Most of us were taught that the main, if not the only work of Jesus on our behalf was to atone for sin and rescue us from hell. This has been the emphasis largely because self-focused man loves to hear he won’t have to suffer. But while there truly is forgiveness of sin through the cross of Christ, forgiveness is merely a necessary step toward something greater.
One thing that is becoming clear to me is that whatever this deeper purpose of God is, at least by the time the New Testament was written, it hadn’t been fully achieved yet, since the New Testament refers to many things as future or yet to be obtained. So, did Jesus really accomplish everything for us, as many seem to believe, or did he leave us an example to follow and work to do?
I think it’s the latter. For example, Jesus spoke of a master giving a sum of money to his servants while he was gone, and upon his return rewarding them with future responsibility based on the increase they made from their initial sum.1 Again, atonement/forgiveness isn’t the goal of God, but is a prerequisite and foundation for a bigger purpose: the transition from a relationship of law, fear and servanthood into spirit, cooperation and sonship.
I’ve found that Hebrews contains several words/concepts that are found nowhere else in scripture. One of these words, in reference to Jesus, is “forerunner”:
“We have this (hope) as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 6:19-20 ESV)
In a bit more context, the author is making the point that Jesus has become THE high priest, replacing the old “revolving door” system of high priests who would die and then be replaced. Jesus inherited his priesthood not from the lineage of Levi as men did, but from Melchizedek, a mysterious figure without record of ancestry, who was both a king and a high priest at the time of Abraham. Abraham gave him a tenth of his goods, showing Melchizedek to be his superior, which is mind-boggling if you understand who Abraham is.
This is significant because of the role the high priest played, essentially being the mediator between God and His people. The high priest lived his entire life in the temple, performing various duties including an annual visit into the most holy place where God’s manifest presence resided, taking with him an offering of blood for the sins committed by both himself and the rest of the people. Jesus, as THE high priest, ministers in the spiritual fulfillment of everything the Old Covenant rituals and ordinances represented and pointed to. Jesus operates from the true “temple” in heaven and he himself is the perfect, eternal atoning sacrifice. In fact, while trying to make further offering for sin might appear “holy,” it’s actually insulting to God to try to add to the work of His son which He is perfectly satisfied with.
I mentioned Jesus as our “forerunner.” The Greek word is prodromos, with pro meaning “before, ahead of” and dromos meaning “a course.” A prodromos is one who goes ahead of others to prepare the way for them to follow after. Prodromos is used in other writings to refer to military scouts who would go ahead of the main army, and of the “firstfruits” of a fig tree, which ripened before the rest. A forerunner, by definition, must have “afterrunners” who come later and benefit from the forerunner’s pioneering work, but still must fulfill their task.
Jesus being our forerunner doesn’t mean he did everything and we just sit back and enjoy, it means he went before us to prepare the way so that we can follow after him. He did what we could not do, so that we can have access to what was inaccessible before. Without Christ, we would have no chance at (among other things) entering the Kingdom of God, walking in genuine righteousness, becoming a son of God, or eating from the Tree of Life. The law kept everyone in a state of unrighteousness and sin.2 Again, forgiveness of sin is wonderful, but it’s just a step toward something greater. Like Jesus, we must suffer to learn obedience3 and begin to walk as spiritual sons in the fulfillment of the “types and shadows” of the Old Covenant. I don’t claim to have fully matured or achieved these things, but for the Father’s sake, I want to.
As the forerunner, firstfruit, conqueror and eternal high priest, Jesus will always have the highest honor, the “preeminence” as Colossians 1:18 says. He will always be our elder brother,4 mediator,5 intercessor, way, and the source of our life. But let’s not think there’s any real benefit or value in merely admiring him or thanking him. Instead, let’s honor him by following after him and taking advantage of the things he suffered to obtain, repenting and seeking to understand what that means and entails.
Romans 3:10, 5:20, Galatians 3:10
1 Timothy 2:5