Hebrews, Jesus, and Old Testament Context

The Old Testament context of what Jesus “says” in Hebrews.

In the book of Hebrews we find Jesus “speaking” three times. Each time, Jesus “speaks” an Old Testament passage. This post looks at the Old Testament context of what Jesus “says” in Hebrews 2 and 10. Firstly, In Hebrews 2:12 Jesus speaks from the book of Isaiah. In the Old Testament Isaiah is speaking under threat of invasion, and even though his prophetic ministry is not listened to, in Isa 8:17-18 we see Isaiah speaking various phrases of trust in, and dependence upon, YHWH. As a result, in Isa 8:17 Isaiah resolves to wait for YHWH to act, and ultimately concludes by saying “I will put my trust in him”. So, Isaiah waits with the children God has given him, that act as prophetic signs to the message Isaiah proclaimed.

Secondly, Psalm 22 is a complex Psalm for several reasons. In this context it will suffice to say that Ps 22 begins with a discussion of a righteous person suffering at the hand of some enemies, but ultimately the person is delivered by YHWH. Thirdly, Ps 40 is similar to Ps 22, in that there are two distinct parts, but Ps 40 begins with words of vindicatory thankfulness and is followed by a lamentation. In a similar manner to Ps 22, the author of Hebrews quotes from the “vindicatory” section of the Psalm, wherein the Psalmist is thanking God for being delivered from various enemies and vows a response of obedience. That Hebrews finds Christological significance in these three OT passages is seen in Heb 2:12-13 and 10:5-7. Hebrews views Jesus as the “reality” of Isaiah’s trust in YHWH, and the vindicated sufferer of Ps 22 and Ps 40.

Moreover, the fact that both sections of Hebrews under consideration have incarnational overtones should not be ignored. In 2:11-14 Hebrews is transitioning form an earlier period noting the superiority of Jesus to angels, now to Jesus’ humbling and association with humanity. Furthermore, there are those who argue that Jesus’ speaking in Heb 2:12-13 is a response to the words God has spoken already in chapter 1. As such, Heb 2 serves as a transition between God’s words of exaltation in chapter 1 and, through the humbling of Jesus in incarnation and death, Jesus becomes in 2:17ff a “great High Priest”. Some see this at odds, in one sense, with the aforementioned OT contexts, particularly those in Isaiah. Interestingly, in Heb 10, it is Christ’s incarnation and death that are in view, and the way in which the sacrificial system served as a “shadow” to which Christ’s sacrifice is the “reality”. Similarly, Heb 10 draws on the obedient self-offering of Christ, just as in 2:10ff and 5:7ff. In terms of Heb 2:12-13, most see in these citations the evidence for Hebrews’ claims of Jesus’ association with humanity and Jesus’ trust in God. There is a strong link between Heb 2:12-13 and 10:5-7 and the priestly nature of Jesus in these passages, with 10:5-7 highlighting Christ’s obedience. It is, therefore, helpful to note how Hebrews draws upon these Old Testament passages, and their surrounding context, to speak of Jesus and explain what Jesus “had to say” to the audience the author of Hebrews is writing to.

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