The word of the day is “offered.” In our reading of Hebrews 7:26-8:2, the apostle compares the sacrifices of the Levitical high priesthood with the High Priesthood of Jesus Christ.
The apostle notes that both high priesthoods “offered up” sacrifices. The Greek word “offered up” is derived from the thought of carrying or leading something (Strong’s #399 ) as a lamb is led up to the altar for sacrifice. But the high priestly sacrifice of the Lord was different than the Levitical High Priesthood that goes back to Aaron. First, the Levitical high priests had to offer sacrifices daily. But the Lord offered up the perfect, “once-for-all” sacrifice. Second, the Levitical high priests made sacrifices “first for his own sins and then for the people’s” (vs. 7). But the Lord was innocent and had no need to offer a sacrifice for Himself. Most importantly, the Lord did not sacrifice an animal but Himself. He “delivered” Himself, a pure, sinless, and selfless offering.
Two Words for Christ’s Sacrifice
This comparison of the self-giving of Jesus Christ on the cross with the Old Testament priesthood is the focus of the Book of Hebrews. But it also is a central theme of St. Paul’s letters. In Ephesians, Paul wrote, “…Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us as an offering and a sacrifice for a sweet-smelling aroma” (Ephesians 5:2). The only difference between this teaching in Ephesians and our reading is the use of the word for “gave Himself.” In Ephesians, the thought is translated as “delivered,” a term that refers to a gift offered to God (Strong’s #2378, 118) by means of sacrifice (Strong’s #4376, 215), that is, ritual slaughter.
Paul uses forms of the word “delivered” in other letters. In Romans, Paul says that the Lord “was ‘delivered up’ because of our offenses” (Romans 4:25). Also in Romans, the apostle proclaims that God “spared not his own Son but delivered Him up for us all” (Romans 8:12). And in 1 Timothy he teaches that the Lord “gave Himself,” that is, He “delivered Himself as a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 1:7).
Whether the word is “offered up” or “delivered up,” the thought is the same. The Divine Liturgy profoundly expresses the key idea of our reading, the Lord’s offering of Himself. We hear it in the priest’s declaration in the Liturgy: “…in the night in which he was given up—or rather gave Himself up for the life of the world…” (St-Tikhon’s 1984). This choice of words recalls the prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. There the Lord surrendered His will to the Father. Thus, scripture is unanimous in its witness that the Lord willingly took the way of the cross to offer Himself up for the sins of the world. As the Liturgy says, He was the offering and the one who offered it (St-Tikhon’s 1984). No one compelled Him to do it, but He did it because of His incredible love for us.
We should be grateful for all that the Lord Jesus Christ has given us in this world. And we are bound to give thanks for all that the Lord has promised us in the world to come. But most of all, we must give Him thanks and praise that He gave Himself up on the cross as a sacrifice for our forgiveness and salvation.
St-Tikhon’s. 1984. Service Books of the Orthodox Church. Third ed. South Canaan, PA: St. Tikhon’s Monastery Press.