry into heaven, he says, which "is

the culminating point of His atoning sacrifice, — is strictly the aton-

ing point itself." At the same time he insists that "the idea that in

any sense He repeats the offering of Himself, or that He continues

it, is wholly absent from the Epistle."21

            This line of interpretation which, in combination with the

doctrine of eucharistic sacrifice, has become characteristic of much

contemporary Anglo-Catholic theology, was elaborated and system-

atized by F. C. N. Hicks in his book The Fullness of Sacrifice (1930).

Hicks is severely critical of "the habit of interpreting the Cross as the

ultimate Christian altar."22 Indeed, he maintains that the world which

the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews and the other writers of

the New Testament had in mind was one "in which such an error as

 

17 Charles Gore, The Body of Christ (London, 1901), p. 252.

18 Ibid., pp. 252-53.

19 A. B. Davidson, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Edinburgh, n.d.), p. 150.

20 Ibid., p. 151.

21 Ibid., p. 153; cf. also pp. 196-203.

22 F. C. N. Hicks, The Fullness of Sacrifice (3rd ed.; London, 1946), p. 235.



                   The High-Priestly Sacrifice of Christ   /   203

 

the equating of sacrifice with death would have been inconceivable."23

"The rule is," he contends, "that the work of the priest, as priest,

does not begin until after the death" of the victim that is slain. In

his view, then, "the Cross is not itself the Sacrifice," though it has

its place in the sacrificial action and sequence; and it is not until

the entry into the heavenly sanctuary that the effective work of sacri-

fice is performed.24 Following the lead given by Milligan and West-

cott, Hicks postulates the identification of the blood that is shed with

the life of the victim (released and made available in the act of

blood-shedding) and affirms that "the blood, in fact, needs to be

dissociated from the idea of death," indeed deplores "the fatal identi-

fication between sacrifice and death."25 This disjunction of blood-

shedding from the notion of death is fundamental to his argument,

though, as it has been seen, it is consonant with the usage neither

of the Epistle to the Hebrews nor of the rest of Scripture. In Hicks'

perspective, however, when the New Testament speaks of the redeem-

ing property of the blood of Christ the reference is entirely to the

high-priestly work that is being carried on in heaven and not to what

took place on earth at Calvary.

            It is indeed by the precious blood of Christ that we have been

redeemed, but the blood is "like that of a lamb without blemish or

spot" (1 Peter 1:18-19); that is to say, the focus is in reality on

the act of blood-shedding which took place when Christ as the pure

and innocent victim died for one's sins on the cross. The argument

that the New Testament writers, who, says Hicks, "know their sub-

ject," stress the virtue of the blood rather than of the death of

Christ, on the supposition that blood and death mean two different

things, cannot possibly be sustained. Thus, while Romans 5:9 asserts

that "we are now justified by his blood," this can hardly imply, as

Hicks wishes,26 a distinction between the death of Christ as backward

looking and the blood of Christ (equated with life) as forward look-

ing, for, as Paul says immediately after, we who are now reconciled

to God were so reconciled by the death of Christ; and, as justification

and reconciliation belong together as consequences of the redeeming

work of our High Priest, to be justified by Christ's blood and to be

reconciled to God by His death both speak, harmoniously, of the one

 

23 Ibid., p. 241.

24 Ibid., p. 240.

25 Ibid., pp. 242-43.

26 Ibid., p. 243.



204   /   Bibliotheca Sacra — July 1973

 

saving event of the cross. So also, to take an example from the Epistle

to the Hebrews, in Hebrews 9:16-18 there is a clear identification

between death and blood ("where a will diaqh<kh is involved, the

death of the one who made it must be established. . . . Hence even

the first covenant [diaqh<kh] was not ratified with blood").27

            Like Bengel, Hicks postulates a theologically significant dis-

tinction between the flesh of Christ and the blood of Christ — a dis-

tinction that is brought out by emphasizing the''copula and in places

such as John 6:53, "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and

drink his blood, ..." and 1 Corinthians 11:26, "as often as you eat

this bread and drink the cup. . . ." But, as we have shown above, in

connection with the former of these passages, eating Christ's flesh

and drinking His blood belong together to the lone response of the

sinner who comes in faith to Christ. So also in the words of the institu-

tion of the eucharist (to which also the words of John 6:53 apply)

the eating of the bread and the drinking of the wine testify unitedly,

as a single act to the redeeming death of Christ. Hence, Paul com-

pletes his account by admonishing the Corinthian believers that every

time they eat the sacramental bread and drink the sacramental cup

they "proclaim the Lord's death until he comes." The wine (blood),

equally and in union with the bread (flesh), proclaims the death

of Christ in the act of communion. The redemptive efficacy of the

death of Christ is identical with the redemptive efficacy of His blood.

Both belong to and take their significance from the single event of

the cross. The purpose of Christ's incarnation, the author of the

Epistle to the Hebrews affirms, was that "by the grace of God he

might taste death for every one" (2:9).

            If it is only with His entry into heaven that Christ's priestly

activity begins, it undoubtedly follows that there is a necessity for

priestly sacrifice to be offered there. The doctrine of the perpetual

offering of sacrifice in the heavenly sanctuary seems to have been ad-

vocated by some of the delegates at the Council of Trent in the six-

teenth century. To what degree the doctrine was elaborated in the

thinking of those who favored it at that time it is difficult to say. In

the next century, however, it received clear expression. The French

Roman Catholic scholar Louis Thomassin (1619-1696), for example,

in his Theological Dogmas affirmed that the sacrifice of the cross was

 

27 See also the comparison between Heb. 10:10 and 10:29 given earlier.



                      The High-Priestly Sacrifice of Christ   /   205

 

not only once offered but is also continuously offered28 and that it was

only after His resurrection that Christ, on entering into the heavenly

sanctuary, most specifically assumed the dignity and office of high

priest.29 He propounded an identity between the cross below and

the sacrifice above. Thus he writes:

            His own abode and dwelling place is heaven and the sacrifice itself

            is also heavenly, because although the victim is slain on earth, it

            is slain here in order that it may be placed there on its proper altar,

            and may be offered there for an eternal burnt offering.30

 

Again, the One who in glorified manhood stands before the Father

in heaven

            does not cease to offer a solemn sacrifice and to plead and to offer

            Himself, and without intermission to sacrifice a burnt offering and

            a perpetual sacrifice.31

 

            Language of this kind seems, unfortunately, to be governed by

preconceptions which do not correspond with the biblical reality.

Nowhere does the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, or any other

New Testament writer, teach that the incarnate victim "is slain here

in order that it may be placed there on its proper altar" and "offered

there for an eternal burnt offering." Christ entered heaven not as

victim but as victor. His entry is His exaltation: His humiliation, of

which the cross was the deepest expression, is now behind Him (Phil.

2:8-9 ). "We know," says Paul, "that Christ being raised from the

dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him"

(Rom. 6:9 ). In any case, there was no altar in the holy of holies

and consequently never any suggestion that the victim slain outside

at the altar of sacrifice was then carried in and sacrificed as a burnt

offering in that inner sanctuary. The earthly sanctuary, which is the

shadow of the heavenly reality, is defined in Hebrews 9:1 if. in terms

of the tent, with its two chambers, the holy place and the holy of

holies: the outer courtyard with its altar of sacrifice is not included

within this purview. The notion, then, of the repetition or extension

of the atoning sacrifice is inadmissible. Extravagant language of this

sort probably intends less than it says, but even so it is misleading

 

28 Louis Thomassin Theological Dogmas x. 10. 9 (This quotation is from

Darwell Stone, A History of the Doctrine of the Holy Eucharist [London,

1909], II, 382).

29 Ibid., x. 11. 1 (Stone, II, 382).

30 Ibid., x. 11. 13 (Stone, II, 385).

31 Ibid., x. 13. 3 (Stone, II, 385).



206   /   Bibliotheca Sacra — July 1973

 

insofar as it shifts the focus of sacrifice from the earthly to the

heavenly scene.

            Much to the same effect, but more moderately expressed, is the

view of Henry Edward Manning, published in 1850, the year before

he abandoned the Church of England for the Church of Rome, that

Christ "truly offers Himself for us perpetually both in heaven and

earth,"32 that "His intercession is the perpetual presenting of His

own sacrifice, that is, of Himself, bearing the wounds of His pas-

sion,"33 and that, whether in heaven or on earth, "it is but one act

still, one priesthood, and one sacrifice," since in heaven Christ offers

himself "in visible presence" and on earth "by His ministering priest-

hood . . . in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood."34 Such teaching,

with which the Tractarian Movement became associated, stirred up

the strongest controversy in the Church of England during the latter

half of last century; but now it is familiar as the characteristic posi-

tion of Anglo-Catholicism. Thus, for example, the opinion of E. G.

Selwyn that the Epistle to the Hebrews "represents our ascended

Lord as our great High Priest for ever offering, pleading, presenting

in heaven his own sacrifice of himself for man's sin" can be taken as

an accurate representation of that position.35

            The views of Westcott, that the sacrificial blood speaks not of

the death of the victim but of the release of His life for the world,

and of Hicks, that the priestly work of Christ commences not on

earth but only with His entry into the heavenly sanctuary, have

become widely approved. By way of example, again, we may quote

A. G. Hebert: "The idea that the death of the victim was the centre

of sacrifice is simply false. The animal was killed not in order that

its life might be destroyed (for ‘the blood is the life’), but that the

life offered in death might become available for the holy purposes

of sacrifice."36 Later he adds: "The Sacrifice which was enacted in

time on Calvary . . . now is offered by Him at the heavenly altar."37

 

32 Henry Edward Manning, Sermons (London, 1850), IV, 223.

33 Ibid., IV, 215.

34 Ibid., IV, 224.

35 E. G. Selwyn, "The Christian Sacrifice in the Eucharist," Report of the

Anglo-Catholic Congress: London, 1927, ed. by Charles Scott Gillett and

Kenneth Ingram (London, n.d.), p. 92.

36 A. G. Hebert, "A Root of Difference and of Unity," Inter-communion:

A Report of the Theological Commission Appointed by the Continuation

Committee of the World Conference on Faith and Order Together with a

Selection from the Material Presented to the Commission, ed. by Donald

Baillie and John Marsh (London, 1952), p. 239.

37 Ibid., p. 242.



                   The High-Priestly Sacrifice of Christ   /   207

 

A rather extreme formulation of the doctrine that Christ began

to fulfill His priestly function only on His entry into the heavenly

sanctuary has recently come from the pen of a Roman Catholic

writer, Walter Edward Brooks. Arguing from the assertion of

Heb. 7:16 that Christ "has become a priest by the power of an

indestructible life" (kata> du<namin zwh?j a]katalu<tou), Brooks main-

tains that Jesus "is eternal priest from the moment of his resurrec-

tion-exaltation because he possesses from that moment a life that

does not end."38 The following quotations indicate the main lines of

his position:

            Since Jesus' priestly office is based on a life that cannot end and

            is exercised in the heavenly tent, it is inconceivable that his sacri-

            fice would have been offered before the resurrection experience.

            For then he was not a priest, but now he is a priest forever and his

            sacrifice must correspond to his priesthod. . . . The death of the

            victim was essential but preparatory. At-one-ment through expiation

            was achieved by the manipulation of the blood. This was the saving

            event and on the Day of Atonement it took place within the holy

            of holies.39

 

He continues:

            He enters with his blood and presents himself to the Father. Draw-

            ing on the analogy of the Day of Atonement coupled with an accu-

            rate conception of Jewish sacrifice and the understanding that

            Christ's priesthood is not of this earth but only begins with the

            reception of the life that does not end, we are justified in seeing his

            sacrifice reach its climax in the holy of holies of the eternal tent.

            ... Now to say this is not to say that the cross is unessential. How-

            ever, it is to stress the fact that the priestly work of Christ begins

            only after the death and reaches its terminus in the heavenly sphere

            and that the act of offering there is perpetual. The cross is not the

            sacrifice. It is rather part of the preparation for the heavenly sacri-

            ficial ministry of our high priest and is thereby essential but not

            all-sufficient. It is not the altar on which the sacrifice of Jesus begins

            and ends.40

 

THE SUFFICIENCY OF THE CROSS

ACCORDING TO THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS

            A more careful examination of the teaching of the Epistle to

the Hebrews will show, however, that these conclusions are not

 

38 Walter Edward Brooks, "The Perpetuity of Christ's Sacrifice in the Epistle

to the Hebrews," Journal of Biblical Literature, LXXXIX (June, 1970), 207.

39 Ibid., LXXXIX, 208-9.

40 Ibid., LXXXIX, 211, 212.



208   /   Bibliotheca Sacra — July 1973

 

justified. In the first place, the KJV rendering of du<namij zwh?j

a]katalu<tou as "the power of an endless life," which Brooks embraces,

is not entirely satisfactory: it is more accurateuly translated by RSV

and Jer. as "the power of an indestructible life" or, similarly, by

NEB as "the power of a life that cannot be destroyed." The ref-

erence is to a life not merely which, from a certain point onwards,

has no end but also and at the same time which has no beginning.

This is clearly brought out earlier in the same chapter where the

author, in comparing Christ with Melchizedek, says that he "has

neither beginning of days nor end of life" (7:3). His life is in-

destructible because it is the ever continuing life of the Son of God

(7:24-25); and while it is true that the priestly office of Christ is

specifically associated with the Incarnate Son, who by the incarna-

tion is capacitated to die, and to die as Man for man, yet, as Chalce-

don insisted long since, He does not and cannot cease to be the

Son of God.

            Secondly, to "make intercession," as our High Priest does in

the heavenly sanctuary for "those who draw near to God through

him" (7:25), is not the same thing as to offer up a victim in sacri-

fice. The latter sacrifice took place outside the tent at the altar of

sacrifice, to which, in the Epistle to the Hebrews and throughout

the New Testament, the cross of Calvary corresponds. Moreover, as

has already been remarked, there was no altar of sacrifice within the

earthly sanctuary and it is wrong and inconsistent to postulate or

suggest the existence of such an altar in the sanctuary above. Nor

is this conclusion shaken by the declaration of 8:3 that since every

high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices "it is necessary

for this priest also to have something to offer." For one thing, the

verse does not say that He must have something which He can per-

petually offer. For another, the verb "to be" is not included in the

Greek text, though it is implied, and it has to be supplied in an

English translation. It has to be decided, therefore, whether o!qen

a]nagkai?on would better be rendered "therefore it is necessary" or

"therefore it was necessary." Thus Westcott comments: "It has been

debated whether h#n or e]sti<n should be supplied with a]nagkai?on. If

If the reference is to the offering of the Cross, as seems to be required

by the type and the context, then h#n must be supplied."41 The

tense of the verb prosfe<r^ would also seem to be significant. If

 

41 Brooke Foss Westcott, The Epistle to the Hebrews (London, 1889), p.

215.



                   The High-Priestly Sacrifice of Christ   /   209

 

the author had intended to say that it is necessary for Christ to have

something to offer continuously, the present rather than the aorist

would have been more appropriate to his purpose prosfe<r^ rather

than prosene<gk^. The aorist prosene<gk^ weighs against the notion

of a perpetual offering, and all the more so when it is considered

in association with the present infinitive prosfe<rein used in the

earlier part of the verse of the constantly repeated offering of the

old-style high priests. (Cf. the alternative rendering in NEB:

"hence, this one too must have had something to offer.") Indeed,

Wilfrid Stott has pointed out, when referring to the work of

the Aaronic high priest the author of Hebrews "invariably uses

the present tense, showing its continuous character" (5:1,3; 8:3a, 4;

9:7; 10:1, 2, 8), whereas, "in contrast with this, when he speaks

of Christ's offering he invariably uses the aorist" (8:3b; 9:14, 28;

10:12).42

            Thirdly, that the offering of Himself on the cross was the focal

and consummating moment of the high-priestly work of Christ. in

its sacrificial aspect is plainly the teaching of 2:14 if., where the

purpose of the Incarnation is defined as follows: "so that through

death he might break the power of him who had death at his com-

mand, that is, the devil; and might liberate those who, through fear

of death, had all their lifetime been in servitude" (NEB); or again,

as reflected by another facet of the prism of redemption, "so that

he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service

of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people" (RSV). His

mercy or compassion is explained in terms of His suffering: "because

he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those

who are tempted" (cf. 4:15-16); and His faithfulness is explained

in terms of His obedience, which of course is closely associated with

His suffering (cf. 3:1 ff.; 5:8 ff.; 10:7 ff.). The summit of both of His

obedience and of His suffering was the cross (12:2; Phil. 2:8). The

cross, far from being isolated from or merely preparatory to Christ's

priestly work, is the very center and heart of that work. Accordingly, 

6:20 declares that Jesus has entered the heavenly holy of holies

"as a forerunner on our behalf having become (geno<menoj) a

high priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek;" the aorist parti-

ciple indicating that it was prior to His entry into heaven that He

 

42 Wilfrid Stott, "The Conception of ‘Offering’ in the Epistle to the He-

brews," New Testament Studies, IX (October, 1962), 65. Notice the nega-

tive plus the present in 9:25: "not that he should go on offering Himself

frequently" (ou]d ] i!na polla<kij prosfe<r^ ea[uto<n).



210   /   Bibliotheca Sacra — July 1973

 

became our high priest. This high priesthood belongs to the incarnate

Christ in humiliation as well as in glorification, but always the central

focus is on Calvary as the culmination of His obedience and suffer-

ing and as the place of His perfect and eternally availing sacrifice.

To the same effect 9:12 states that He entered once for all into the

sanctuary above after He had secured (eu[ra<menoj) our eternal re-

demption. This is the proper connotation of the aorist participle,

and it is regrettable that it is not brought out in RSV ("thus securing

...") or NEB ("and secured ...") . KJV ("having obtained ..." )

and Phillips and Jer. ("having won . . .") render it accurately. Again,

9:28 assures us that Christ, "having been offered once (a!pac pros-

enexqei<j) to bear the sins of' many" at His first advent, "will

appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who

are eagerly waiting for him." And yet another aorist participle, in

10:12 — "when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for

sins (mi<an u[pe>r a[martiw?n prosene<gkaj qusi<an ei]j to> dihneke<j) He sat

down at the right hand of God" — conveys the same emphasis on

the finality and the pastness of the unique sacrifice of Calvary. No-

where is there any mention of a sacrifice that is prolonged in some

manner or continuous in the heavenly sanctuary.

            The teaching of the Epistle, to the Hebrews has been well ex-

plained by F. F. Bruce, who writes as follows (on 9:12):

 

            Aaron certainly carried the sacrificial blood into the holy of holies,

            but our author deliberately, avoids saying that Christ carried His

            own blood into the heavenly sanctuary. Even as a symbolic expression

            this is open to objection. There have been expositors who, pressing

            the analogy of the Day of Atonement beyond the limits observed

            by our author, have agreed that the expiatory work of Christ was

            not completed on the cross — not completed, indeed, until He

            ascended from earth and "made atonement ‘for us’ in the heavenly

            holy of holies by the presentation of His efficacious blood." But

            while it was necessary under the old covenant for the sacrificial

            blood first to be shed in the court and then to be brought into

            the holy of holies, no such division of our Lord’s sacrifice into two

            phases is envisaged under the new covenant.  When upon the cross

            He offered up His life to God as a sacrifice for His people's sin,

            He accomplished in reality what Aaron and his successors per-

            formed in type by the twofold act of slaying the victim and pre-

            senting its blood in the holy of holies. The title of the Anglican

            Article XXXI speaks rightly "of the one oblation of Christ finished

            upon the cross."43

 

43 F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, 1964), pp.

200-201.



                        The High-Priestly Sacrifice of Christ   /   211

 

And Oscar Cullmann appropriately warns that:

            The danger of falling back to the level of Old Testament priesthood

            arises when the high priest must always present the sacrifice anew.

            Christian worship in the light of that ‘one time’ which means ‘once

            for all time’ is possible only when even the slightest temptation to

            reproduce’ that central event itself is avoided. Instead, the event

            must be allowed to remain the divine act of the past time where

            God the Lord of time placed it — at that exact historical moment

            in the third decade of our chronology. It is the saving consequences

            of that atoning act, not the act itself, which become a present event

            in our worship. The Lord present in worship is the exalted Kyrios

            of the Church and the world, raised to the right hand of God. He

            is the risen Lord who continues his mediating work on the basis

            of his unique, completed work of atonement.44

 

            Finally, the Epistle to the Hebrews describes the glorified Christ

who has entered the true tabernacle above in two ways: (1) as

seated and (2) as interceding. The former theme is introduced at the

very beginning of the Epistle (1:3) — "when he had made (poih-

sa<menoj, another aorist participle!) purification for sins, he sat down

at the right hand of the Majesty on high" — and it recurs at 8:1,

10:12, and 12:2. The sitting down, or session, of Christ symbolizes

not only His sovereign enthronement but also the completion of the

redemptive work He had come to earth to do (cf. Mark 10:45, "The

Son of man also came . . . to give his life as a ransom for many"), and

is incompatible with the notion of Christ as perpetually offering priestly

sacrifice in heaven — otherwise there would be no point in the

contrast between the priests of the old dispensation daily standing

as" they repeatedly offer the same sacrifices and Christ, our unique

High Priest, seated in glory, this one all-sufficient sacrifice for sins a

thing of the past (10:11-12). It is not surprising, therefore, that

advocates of this notion customarily link it with Christ's heavenly

intercession, as though this intercession is the same thing as His con-

stant pleading by means of the continuous offering of His sacrifice

in the tabernacle above. It is a notion, however, which is read into

rather than out of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Christ's intercession,

mentioned only as such in 7:25, is undoubtedly what 9:24 speaks

of as His appearing in the presence of God on our behalf. The com-

plete acceptance of His sacrifice for human sins is signified by the

fact of His exaltation; and His acceptance means also the acceptance

of all who by faith are one with Him. Hence the confidence with

 

44 Oscar Cullmann The Christology of the New Testament, trans. by Shirley

C. Guthrie and Charles A. M. Hall (2nd ed.; London, 1963), p. 99.



212   /   Bibliotheca Sacra — July 1973

 

which we are invited to draw near, on the basis of His atonement,

to the throne of grace (4:16; 10:19 ff.).

            Stott draws attention to 2 Samuel 7, a passage quoted in 1:5

and probably echoed in 3:6, as an example of the combination of

session with intercession — in fact "the only passage in the Scrip-

tures where prayer is spoken of with the posture of sitting," the

picture being that "of David as king seated before Jehovah and

claiming that the Covenant which has been promised shall be ful-

filled."  Relating this to the imagery of the Epistle to the Hebrews,

he concludes:

                 Thus it would seem that the picture in the writer's mind is of a

            royal priest who is seated, as David was, before God, not pleading

            a sacrifice, but ‘having accomplished’ already the ‘cleansing’, medi-

            ated the New Covenant and now seated in royal state and claiming

            the fulfilment of the Covenant promises for his seed.46

 

Christ's intercessory activity, as Cullmann says, "is always effective

because of this one-for-all work," and "is a genuinely priestly act."47

The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews may fittingly be allowed

to conclude this part of the discussion with these decisive statements:

            He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily

            ... ; he did this once for all when he offered up himself (7:27).

            By that will [of the Father] we have been sanctified through the

            offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. . . . For by a single

            offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified...

            "I will remember their sins and their misdeeds no more." Where

            there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin

            (10:10, 14, 17, 18).

 

How is it possible in the face of such affirmations to hold that the

Epistle to the Hebrews does not teach the all-sufficient finality of the

cross of Christ?

 

45 Stott, IX, 67.

46 Ibid.

47 Cullmann, p. 102.

 

This material is cited with gracious permission from:   z

Dallas Theological Seminary

            3909 Swiss Ave.

            Dallas, TX   75204          

www.dts.edu

Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at:  thildebrandt@gordon.edu