Usually when we think of Jesus as our mediator, we think of Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself on the Cross. In today’s second reading (Hebrews 9:24-28), the Letter to the Hebrews focuses not only on Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself but also on Jesus entrance into heaven to appear before His Father for us. In his Commentary on the Letter of St. Paul to the Hebrews, Thomas Aquinas follows this approach.
The Letter to the Hebrews draws comparisons between the rituals of the Old Law and Jesus’ actions of our behalf. Thus the cleansing with the blood of animals, is contrasted with the cleansing accomplished with the blood of Christ (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Letter of St. Paul to the Hebrews, 462)
The Old Testament itself bears witness that animal sacrifices were not sufficient, as can be seen in the Psalms: “Burnt offerings and sin offerings You did not require” (Ps. 39:8); “With burnt offerings You will not be delighted” (Ps. 50:18).
Hebrews compares Jesus’ sacrifice to those of the Old Law: “Not that He might offer Himself there again and again, as the high priest enters year after year into the sanctuary with blood that is not is own” (Heb 9:25).
Thomas Aquinas picks up on the fact that Christ’s sacrifice was Himself not animals: “But Christ offered Himself for the sins of the whole world, because He was made the propitiation for our sins and for those of the whole world (1 Jn. 2:2)” (Commentary on Hebrews, 470).
According to Hebrews, Christ’s sacrifice comes at the final time: “Now He has appeared at the end of the ages to take away sins once for all by the sacrifice of Himself” (Heb 9:26). The First Letter of Peter concurs: “Christ died once for our sins” (1 Pt 3:8). (Commentary on Hebrews, 472).
Christ offered Himself by His own will, as Thomas notes: “He underwent death by His own will: ‘No man takes it away from Me: but I lay it down of Myself’ (Jn. 10:18). Therefore, he says, that He was offered: ‘He was offered because it was His own will’ (Is. 53:7)” (Commentary on Hebrews, 477).
Unlike the sacrifices of the Old Law, Christ’s sacrifice has power over sin in those who come to Him: “But Christ’s death destroys sin; therefore, he says, to bear the sins of many, i.e., to remove them. He does not say ‘of all,’ because Christ’s death, even though it was enough for all, has no efficacy except in regard to those who are to be saved: for not all are subject to Him by faith and good works (Commentary on Hebrews, 477).
Each year, the high priest would enter the Holy of Holies to offer sacrifice but Jesus, after He had been sacrificed and Resurrected, entered heaven: ‘But He entered into heaven itself: ‘And the Lord Jesus was taken up to heaven’ (Mk 16:19); ‘This Jesus who is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come’ (Ac. 1:11)” (Commentary on Hebrews, 465).
Thomas Aquinas emphasizes that Jesus appears before His Father in heaven for us: “[He ascended] now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Here the Apostle alludes to a rite of the Old Law according to which the high priest, who entered the holy of holies, stood before the mercy seat to pray for the people. Similarly, Christ entered into heaven to stand before God for our salvation” (Commentary on Hebrews, 466).
In heaven, Jesus prepares for us: “He entered the place where God is seen clearly; and this for us. For He entered heaven to prepare the way for us: ‘I go to prepare a place for you. But I will come again and will take you to myself’ (Jn. 14:3)” (Commentary on Hebrews, 467).
Hebrews looks to the time when Jesus will return: “He will appear a second time not to take away sin but to bring salvation to those who eagerly await Him” (Heb 9:28).
Thomas reflects: “He shall appear a second time not to deal with sin. For even though He had no sin in the first coming, He came in the likeness of sinful flesh (Rom. 8:3). In the first coming He was also made a victim for sin: ‘Him who knew no sin, he has made sin for us’ (2 Cor. 5:21). He will appear not to be judged, but to judge and to reward according to merits (Commentary on Hebrews, 478).
Christ will appear in His flesh to those who did not accept Him but He will manifest His divinity: “And although He will appear to all in the flesh, even to those who wounded Him, He will appear according to His divinity to the elect that eagerly wait for Him by faith to save them: ‘Blessed are all they that wait for him’ (Is. 30:18); ‘We look for the Savior, Our Lord Jesus Christ, who will reform the body of our lowliness, made like to the body of His glory’ (Phil 3:20) (Commentary on Hebrews, 478).
Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.
References to Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on the Letter of Paul to the Hebrews may be found on the web page of the Dominican House of Studies in Washington DC: http://dhspriory.org/thomas/