According to Hebrews, God has spoken His decisive and superior “word” in His son. Moreover, He did so “upon the last of these days.” This clause refers to the end of the period epitomized by the Levitical code with its priesthood and repeated animal sacrifices, a system of worship that was centered in the Tabernacle, and later, in the Temple in Jerusalem. With the exaltation of the Son to the “right hand of the Majesty on High,” a new and final era of salvation has commenced.
The Letter to the Hebrews shows only limited interest in the final events expected just prior to the return of Jesus such as the rise of the Antichrist. Instead, the focus is on the present situation of the Assembly and how to avoid apostasy.
This is NOT to say the Letter shows no interest in topics beyond the priesthood or covenant established by the “Son,” and it certainly looks forward to final events including “salvation,” the “coming habitable earth,” God’s “rest” for His saints, and the “abiding city” of the “living God, heavenly Jerusalem.”
The Church is in transit to the new Promised Land. This is why believers must “hold fast to the things they have heard,” lest they find themselves receiving a “sorer punishment” from the “living God” for again “trampling underfoot the Son of God.” Failure to persevere in this sojourn will mean the loss of what God has promised to the faithful, including salvation and life in God’s “abiding city.”
The Letter is addressed to a congregation where some members are contemplating a return to the local synagogue to escape pressure from outsiders. To discourage this, Hebrews presents a series of comparisons that highlight the superiority of what God has provided in His Son, “upon these last days,” all interspersed with warnings about the consequences of apostasy.
In the Son of God, the old and obsolete era of the Aaronic priesthood that amounted to “glimpses and shadows” of the coming “better things” has concluded, and the promised New Covenant is now underway - (Hebrews 1:1-4).
To return to the synagogue would mean once again practicing the rites of the Levitical system, including its animal sacrifices, and that is why the Letter spends considerable time demonstrating the superiority of the priesthood “after the order of Melchizedek” inaugurated by Jesus along with his one-time sacrifice.
The priestly service and animal sacrifices of the old order failed to cleanse the believer’s conscience of sin. In contrast, having “achieved the purification of sin,” the new High Priest “sat down” forevermore in the presence of God where he now intercedes for his people. His victory ushered in the New Covenant That means the “former” one reached its termination point, and One era superseded another.
Thus, the “Son” instituted what the old order represented but failed to achieve, indeed, what it was never capable of accomplishing in the first place due to human weakness and mortality.
(Hebrews 9:24-26) - “For not into a holy place made by hand entered Christ, the counterpart of the real one, but into the heaven itself, now, to be manifested before the face of God in our behalf, nor yet that often he should be offering himself, just as the High-Priest enters into the holy place year by year with alien blood; else had it been necessary for him to suffer often from the foundation of the world. But now, once for all, upon the consummation of the ages, for a putting away of sin through his sacrifice, has he been manifested.”
In the preceding passage, the Greek noun translated as “counterpart” more accurately means “antitype.” The Tabernacle was the “type” or model, but the heavenly sanctuary is the “antitype,” the reality itself. If “perfection through the Aaronic priesthood” ever was a real possibility, there would have been no need to install a new priesthood, one that is “according to the order of Melchizedek.”
The repeated animal sacrifices of the “former covenant” were only “shadows of the good things to come, but not the very image of the things.” They were incapable of “perfecting those who draw near” the altar. Moreover, the Letter links what the “Son” achieved in his one-time sacrifice to the “consummation of the ages.” In other words, “upon these last days” – (Hebrews 7:11-12).
In contrast to the Aaronic priests, the Son “offered one sacrifice for sins forever, and sat down on the right hand of God… For by one offering, he has perfected forever those who are sanctified.” Rather than another animal sacrifice, Jesus offered himself – (Hebrews 10:1-14).
THE NEW ORDER
The point of declaring that the Son “sat down on the right hand of God” is not to show that he now reigns supreme over the Cosmos, as true as that is, but that he is our “High Priest, the minister of the Sanctuary and of the True Tabernacle.”
The priests under the Levitical system served in a man-made tent, one that was a mere “copy and shadow of the heavenly things.” But the Son now intercedes forevermore in the greater Tabernacle “pitched by God” – (Hebrews 8:1-13).
As our High Priest, he mediates the “better covenant that has been enacted upon better promises.” By promising the “New Covenant” that does accomplish the forgiveness of sins and cleanses the conscience, the Scriptures declare that the first one is “old and becoming obsolete and near to vanishing away” - (Jeremiah 31:31-34, Hebrews 8:8-13).
Thus, with the advent of the “High Priest after the order of Melchizedek,” the time of the old priesthood with its extensive rituals and repeated animal sacrifices reached its intended conclusion. In Jesus, the new and final era of Salvation History has commenced - “Upon these last days.”