The Messianic Priest-King – 2

Final excerpt from the early pages of A. T. Ross’ Hebrews commentary. Part 1 here.

Temple and Typology

The evidence that Hebrews was written before the fall of Jerusalem in A. D. 70 is strengthened by a few other observations. Timothy is said to be alive (13:23), and while it cannot be certainly determined that this is the same Timothy that traveled with Paul, there exists no good reason not to think it is the same Timothy to whom Paul wrote two epistles.

More importantly, the Temple and sacrificial system of Israel are clearly still standing at the time of writing (7:27-28; 8:3-5; 9:7-8, 25; 10:1-3, 8; 13:10-11).37 Given the heightened expectation of not merely Hebrews but of the whole of the General epistles—not to mention the New Testament—about the imminent coming of Christ in the vindication of His Church, it remains true that had Hebrews been written after A. D. 70, the epistle would not have been written as though it were still expecting this “soon” event. It would be speaking not of the hope its readers should cling to about the soon-to-come event, but rather as the triumphant announcement that Christ really did remain faithful to His word and truly was vindicated as the Messiah.

Nevertheless, many scholars disagree with this evaluation, arguing that Hebrews isn’t interested in the Jewish Temple at all, on the basis that the book deals with the Tabernacle rather than the cultic practices of its own day. As a result, they think the references to the standing of the Jewish system can be taken as “timeless,” and having no bearing upon the dating of the book. [38] Such an argument is unconvincing given that the extensive use of the Tabernacle in Hebrews is typological in nature, included for the purpose of arguing that the entire Mosaic priesthood and Levitical order is coming to an end with Christ. This Mosaic order includes the Davidic, Exilic and Restoration covenants which were essentially developments of or modifications to the original Sinaitic covenant. [39]

Thus, the extensive use of Israel’s 40-year wilderness wandering as the typological background of the epistle indicates that the author was consciously aware that Jesus would be vindicated sometime around the fortieth year from His ascension to the heavenly throne (2:3) and was therefore eagerly anticipating this vindication sometime on or around A.D. 70. [40] This would also mean that in Israel’s rejection of Jesus’ earthly ministry they were once again stepping back from taking the promised land and would have to fall in the forty years in the wilderness instead of finally entering the Greater Land when Jesus conquered Jerusalem and the nations (cf. Num. 13-14).

The argument which the author of Hebrews is making is that Israel was brought by Moses (a type of Christ) to the Promised Land and through their own cowardice and lack of faith did not enter in. Therefore they were caused to wander in the wilderness forty years until that disobedient generation had died. Only then would Israel enter into the Promised Land in conquest and victory. So too, Hebrews argues, Israel was brought to the heavenly Promised Land by Jesus (the Greater Moses) but rejected Him and did not enter in. Therefore, so that Israel might repent and turn from their lack of faith in the Messiah, they would wander in the “wilderness” for forty years, after which time the Church, the New Israel, would enter and conquer the eternal Promised Land, the whole earth (ch. 3-4). [41]

Old Covenant New Covenant
Israel brought to Land by Moses Israel brought to eternal Land by Jesus
Israel rejects conquest with Moses Israel rejects Jesus, the New Moses
Conquest delayed 40 years Conquest delayed 40 years [42]
Israel enters Land and conquers True Israel enters Land and conquers

The argument, then, is that the entirety of the Old Covenant from Moses to Second Temple Judaism was coming to an end, growing obsolete and ready to pass away (8:13), in order to fulfill the Abrahamic covenant of promises. The apostle Paul makes similar points in his own epistles (Rom. 4). This is the whole point of introducing Christ as a priest after the order of Melchizedek; we have returned to the priesthood of the Abrahamic period where one was simply given a special appointment or call by God (5:4-6).

Thus, disagreeing scholars to the contrary, Hebrews is directly concerned with the Temple and Jewish sacrificial system. The argument of Hebrews, however, goes much further back than simply Second Temple Judaism. Christ doesn’t restore us to the Restoration covenant, or the Exilic covenant, or the Davidic covenant, or the Mosaic covenant, but returns us to the covenant of promise made with Abraham. The expectation of Hebrews was indeed concerned with the still-standing Temple, though it looks at the Temple as one piece of the entire Sinaitic order. The Temple would fall in judgment, but along with it the entire Old Creation and its order, hierarchy, and mediation would be thrown down by Christ, which is why He is said to be elevated above the angels who mediated the Old Covenant (ch. 1-2). This means that the references to the still-standing Temple are indeed of great consequence to the dating of the book; they simply participate in the fall of the entire Old Creation.

We can safely conclude that Hebrews could not have been written after A.D. 70. Lane suggests that Hebrews was written sometime between A.D. 65-68, which is just about right. [43]

[37] J. A. T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament (SCM Press, 1976), pp. 202: Keith A. Mathison, From Age to Age: The Unfolding of Biblical Revelation (Presbyterian and Reformed, 2009), pp. .
[38] Hawthorne, NIBC, 1503; Lane, Hebrews 1-8, lxiii; Craddock, New Interpreter’s, 10.
[39] For some discussion of this, see James B. Jordan, Through New Eyes: Developing a Biblical View of the World (Wipf and Stock, 2003), ch. ; Jordan, The Handwriting on the Wall, ch. ; Leithart, From Behind the Veil, 9-10.
[40] Hawthorne mentions this argument in passing, disagreeing with it, but offers no argument against it. Hawthorne, NIBC, 1503.
[41] See Wilson, Christ and His Rivals, pp.
[42] For more on this delay in judgment, see Jordan, The Handwriting on the Wall, pp.
[43] Lane, Hebrews 1-8, lxvi.

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