The Book of Hebrews, one of the most ignored and seldom studied New Testament books, powerfully argues that Jesus is the final destination and the retirement place for every religion, including yours and mine.
The book progressively argues that the entire Old Testament’s religious spectrum, with its beliefs, practices and institutions served only one purpose – to direct human history, its communities, and people to Jesus Christ. Known also as the Old Covenant, with its religion and prophetic mission, laws, tabernacle, priestly duties, sacrifices and festivals, observances, liturgy and rituals – all of those were only a shadow of Jesus destined to vanish once Jesus was revealed.
The author of the Book of Hebrews illustrates the supremacy of Jesus over religion with precision. In it Jesus stands for – a better Moses (3:2), a better Sabbath (4:9), a better priesthood (7:12.24), a better law (7:12), a better high priest (7:184.108.40.206), a better sacrifice (7:27, 9:26, 10:12), a better ministry (8:6), a better hope (7:18), a better promise (8:6.7), a better covenant (7:22, 8:13, 9:13), a better order (9:10.11), a better tabernacle (chapter 9), a better access to the Father (6:19, 10:19-22), a better mediator (9:18). No element of the Old Covenant religion is left untouched. Finally only Jesus remains, seated at the right hand of the Father, as the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, and the only and ultimate authority, object and focus of our adoration.
The New Testament supports the picture of a limited and temporary use of religion. It speaks of the Old Covenant as something that is fading away, disappearing and becoming obsolete in Jesus. Religion is “a veil taken away whenever anyone turns to the Lord”, and a “guardian put in charge to lead us to Christ” (2. Corinthians 3:7-18, Hebrews 8:13, Galatians 3:24). Jesus himself is everything and much more than what any religion can offer. Therefore, Jesus is the end of religion, any religion, yours and mine too.
This was powerfully illustrated by the transfiguration account recorded by Luke (Luke 9:28-36). In the presence of Peter, James and John for a moment Jesus transformed into his glorious nature and met with Moses and Elijah. Shaken, Peter offered to build a shrine in honor to Jesus, Moses and Elijah. “Let us put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah” (Luke 9:33). At that time Peter and his disciples did not understand the supremacy of Jesus over whatever was considered religiously important up to that point. “He did not know what he was saying”, wrote Luke, so they needed to be corrected. “A voice came from the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to Him” (Luke 9:35). As if the voice from Heaven was saying: “From now on listen to Him, and to Him alone, because no one else matters any more, not even Moses or Elijah.” Matthew, who later also recorded the event stated at the end of the account: “When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus” (Matthew 17:8).
Following His life, death and resurrection Jesus Christ did not upgrade the old Jewish religion to a new level. He was not a “new patch placed on the old garment”, or “a new wine poured into old wineskins” (Mark 2:21.22).Nowhere does He suggest that He was a founder of a new religion either. The Four Gospels and the rest of the New Testament are uncomfortably quiet about Jesus leaving behind any instruction about how to turn his legacy into a religious system. Instead, He called people to follow and trust Him, suggesting that if we do a new worshiping, caring and serving community will emerge. It is made of people who, having been embraced in Jesus, are embracing each other in love. And thus, this new Kingdom community of his followers will be the light and the salt to the world (Matthew 5:13-16). The New Testament calls this community His church or His body and defines it relationally rather than institutionally.
I suspect that not much of what many of us today identify as Christian religion was ever intended by Jesus or his immediate followers. I fear that much of our colorful religious heritage, spiritual folklore, including many cherished teachings and beliefs, are nothing more than ancient or more recent accumulation of superstition that is continuously drugging us back into the shadowland of religion outgrown in Jesus.
The Old Testament religion, or the Old Covenant, with all its religious décor, had only one legitimate purpose: to surrender people, communities, and history to Jesus Christ. This is no less true of any other religion. They are only as useful as they eventually capitulate to the One who transcends them all. And Jesus’ intention was never to return his followers back to religion, but to keep them in His embrace.
In their book Re-Jesus Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch described the supremacy of Christ, not only in all matters of the Old Testament religion but regarding any religion in the following way: “We cannot deduce anything about Jesus from what we think we know about God; we must deduce everything about God from what we do know about Jesus. We must reinterpret the Old Testament from Jesus’ point of view and try to understand the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the way in which Jesus did. Martin Luther insisted that if we want to truly see God, we need only to look at Jesus, for in Jesus we have received the fullness of God, and we need look no further. It is Jesus who sets Christianity apart from the other two monotheistic faiths, Judaism and Islam. Our understanding of God is now always filtered through the prism of Jesus Christ. We cannot understand God if we don’t engage him through Jesus. He is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:4).” Re-Jesus, Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch, published by Hendrickson Publishers Inc., Massachusetts, 2009.
Previous editions: 2/11/2009, May 22, 2014.