When He had by Himself purged our sins
Those familiar with the OT sacrifices will see much thrust to the terminology used by the writer in this instance. The sacrifice of animals were at the heart of Judean thought and appreciation since this was the means by which they were forgiven of their sin for a period of time. Even though the language is similar to that of the things of old there was one issue of dissimilarity that must have gotten the reader to consider. That in this instance it was the actual high priest who was the sacrifice rather than the priest conducting the sacrifice of another. We have seen thus far some very familiar themes that will echo through the rest of the epistle, mainly the prophet and kingship of Christ. We now enter into the most precious of the writer’s arguments in the powerful work of the Great High Priest.
Firstly, from a translation perspective, the New King James Version and the King James Version differ slightly from some of the more “modern” translations. The NASB reads: “When He had made purification of sins” which is in accordance with the NIV, ESV, Segond and the J.N. Darby translation would agree with the modern translations in that he places the “by himself” in brackets and omits the word “our”[i]. The expression “to purge” is in the aorist tense hence would refer back to something. It would be referring to “having purged” sins rather than giving the idea that it of something unaccomplished. The purging is fundamentally the same idea as being “washed” (1 Corinthians 6:11) or making their robes white (Revelation 7:14) which is of highest necessity in order to enter the midst of Jehovah (Isaiah 6:7). This is the founding work of Christ to which makes Him superior to anyone or anything in the Old Testament Judaism because His sacrifice was an act of self-denial and finally accomplished an actual purging from sin. He is deserving of all glory and worship for He accomplished His goal.
“Had purged” is borrowed from the sacrificial language used later in the letter. We read that how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9:14) as well as And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission. (Hebrews 9:22) The question that might render some reflection to us today is whether or not this purging is active or potential?[ii] Christ did not slay bulls or goats but offered up to the Father, as our High Priest, the sacrifice of Himself! He has cleansed us from our unrighteousness and we are the people who are the recipients of a true purging that leaves nothing to further do to accomplish salvation. Later on in the letter, the writer expands on this paradigm with these beautiful words.
By so much more Jesus has become a surety of a better covenant.
Also there were many priests, because they were prevented by death from continuing. But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. (Hebrews 7:22-27)
Sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
There is a chain of development from the previous portion here that expands upon the uplifting work of the High Priest. We cannot even begin to stress how powerful and triumphant the terminology that was penned by the writer. This is all one-thought which commences with when He had by Himself purged our sins. He continues with the result of having purged our sins in that He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. These are the words of exaltation and victory! Christ personifies accomplishment and conquest since He is an unfailing Saviour. The thought of a priest actually sitting down was foreign to the Hebrews since there was never a real purging of sin but merely a covering for a time. There was not even a chair in the tabernacle for the priest to sit down because Jehovah knew the work of this priest would never be accomplished. Our Great High Priest however did what none other could imagine to do; He got the job done!
This portion is derived from the language of the 110th Psalms where Jehovah makes the announcement of the reign of the Messiah. Jehovah said unto my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I put thine enemies [as] footstool of thy feet… 5The Lord at thy right hand will smite through kings in the day of his anger. (Psalm 110:1,5). These are the words of judgment that would have been very familiar with the original audience since it would have implied a place of deity (see Mark 14:61-64). The writer brings out this expression almost as a preview for a latter and expanded rendition of these words. We read the same thoughts from the writer of the Hebrews in chapter 10; And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, 13 from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. 14 For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.
The most precious idea of this entire statement is that the Lord did not sit down just in any place but at the right hand of the majesty on High. Theologian J.I. Packer expresses the term “majesty” by stating:
The word majesty, when applied to God, is always a declaration of his greatness and an invitation to worship. The same is true when the bible of God as being on high and in heaven; the thought here is not that he is far above us in space but that he is far above us in greatness, and therefore is to be adored.[iii]
Heresy always seems to find its place in the most peculiar of verses. Some have taken this to demonstrate a separation between the Father and the Son in order to attempt to disregard His deity. Let us point out right away that the “right hand” denotes a position of power and glory. This is what is called anthropomorphic language used to demonstrate a spiritual truth with physical language. It has nothing to do with an actual geographical place but a position of honour. Reformer John Calvin comments:
The right hand is by a similitude applied to God, though he is not confined to any place, and has not a right side not left. The session then of Christ means nothing else but the kingdom given to him by the Gather, and that authority which Paul mentions, when he says that in his name every knee should bow. (Phil. ii.10) Hence to sit at the right hand of the Father is no other thing than to govern in the place of the Father, as deputies of princes are wont to do to whom a full power over all things is granted[iv]
He sits on the throne of the most High, the glorious God of eternity, and functions with the delight of the Father as our High Priest in that He continuously intercedes for us. A.W. Pink rightfully writes:
“Sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.” Three things are here denoted. First, high honor: “sitting”, in scripture is often a posture of dignity, when superiors sit before inferiors: see Job 29:7,8: Dan. 7:9,10, Rev. 5:13. Second, it denotes settles continuance. In Gen. 49:24 Jacob said to Joseph that his “bow sat abode” is literally “sit”…third, it signifies rest, cessation from His sacrificial services and sufferings.[v]
[i] Darby does add the footnote to state as followed: The form (middle) of the verb here, has a peculiar reflexive force, “having done it for himself.”
[ii] If Christ purged our sins and He accomplished this then there is no reason for anyone to receive a guilty verdict from the Father since He has taken away each and every sin. The question then must be asked if He had the intention of purging the sins of all men? We believe that Christ accomplished this for His elect and since He is a perfect savior who accomplishes perfectly what He intended to do at the cross of Calvary. Christ Jesus saves people and does not merely make men savable!
[iii] Knowing God, J.I. Packer, Intervarsity Press, Page 82-83
[iv] Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol. 22, John Calvin, Bakerbooks, Page 39
[v] An Exposition of Hebrews, A.W. Pink, Baker Books, Page 40