When I was sixteen years old I became convinced that I was not going to be around much longer. Now before you jump to the conclusion that I had become obsessed with my own demise, I should give the reason why I did not think I had many more days on this earth. It was not because I thought I was going to die at an early age. The reason that I would be going to heaven had nothing to do with my death.
You see, like all good American Christians, I knew that the rapture was coming. The formation of the European Union, the rebirth of Israel as a nation-state, and the election of Bill Clinton were all certain signs that Jesus would soon be removing the Church from the earth so that we would not have to endure seven years of tribulation. All that was left to be fulfilled was the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem, something that was sure to be on course only after a matter of months. And once the temple was rebuilt and the Antichrist destroyed, I would be able to look forward to a one-thousand year kingdom during which animal sacrifices would again be offered unto the Lord.
But here I sit, twelve years later, convinced that such a schema, while making for interesting reading, does not fit the New Testament witness. Try as I might, I cannot find one verse that clearly teaches the rapture as it is understood by many American evangelicals. The radical separation between the people of God in the old covenant and the people of God in the new covenant is encouraged by this system of eschatology. And such teaching is foreign to the New Testament, which teaches that the Old Testament is really for new covenant believers.
So many in the church today are looking forward to the day when animal sacrifices are reestablished in Jerusalem. This view of the world is not so different from that held by the original audience of Hebrews. So many of them were looking forward to returning to the ordinances of the old covenant. So many of them wanted to go back to sacrifices and offerings that they could see, taste, and touch.
The hope for a return to animal sacrifices is a hope that is emphatically rejected by the author of Hebrews. It is a hope that ignores the superiority of Christ’s priesthood and rejoices in the temporary priesthood of Aaron instead of the eternal priesthood of Melchizedek. And it is the superior nature of the Melchizedekian priesthood to which we will turn our attention in the coming days.