Purification of Sins

Alpine Flowers - Photo by Seb Zurcher on Unsplash

A key point of the opening paragraph of the letter to Hebrews is the accomplishment of the Son on behalf of his people, and his exalted position where he sits at the “right hand” of God ministering as their High Priest “forevermore.” He alone secured what none of his predecessors were able to achieve.


Through his death, Jesus “achieved the purification of sins,” and afterward, he “sat down” in the “true and greater tabernacle” where he now intercedes on behalf of his people.


The letter’s logic is clear. The “Son” now sits on the throne of grace BECAUSE he accomplished the “purification of sins” and dealt definitively and finally with sin’s stain. He was appointed the “high priest after the order of Melchizedek” due to his victory over sin.


This opening declaration anticipates the later discussions about his priesthood and superior sacrifice. And though the image of him sitting “at God’s right hand” is drawn from the second Psalm, the emphasis is not on his exaltation to the Davidic throne as the king of Israel, but on his appointment to become our high priest.




As their “high priest,” he now intercedes unhindered for his people - “Wherefore, also, he is able to save to the uttermost them that draw near to God through him, seeing he lives forevermore to make intercession for them” – (Hebrews 7:25).


It is no accident that the passage refers to the “purification of sins” rather than the forgiveness of sin. The language reflects the Levitical system and its sacrifices that were designed to remove ritual impurity.


Moreover, the image of a priestly figure who “sits down” at God’s right hand echoes the annual Day of Atonement but WITH A DISTINCT DIFFERENCE. Under the ancient system, the high priest entered the sanctuary only on the Day of Atonement, and he neversat down or remained in the Holy of Holies for more than a short period. In contrast, Jesus entered the true sanctuary “once for all” and “sat down” where he remains interceding for the saints.


This modified picture stresses the finality of his priestly act. And according to the letter, he will remain in his Father’s presence until God again “introduces the firstborn Son into the habitable earth.”




The term “sat down” alludes to another key passage, once again from the Psalms, the text that prophetically summons the Messiah and “high priest after the order of Melchizedek” to do this very thing:

Yahweh said to my Lord: Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool” - (Psalm 110:1. Compare Hebrews 12:1-2).

We have such a high priest who sat down on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched not man” - (Hebrews 8:1-2).

And every priest indeed stands day by day ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, the which can never remove sins. but he, when he had offered one sacrifice for sins once-for-all, sat down on the right hand of God” - (Hebrews 10:11-12).

The last passage contrasts the position of the Levitical priests with that of the Son, the new and final “high priest forever.” The priests “stood” in the sanctuary while performing their duties but Jesus “sat down” in the Greater Tabernacle, the one “not made with hands” and found in the highest of the heavens; namely, in the very presence of God.


And the repeated animal sacrifices performed by the Levitical priests were (and are) incapable of “removing” the stain of sin, but the one-time sacrifice of the Son did exactly that and did so “once for all.” Ever since Jesus has remained seated at the “right hand of God.”


In the letter’s later chapters, the Author demonstrates not only the vastly superior sacrifice and priestly qualifications of the Son, but also that his death does what no animal sacrifice could ever do; namely, the cleansing of the conscience of the sinner and his or her reconciliation with God.


And especially for these reasons - the removal of sin’s stain and his intercession for his people - the “word of the Son” is supreme over all others, surpassing even the word mediated through “the angels” to Moses.

Photo: Sunset - Photo by Karsten Würth on Unsplash

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