For the Love of God, Volume 1/November 8
From Gospel Translations
2 Kings 21; Hebrews 3; Hosea 14; Psalm 139
MANY PEOPLE HAVE SUGGESTED that a suitable summary of the theme of Hebrews is “Jesus is better.” In chapters 1—2 he is better than the angels; in chapter 3 he is better than Moses. In Hebrews 4, the rest he offers is better than the rest provided by the Promised Land. In chapters 5 and 7 his high priesthood is better than the Levitical priesthood; in chapter 8, the new covenant over which he presides is better than the old covenant. In chapters 9—10, he officiates over a better sanctuary than the tabernacle, exercises a better ministry, and offers a better sacrifice. In short, “Jesus is better.” The message is designed to strengthen the hearts and minds of Jewish Christians who, though they have willingly suffered for Christ in the past, at this point are tempted to return to the Jewish rites and practices they inherited. The writer of Hebrews is afraid that they are abandoning exclusive confidence in Christ, somehow succumbing to the temptation to think that, although Jesus Christ is all right, one may gain a bit more substance, or spirituality, or historical depth, or acceptance among the kinfolk—whatever—thereby sliding toward an implicit denial that “Jesus is better.”
None of this means the old covenant was bad; it simply means it was not ultimate. Thus in the brief comparison of Moses and Jesus in Hebrews 3:1-6, Moses, we are told, “was faithful in all God’s house” (3:2); he “was faithful as a servant in all God’s house, testifying to what would be said in the future” (3:5). There is not a word of reproach.
But Jesus is better. It helps to understand that in both Hebrew and Greek house can mean “household.” Like Moses, the author of Hebrews avers, Jesus “was faithful to the one who appointed him” (3:2). Nevertheless, “Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses.” Why? Because “the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself” (3:3). That seems to suggest that Jesus’ role with respect to God’s “house” or “household” is radically different from that of Moses. Moses was faithful as a servant within the household, and his most important role was testifying to what was to come. Jesus is faithful as “a son over God’s house” (3:6)—and that household is the community of believers (3:6). Moses appears as one servant within the household, looking to the future; Jesus appears as God’s Son over the household, building that household (3:3) and proving to be the very substance of that to which Moses was pointing in the future.
However important the comparisons between the two men, the differences are the more striking.