It was at church when he first saw her. He was running an errand, absorbed in his thoughts, when the sight hit him. The painting was a little less than two meters high and three meters wide, but the girl portrayed in it exerted a strange captivating force over the young man. Why could he not take his eyes off of her? What was it? After some reflection, he realized that it was her eyes. The painting portrayed only her face, and she was intently looking at something. But what, and why was she so absorbed in it? For a long time afterward, he couldn’t get the painting out of his head.
Several years later, the painter, Arnold Jiménez, revealed some of its secrets to him. The painting was made to attract viewers to her eyes, but the real secret was in her pupils. If you looked closely, you would find out that they reflected what she was looking at. Her eyes were fixed on Jesus on the cross.
The portrait of Jesus in the Letter to the Hebrews can exert a similar captivating force upon us. Jesus is described, first of all, as the Ruler of the universe, enthroned at God’s right hand. Innumerable angels celebrate Him, worship Him, and serve Him (Hebrews 1:5-14, Hebrews 12:22-24). He has won the right to rule because through His own death He has ensured the destruction of the devil (Hebrews 2:14-16). Jesus is also the exalted High Priest. Sinless, and perfectly holy, He lives forever to minister in our behalf in the heavenly sanctuary (Hebrews 7:26-8:5). He has won the right to do so because He offered Himself as a perfect, once-for-all sacrifice, effective for everyone and forever (Hebrews 10:1-14). Jesus has also mediated a new covenant between God and His people that will stand forever (Hebrews 8:6-13).
What captivates readers about the portrait of Jesus, however, is not simply what Jesus has done but who He is. He was born from a woman, as we were, and He has been tempted and ridiculed, as we have been. Yet, still, He sits at the center of power in the universe. When we gaze at the heavenly scene, with its diverse and fantastic celestial beings, our eyes are attracted to the One in the center of it all, who, amazingly enough, looks like us because He had become one of us. Jesus, our Brother, is there, in heaven, representing us, despite the shame of our sin and fallenness.
In the person of Jesus, three dimensions of the story of redemption intersect. The first is the local, personal dimension. For readers tired of the reproaches and hardships of Christian life (Hebrews 10:32-34), Jesus is the Author and Perfecter of faith. They need to look to Him who also suffered from sinners (Hebrews 12:1-4). The second is the corporate, national dimension. For the people of God, who are traveling toward God’s promised land, Jesus is the new Joshua. They need to follow His lead (Hebrews 3, 4, 11, 12). The third is the universal dimension. Jesus is the new Adam, the Son of Man in whom God’s purposes for humanity are fulfilled (Hebrews 2:5-10, Hebrews 12:22-28).
The portrait of Jesus, who captures the breadth and length and height and depth of God’s love for us, is our subject this quarter. And just as the image of Jesus in the eyes of the painting captured the young man’s gaze, may the image of Jesus as portrayed in Hebrews capture not just our gaze, but our love and admiration for, yes, Jesus, our Brother in heaven.
Félix H. Cortez is associate professor of New Testament Literature in the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University. He is married to Alma Gloria Alvarez and has two children, Hadid, a pastor in New Jersey, and Alma, an archaeology major at Andrews University.
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