Eschatological Experience in the Epistle to the Hebrews

Hebrews quite possibly possesses the most developed, realized eschatology in the NT. The author everywhere assumes the community’s familiarity with the supernatural; he even wagers the success of his “word of exhortation” on it. Thus his calls to persevere, warnings against “falling away,” and promises of imminent vindication are all based on appeals to the community’s eschatological experiences (2:1-4; 3:14; 4:1-3; 6:4-6; 10:10-39; 12:22-29). These experiences include: “signs, wonders, and miracles,” heavenly “rest,” “partaking” of the Spirit and Christ, “tasting the powers of the age to come,” enlightenment, and a profound psychological cleansing. Perhaps the most remarkable occurrences of realized eschatology, the author’s exhortations to “draw near” and enter the heavenly sanctuary, have been largely overlooked or misinterpreted (4:14-16; 6:18-20; 10:19-23; 12:22-24). Though typically viewed as a denoting prayer or worship, these calls to enter the heavenly sanctuary are in fact essential to the author’s hortatory effort, and therefore must represent real and substantial access to the heavenly realm. They have as their goal the community’s participation in a divine adoption ceremony, which includes: (1) a dramatic enactment of the Son’s exaltation (chapters 1 & 2); (2) the Son’s conferral of family membership on the community (2:12-13; 10:24-25); (3) and their reciprocal confession of Jesus as the Son of God (4:14-16; 10:19-23). Hebrews is also notable for its emphasis on visuality. Besides numerous ekphrastic descriptions of the heavenly sanctuary and Jesus’ sacral actions, the author exhorts the community to both “see” the exalted Jesus (2:9; 9:24-28) and their involvement in the aforementioned divine adoption ceremony (2:13; 10:24-25). This visual program ultimately serves a hortatory purpose, reversing the recipients’ waning commitment by helping them “see” in Jesus that their steadfastness in suffering will surely issue in exaltation (2:6-10). Like Moses, they will “persevere by seeing him who is invisible” (11:27).