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Cover image: Balm of Gilead, by Annie Henrie
One reason that the book of Hebrews was written was to encourage Jewish converts to remain faithful to Jesus Christ and not revert to their former Jewish ways (see Hebrews 10:32–38). During this era, the focus of their worship had been on ritual, on prophets, and upon angels. The teachings of Christ seemed to be at the periphery. As they experienced trials of their faith, they may at times have wondered if they should abandon their faith.
These converts apparently wrestled with several questions: If we accept that the rituals of the law of Moses are not required of Gentile Christians, what is the true value of the Old Testament? If the gospel of Jesus Christ is the right way, why are we being persecuted so much for being his followers? If Jesus was the Messiah, why is Israel still in bondage to the Romans? Under the pressure of various afflictions, many of these Jewish Christians were withdrawing from the Church and returning to the relative safety of Jewish worship at the synagogue (see Hebrews 10:25, 38–39). Hebrews 2:1 identifies the danger the Hebrew saints were facing: “Therefore we ought to give more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.” The New International Version translation uses the word “drift” rather than slip. The Greek means “to fall off, decline from steadfastness, make forfeit of faith.”
Like Elder Dallin H. Oaks in his talk “Good, Better, Best,” the author of Hebrews is asking these converts to consider their ways. The Law of Moses was a GOOD thing, but Christ is BETTER. The theme of this epistle is: Christ is BETTER, therefore, WE OUGHT . . . to give more earnest heed unto Christ. The Old Testament was given by prophets, but these teachings in the New Testament come from the Lord himself. The Savior repeats the miracles of the Old Testament prophetsand betters them. While Moses parted the waters of the Red Sea, Jesus walks on the waters. If better — then what? It is a call to action – LET US…
Unlike other epistles, Hebrews does not name its author in the book itself. Because early Christians were uncertain about the authorship of Hebrews, it became customary to place Hebrews after Paul’s epistles in the order of New Testament books. I attended the BYU New Testament Commentary Conference on the Epistle to the Hebrews held on October 12, 2019. Michael D. Rhodes and Richard D. Draper have been working for the past two years on a new Commentary on this book and a “new rendition” of the Greek. I heard them say that, although the writer’s style reflects some characteristics of Paul’s writing, the Greek is “radically different” from his Greek.
They said that Paul’s Greek was “staccato” Greek while the Epistle to the Hebrews is written in a Greek they described as “elevated,” “flowing,” and “stunning” in is beauty. Many Greek scholars consider its writing to be more polished and eloquent than any other book in the New Testament. One scholar commented that “the very carefully composed and studied Greek of Hebrews is not Paul’s spontaneous, volatile, contextual Greek” (Dennis Duling, (2003). (The New Testament : history, literature, and social context (4th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth. p. 281). The Epistle to the Hebrews has earned the reputation of being a masterpiece of literature.
The book’s structure can be seen as three main sections of teachings that build to a concluding exhortation: (1) the preeminence of Jesus Christ as the Son of God (see Hebrews 1:1–4:13); (2) the superiority of Christ’s priesthood (see Hebrews 4:14–7:28); (3) the superiority of His atoning sacrifice and ministry (see Hebrews 8:1–10:18) and ultimately, the necessity of faith in Christ in order to gain exaltation (see Hebrews 10-13).
Hebrews 1:1–2. Jesus Christ Created Worlds under the Direction of His Father
John testified that “all things were made by” the Savior (John 1:3, 10). He created “worlds without number” (Moses 1:33), “millions of earths like this” (Moses 7:30), and “all things from the beginning” (Mosiah 3:8). Elder James E. Talmage (1862–1933) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wrote about Jesus Christ’s role as the Creator: “The Father operated in the work of creation through the Son, who thus became the executive through whom the will, commandment, or word of the Father was put into effect. It is with incisive appropriateness therefore, that the Son, Jesus Christ, is designated by the apostle John as the Word; or as declared by the Father ‘the word of my power’ [John 1:1; Moses 1:32]” (Jesus the Christ, 3rd ed. , 33).There are, however, “two creative events” that God the Father reserves for Himself. “First, he is the Father of all spirits, Christ’s included. … Second, he is the Creator of the physical body of man [see Moses 2:27]” (Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith , 63).
Hebrews 1:3. Jesus Christ Is in the Express Image of His Father
The term “express image” (Hebrews 1:3) comes from the Greek word charaktēr, which refers to a representation or reproduction of something else, such as the impression a signet ring leaves on soft wax. This phrase in Hebrews 1:3 indicates that Jesus Christ is a representation of Heavenly Father and shares His divine character.Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained that Jesus being in the express image of His Father is a witness to both the ancient and modern world of what God the Father is like: “Of course the centuries-long drift away from belief in such a perfect and caring Father hasn’t been helped any by the man-made creeds of erring generations which describe God variously as unknown and unknowable—formless, passionless, elusive, ethereal, simultaneously everywhere and nowhere at all. Certainly that does not describe the Being we behold through the eyes of these prophets. Nor does it match the living, breathing, embodied Jesus of Nazareth who was and is in ‘the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his [Father]’ [Hebrews 1:3; see also 2 Corinthians 4:4; Colossians 1:15]. “In that sense Jesus did not come to improve God’s view of man nearly so much as He came to improve man’s view of God” (“The Grandeur of God,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2003, 72).
Several verses in Hebrews teach the importance of Jesus Christ in God’s plan by drawing upon several Old Testament references from Psalms. These references would have been very familiar to these Jewish Christians, who were well-versed in the scriptures. Using these quotations in this epistle would have added authority to its reasoning and doctrinal teachings about the superiority of Christ.
Hebrews 2:6–9. “A Little Lower than the Angels”
The author of Hebrews drew upon a messianic prophecy from Psalm 8:4–6 when he stated in Hebrews 2:9 that Jesus “was made a little lower than the angels.” This is actually mistranslated from the Hebrew text. The text reads “a little lower than the gods” (Hebrew: elohim – meaning gods, plural) Christ condescended from His premortal throne as a god and came to earth so that He could experience mortality with its physical restrictions. I love the reference in Philippians 2:7–9, although it is often misunderstood. Here we are told that Christ “emptied himself” of the glory he possessed in the pre-mortal existence in order to “condescend” to being a mortal on earth. This is the meaning of the Greek word kenoos. He did not think “being equal with God” was something he needed to tightly grasp or hold onto (harpagmos), so he emptied himself of his glory.
It seems obvious to us that Christ is more important than angels. Why didn’t these people understand this concept? I believe the reason was that they hadn’t comprehended that Christ needed to be a MAN — to descend below all things — he couldn’t be angelic or regal or immortal if he was to save them! This idea is best illustrated in a story called The Parable of the Birds, by UPI Religion Writer Louis Cassels. It was so popular that Paul Harvey featured it year after year, and it is still told countless times every Christmas season.
The man to whom I’m going to introduce you was not a scrooge; he was a kind, decent, mostly good man, generous to his family, upright in his dealings with other men. But he just didn’t believe all that incarnation stuff which the churches proclaim at Christmas time. It just didn’t make sense and he was too honest to pretend otherwise. He just couldn’t swallow the Jesus story, about God coming to earth as a man.
“I’m truly sorry to distress you,” he told his wife, “but I’m not going with you to church this Christmas Eve.” He said he’d feel like a hypocrite. That he’d much rather just stay at home, but that he would wait up for them. So he stayed while his family went to the midnight service.
Shortly after the family drove away, snow began to fall. He went to the window to watch the flurries getting heavier and heavier and then went back to his fireside chair and began to read the newspaper. Minutes later he was startled by a thudding sound, then another, and then another — sort of a thump or a thud. At first he thought someone must be throwing snowballs against his living room window.
But when he went to the front door to investigate, he found a flock of birds huddled miserably in the snow. They’d been caught in the storm and, in a desperate search for shelter, had tried to fly through his large landscape window. Well, he couldn’t let the poor creatures lie there and freeze, so he remembered the barn where his children stabled their pony. That would provide a warm shelter, if he could direct the birds to it. Quickly he put on a coat, galoshes, trampled through the deepening snow to the barn. He opened the doors wide and turned on a light, but the birds did not come in. He figured food would entice them. So he hurried back to the house, fetched breadcrumbs, and sprinkled them on the snow. He made a trail to the brightly lit, wide-open doorway of the stable. To his dismay, the birds ignored the bread crumbs, and continued to flap around helplessly in the snow.
He tried catching them. He tried shooing them into the barn by walking around them waving his arms. But they scattered in every direction, except into the warm, lighted barn. And then he realized that they were afraid of him. To them, he reasoned, I am a strange and terrifying creature. If only I could think of some way to let them know that they can trust me…that I am not trying to hurt them, but to help them. But how?
Any move he made tended to frighten and confuse them. They just would not follow. They would not be led or shooed because they feared him. “If only I could be a bird,” he thought to himself, “and mingle with them and speak their language. Then I could tell them not to be afraid. Then I could show them the way to the safe warm barn. But I would have to be one of them so they could see, and hear, and understand.”
At that moment, the church bells began to ring. The sound reached his ears above the sound of the wind. As he stood listening to the bells pealing the glad tidings of Christmas, he sank to his knees in the snow. “Now I understand,” he whispered, “now I see why you had to do it.”
Hebrews 2:10, 14–18. “He Is Able to Succor Them That Are Tempted” (see also Hebrews 4:15–16)
These verses explain that because Jesus Christ lived as a mortal and experienced the trials and temptations of mortality, He is able to help us as we face our own trials and temptations. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland described why Jesus is able to succor those who are tempted:
“When Christ bids [us] to yield, to submit, to obey the Father, He knows how to help us do that. He has walked that way, asking [us] to do what He has done. He has made it safer. He has made it very much easier for [our] travel. … He knows where the sharp stones and the stumbling blocks lie and where the thorns and the thistles are the most severe. He knows where the path is perilous, and He knows which way to go when the road forks and nightfall comes. He knows this because He has suffered ‘pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind … that he may know … how to succor his people according to their infirmities’ (Alma 7:11–12). To succor means ‘to run to.’ … Christ will run to [us], and is running even now, if [we] will but receive the extended arm of His mercy. (“Therefore, What?” [Church Educational System Conference on the New Testament, Aug. 8, 2000], 9).
Thomas A. Wayment explains Hebrews 2:18, in his new translation of the New Testament. I was profoundly taken aback by the ramifications of this new concept of the nature of the ordeal Christ endured.
“That Jesus suffered when tempted signals that he had the ability to succumb to the temptation (he suffered) and to fall as a result of succumbing. The wording does not suggest a passive or abstract experience, but the genuine bout with temptation and its effects” (The New Testament: a Translation for Latter-day Saints, p. 405).
I was moved by what Sister Chieko N. Okazaki said about just how deeply the Savior feels our pains:
“We know that Jesus experienced the totality of mortal existence in Gethsemane. It’s our faith that he experienced everything — absolutely everything. Sometimes we don’t think through the implications of that belief. We talk in great generalities about the sins of all humankind, about the suffering of the entire human family. But we don’t experience pain in generalities. We experience it individually. That means he knows what it felt like when your mother died of cancer— how it was for your mother, how it still is for you. He knows what it felt like to lose the student body election. He knows that moment when the brakes locked and the car started to skid. He experienced the slave ship sailing from Ghana toward Virginia. He experienced the gas chambers at Dachau. He experienced Napalm in Vietnam. He knows about drug addiction and alcoholism.
“Let me go further. There is nothing you have experienced as a woman that he does not also know and recognize. On a profound level, he understands the hunger to hold your baby that sustains you through pregnancy. He understands both the physical pain of giving birth and the immense joy. He knows about PMS and cramps and menopause. He understands about rape and infertility and abortion. His last recorded words to his disciples were, “And, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20). He understands your mother-pain when your five-year-old leaves for kindergarten, when a bully picks on your fifth-grader, when your daughter calls to say that the new baby has Down syndrome.
He knows your mother-rage when a trusted babysitter sexually abuses your two-year-old, when someone gives your thirteen-year-old drugs, when someone seduces your seventeen-year-old. He knows the pain you live with when you come home to a quiet apartment where the only visitors are children, when you hear that your former husband and his new wife were sealed in the temple last week, when your fiftieth wedding anniversary rolls around and your husband has been dead for two years. He knows all that. He’s been there. He’s been lower than all that. He’s not waiting for us to be perfect. Perfect people don’t need a Savior. He came to save his people in their imperfections. He is the Lord of the living, and the living make mistakes. He’s not embarrassed by us, angry at us, or shocked. He wants us in our brokenness, in our unhappiness, in our guilt and our grief.” (Lighten Up, p. 174)
Jesus was made a little lower than the angels (the gods) in order to accomplish the atonement. Verse 11 states that Jesus is not ashamed to call us his brethren. How does this make you feel? It makes me feel very humble and stirs me to never fear to claim him and stand as his witness at all times and in all places. He was willing to go through all the pains of mortality, so that he might understand me.
Hebrews 2:17; 3:1. Jesus Christ as the Great High Priest
I love the new insights provided by Richard Draper and Michael Rhodes in their new rendition of the Epistle to the Hebrews.
Hebrews 2:17 “For this reason he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every way:
”The subordinating conjunction ὅθεν (hothen) “for this reason,” marks the basis for an action and, thereby, gives the reason for it. In this case, it explains that what drove the Lord to become mortal was his care for Abraham’s posterity. The verb ὁμοιόω (homoioō) in the passive means” to be made like,” and when coupled with (kata panta), “in every way,” the phrase expresses how fully the Savior became mortal. Indeed, becoming like his brothers and sisters bound him to them in history, in temptations, in trials, in suffering, in mortality, and in dying.
“so that he could become a merciful and faithful high priest over the things relating to God”
The conjunction ἵνα (hina) “so that,” marks a purpose, aim, or goal and points to why Jesus had to become fully mortal. The adjective ἐλεήμων (eleēmōn), “merciful,” carries elements of both mercifulness and compassion. Connotes that feeling aroused when one sees another suffering from undeserved affliction. In the sense of compassion, it expresses an emotional sharing in the distress or misfortune of an equal. In the sense of mercifulness, it expresses a disinclination to be either rigorous or severe, especially toward an offending party.
The adjective πιστός (pistos) stresses “trustworthiness” or “faithfulness” to a cause or people. As used here, the word suggests total faithfulness to God and his purposes. In the context of Jesus’s ministry, this virtue is buttressed by that understanding he gained through experience of the importance of his responsibility toward those he served (The Epistle to the Hebrews: A New Rendition).
Hebrews is the only New Testament book to depict Jesus as a high priest. The ordinances performed by ancient Levitical priests foreshadowed the Atonement made by the Son of God (see Hebrews 10:1). While priests offered up goats or lambs from Israel’s flocks according to the Law of Moses, Jesus, the very Lamb of God voluntarily offered up Himself (see Hebrews 9:12–14). The high priest offered sacrifices in this manner every year on the Day of Atonement. This holy rite needed to be performed each year. Additionally, before he performed this sacrifice, he was required to ritually purify himself.
In contrast, Christ offered his sacrifice “once for all” (Hebrews 10:10; see also 9:25–28). He did not have to perform the ritual for purifying himself, because he was sinless. As the ancient high priest entered into the Holy of Holies on earth and sprinkled the goat’s blood upon the mercy seat for the sins of Israel, so Jesus Christ interceded by virtue of the sacrifice of his own blood before the Father in behalf of not just Israel, but all those who would repent (see Hebrews 9:15, 23–25). Thus, Jesus was not only the High Priest for us in making the offering; he was also the very offering himself.
Hebrews 3:1–6. Jesus Christ Is Greater than Moses
To understand the author’s language and allusions in this epistle, we first need to remember some events in Israelite history. He is going to liken Jesus to two Old Testament figures: Moses and Melchizedek. Let’s start with Moses.
For the Jews, Moses was the most highly revered prophet, the one who received God’s law at Sinai. The Jewish Christians being addressed in Hebrews were contemplating abandoning their faith in Christ and returning to Judaism in an attempt to remain loyal to the law of Moses. They did not understand (or believe deeply enough) that Christ was preeminent to Moses.
Moses, you’ll recall, rescued the Israelites from Egyptian bondage and led them out in the wilderness with the aim of leading them to a promised land. What was the promised land? They believed it was the land of Canaan, as promised to Abraham.How long did it take them to get from Egypt to Canaan? A grueling journey lasting 40 years. Even given ancient travel practices, that’s an awful long time. Moses got the people out of Egypt, but it took 40 years to get Egypt out of the people. They had to be refined and learn to depend totally on the Lord. We’ll talk more about the ramifications of this journey in a minute.
Hebrews 3:3–6 teaches further about Jesus Christ’s superiority to Moses. When a man builds a great house, he hires a servant to take care of it. Moses was a faithful servant in God’s house, but only a servant. How is the son of the owner of the house revered when he comes to visit it? He is revered just as the ruler of the house would be. Which is better —a servant or a son?
Hebrews 3:7–15. The Importance of Hearing Christ’s Voice Today
Quoting from Psalm 95:7–11, The author of Hebrews encourages the Saints in Hebrews 3:7–15 to act in faith immediately (“to day”) by listening to the Lord’s voice while there is still time for repentance. He warns his readers to beware of “departing from the living God” and warns them of the “deceitfulness of sin,” which causes rejection of the Savior. I love verse 14, which encourages us to “endure to the end.” by exhorting one another, by avoiding unbelief and sin, and by not being hard in heart. However, God swore in his wrath that the children of Israel should not “enter into His rest.” This was their punishment for rejecting Moses — not being able to enter the promised land and all it implies. D&C 84:24 defines the rest of the Lord as the “fullness of God’s glory.”
Hebrews 3:8–17; 4:1–11. Entering into God’s Rest
What does the word “rest” here represent?Was it more thanentering into the promised land? Consider the reasons that generation were denied entry into the promised land. They were afraid to enter into Canaan because of the reports of ten of the spies sent to observe the people there. They described the Canaanites as “giants” and the Israelites said, “we were in our own sight as grasshoppers” (See Numbers 13:33). They wept and petitioned Moses to return to Egypt. Because they had seen so many miracles, and still were not willing to follow Moses and Joshua, the Lord condemned that generation to wander in the wilderness. This journey is quite an adventure and is fun to read. However, these events don’t just portray a physical journey to a new land. That is only the framework for an even greater journey—a spiritual journey, not to a new land, but to a new spiritual plateau. If we get bogged down in the former journey and fail to appreciate the latter, then we fail to come to terms with the most important message. In the Epistle to the Hebrews, the author uses the former journey to teach the latter journey that each one of us must make.
The word provocation as used in verse 8 refers to the many times the children of Israel hardened their hearts and made God angry. M. Catherine Thomas has this to say about the provocation:
“Camped in the hot, waterless wilderness of southern Palestine, the Israelites challenged Moses, saying, “Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?” (Exodus 17:3). This complaint might have been understandable had these people never seen the hand of God in their lives, but this incident occurred after the miraculous Passover, after their passage through the Red Sea dry shod, and after the outpouring of manna and quail from heaven. In response to the Israelites’ faithlessness, an exasperated Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do unto this people? they be almost ready to stone me” (Exodus 17:4). The Lord answered: “Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the name of the place Massah, and Meribah” (Exodus “17:6–7).
“Psalm 95 provides the linguistic link that identifies this incident as the Provocation: “To day if ye will hear his voice, Harden not your heart, as in the provocation [Hebrew meribah], and as in the day of temptation [Hebrew massah] in the wilderness: When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my work. Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said, It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways: Unto whom I sware in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest” (Psalm 95:7–11; emphasis added; see also Hebrews 3:8–11, 15).
“The event at Meribah is the Provocation mentioned throughout the Bible. In that incident, the Lord tested the faith of the children of Israel and their willingness to accept His love and grace. Grace is the Lord’s divine enabling power, given to humankind to help them with all the challenges of their lives; grace ultimately empowers them to lay hold on heaven itself. But the Israelites’ response to the Lord’s abundant generosity illustrates a religious paradox: God offers His children grace, but the children will not seek it; God offers His children heaven, but the children will not enter in.
“We shall see that the Provocation refers not only to the specific incident at Meribah but to a persistent behavior of the children of Israel that greatly reduced their spiritual knowledge (see Psalm 95:10: “they have not known my ways”; emphasis added) and thus removed them from sublime privileges. After a succession of provocations, the Israelites in time rejected and lost the knowledge of the anthropomorphic nature of the Gods, the divine relationship of the Father and the Son, and the great plan of grace inherent in the doctrine of the Father and the Son. “The Provocation, then, seems to encompass a preference for spiritual death—a preference for a return to Egypt—rather than the demanding trek through repentance to sanctification.
The Provocation, in all its manifestations, implies a refusal to come to Christ to exercise faith in the face of such a daunting call, a refusal to partake of the goodness of God, a refusal to accept the restoration to God’s presence or rest, a refusal to allow the Savior to work His mighty power in one’s life, a refusal to enter into the at-one-ment for which He suffered and died, a refusal to be “clasped in the arms of Jesus” (Mormon 5:11). The Provocation is anti-Atonement and anti-Christ.” (Thomas, M. Catherine, “The Provocation in the Wilderness and the Rejection of Grace” in Sperry Symposium Classics: The Old Testament, ed. Paul Y. Hoskisson (Provo: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, and Deseret Book 2005), 164–176.)
Moses wanted to bring the children of Israel into the presence of God. “Now this Moses plainly taught to the children of Israel in the wilderness, and sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God; But they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord . . . swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fulness of his glory. Therefore, he took Moses out of their midst, and the Holy Priesthood also” (D&C 84:23-25).But they were full of fear. They didn’t want the responsibility of hearing God’s voice. They told Moses to go hear it for them (See Ex. 20:18-19). They were afraid to make the ascent—afraid of the consequences of coming into the presence of God. For the ancients there was a very common belief that if a person ever saw God then they would die. They forgot that God can transform people. Sometimes we can get so caught up on the things of this world, that we forget about the possibilities of God’s power and so don’t even make the effort. The author’s message to us is that we need to “dare to ascend the mountain.” The Joseph Smith Translation adds some clarification to Hebrews 4:5: “And in this place again, If they harden not their hearts they shall enter into my rest” (in Hebrews 4:5, footnote a).
Hebrews 4:2, 6, 10–16 “Let Us”
The author of Hebrews gives us further advice about how to enter into his rest. Notice the words “Let us” in verses 1, 11, 14, and 16. Let us “labor to enter into that rest,” and let us “hold fast to our profession,” and let us “come boldly into the throne of grace.” Notice his use of the word “labor.” The trek through repentance to sanctification is demanding indeed. It takes a lot of effort on our part, to spiritually ascend the mountain, but he wants us to know that it is worth the journey. The result is allowing the Savior to work his mighty power in one’s life.
Hebrews 4:15. Jesus Christ Was “in All Points Tempted Like As We Are, Yet without Sin”
I love the New Rendition of this verse: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but although he was tried and tempted in every way just like us, he was without sin. So let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Jesus had a unique birthright. From his Father he inherited power over death (John 10:18, Alma 7:12), representation of the Godhead (Colossians), and power of forgiveness (Mark 2:10; Helaman 5:11). From his mortal mother Mary he inherited the ability to die physically (Alma 7:12), the ability to feel sickness and suffering (Alma 7: 11-13), the ability to feel temptation, hunger and fatigue (Mosiah 3:7, and the ability to feel pain (2 Nephi 9:21).
“Born of a woman, he was subject to temptation and the weaknesses of the flesh. Begotten Son of the Father, he inherited the power to live indefinitely” (President Marion G. Romney, Ensign, Nov. 1979, 41). “Jesus was the only one who could offer such an infinite atonement, since He was born of a mortal mother and an immortal Father. Because of that unique birthright, Jesus was an infinite Being” (Elder Russel M. Nelson, “The Atonement”, Ensign, Nov. 1996, 33).
Even though Jesus Christ is the Son of God, he was not shielded from the temptations of Satan (see also Mosiah 15:5; D&C 20:22). Verse 15 reminds us of Philippians 2 where Christ took on himself man’s nature. President Howard W. Hunter taught, “It is important to remember that Jesus was capable of sinning, that he could have succumbed, that the plan of life and salvation could have been foiled, but that he remained true. Had there been no possibility of his yielding to the enticement of Satan, there would have been no real test, no genuine victory in the result. If he had been stripped of the faculty to sin, he would have been stripped of his very agency. It was he who had come to safeguard and ensure the agency of man. He had to retain the capacity and ability to sin had he willed so to do. He was perfect and sinless, not because he had to be, but rather because he clearly and determinedly wanted to be” (“The Temptations of Christ,” Ensign, Nov. 1976, 19).
Consider, too, this quotation from C.S. Lewis: (Mere Christianity)
No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness — they have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means — the only complete realist.”
Hebrews 4:15–16. The Savior Knows Our Infirmities and Can Help in Time of Need
Elder Merrill J. Bateman taught that the Atonement of Jesus Christ was an intimate, personal experience:
“For many years I thought of the Savior’s experience in the garden and on the cross as places where a large mass of sin was heaped upon Him. Through the words of Alma, Abinadi, Isaiah, and other prophets, however, my view has changed. Instead of an impersonal mass of sin, there was a long line of people, as Jesus felt ‘our infirmities’ (Hebrews 4:15), ‘[bore] our griefs, … carried our sorrows … [and] was bruised for our iniquities’ (Isaiah 53:4–5). …
“The Pearl of Great Price teaches that Moses was shown all the inhabitants of the earth, which were ‘numberless as the sand upon the sea shore’ (Moses 1:28). If Moses beheld every soul, then it seems reasonable that the Creator of the universe has the power to become intimately acquainted with each of us. He learned about your weaknesses and mine. He experienced your pains and sufferings. He experienced mine. (“A Pattern for All,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2005, 75–76).
Hebrews 5:1–6, 9-10. “Author of Eternal Salvation”
According to Jewish law, Jesus, from the tribe of Judah, would not have been allowed to enter the Holy of Holies in the Temple because he was not a descendant of Aaron. He was not a Levite and so did not have the proper priesthood to officiate in the Temple. Some might find this the height of irony. The author of Hebrews, however, notes that Jesus received his authority from God the Father, just as Aaron and other ancient high priests were called of God and received their priesthood by proper authority. He was a High Priest of a different order – a higher order. In Hebrews 5:5–6, the author is quoting from Psalm 2:7 and Psalm 110:4.
Christ is the “author of eternal salvation” (Hebrews 5:9). Without him, we would be lost. (Jacob 7:12) The Father’s plan depended on the role of the Only Begotten. He is the author of peace, the book of life, the blueprint for our eternal felicity. There is “no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come to the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent” (Mosiah 3:17).
Hebrews 5:7–8. Christ Learned Obedience
Section 93:12 of the Doctrine and Covenants teaches that Christ “received not of the fulness at first, but received grace for grace.” This is God’s teaching method for all of his children, to learn a principle line upon line. Therefore this verse pertains not only to Jesus Christ and to Melchizedek, but also to US!
Christ was sinless but not perfect. He grew from grace to grace to perfection. Remember that the Greek word for perfect is teleios, meaning “complete, whole, fully mature.” I have always loved this quote from President James E. Faust: “Jesus Christ is the perfect example of obedience and identified a key attitude that will help us learn to be obedient: “As in all things, the Savior is our pattern. . . ‘Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience’ [Hebrews 5:8]. In our own finite way, we too can learn obedience even as Christ did. … When obedience becomes our goal, it is no longer an irritation; instead of a stumbling block, it becomes a building block” (“Obedience: The Path to Freedom,” Ensign, May 1999, 46–47).
Elder James E. Talmage described this process:
His development was as necessary and as real as that for all children. Over his mind had fallen the veil of forgetfulness common to all who are born to earth, by which the remembrance of primeval existence is shut off. (Jesus the Christ, 3rd ed.  p. 111)
Plainly, this Son of the Highest was not endowed with a fullness of knowledge, nor with the complete investiture of wisdom from the cradle. Slowly the assurance of His appointed commission as the Messiah, of whose coming He read in the law, the prophets, and the psalms, developed within his soul. . . (Jesus the Christ, 3rd ed.  p. 116)
President Joseph F. Smith elaborated on this idea and even expanded it to apply to all of us:
“Even Christ himself was not perfect at first; he received not a fulness at first, but he received grace for grace, and he continued to receive more and more until he received a fulness. Is not this to be so with the children of men? Is any man perfect? Have we reached the point wherein we may receive the fullness of God, of his glory and his intelligence? No, and yet Jesus, the Son of God . . . received not a fullness at first, but increased in faith, knowledge, understanding, and grace, until he received a fullness; is it not possible for men that are born of women to receive little by little, line upon line, precept upon precept, until they shall receive a fullness, as he received a fullness, and be exalted with him in the presence of the Father?” (Joseph F. Smith, Improvement Era, March 1908, 333).
Hebrews 6:1–3. “Let’s move on toward perfection”
This is the theme now in chapter 6. The author of Hebrews says in effect, “Let’s move on toward perfection, not (JST) leaving behind the principles of the doctrine of Christ.” Now that they had received the first principles and ordinances of the gospel, they were to continue to grow toward spiritual maturity, and “press forward with steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope” toward eternal life.
They were to be the polar opposites of the whining children of Israel who wanted to go back to the fleshpots of Egypt and eat cucumbers. Their attitude should be, “We don’t want to go back. (to Egypt or the Law of Moses.) We have something so much BETTER. Without Christ, our state would be terrible!”
[In Hebrews 2:1; 4:1; and 6:1, the word “therefore” is used much in the same way that the prophet Mormon used the phrase “and thus we see” in the Book of Mormon to draw our attention to what he felt we should learn.]
Hebrews 6:11, 18–19. “Which Hope We Have as an Anchor of the Soul”
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf taught: “This kind of hope is both a principle of promise as well as a commandment, and, as with all commandments, we have the responsibility to make it an active part of our lives and overcome the temptation to lose hope.” (“The Infinite Power of Hope,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2008, 21–22).
The author of Hebrews wanted his readers to have hope. God gave wonderful promises to Abraham, and despite the long wait, he kept believing in the promises! (See Hebrews 11:17-19) In order to demonstrate His sincerity, God swore an oath to Abraham — even though He didn’t have to. (See Genesis 15:8-18)
Verses 17 and 18 state two “immutable” truths: (1) God can’t lie. (2) He took an oath. Verse 18 contains an image of one fleeing for refuge and grasping the horns of the altar, free at last from the pursuing adversary. Christ is the anchor. When I am “in Christ,” I can’t be blown too far from my eternal home.
“Veil” in Hebrews 6:19 is a reference to the veil of the temple. The high priest entered through the veil into the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, to symbolically cleanse Israel. In the same way, Jesus, the great High Priest, entered through the veil into heaven to prepare the way for us to return to heaven.
I love how verse 11 reads in the Good News Bible: “Our great desire is that each of you keep up your eagerness to the end, so that the things you hope for will come true.” This is the alternative to slipping or drifting away as described above in Hebrews 2:1. I love this rendition of this verse and its power. We can be hers of eternal life! I love the idea that Christ makes up the difference for us — so we can be perfect in him and have the confidence to BOLDLY pass through the veil as Christ did, and be sanctified. That hope we have as an “anchor to the soul.”