The Book of Hebrews, one of the most ignored and seldom studied New Testament books, powerfully argues that Jesus is the final destination and retirement place of every religion, including yours and mine.
The book progressively argues that the entire Old Testament’s religious spectrum, with its beliefs, practices and institutions served only one purpose – to direct human history, its community and people to Jesus Christ. Known also as the Old Covenant, with its prophetic mission, laws, tabernacle, priestly duties, sacrifices and festivals, observances, liturgy and rituals, it was only a shadow of Jesus destined to vanish once Jesus was revealed.
The author of the Book of Hebrews illustrates the supremacy of Jesus over religion with precision. In it Jesus stands for – a better Moses (3:2), a better Sabbath (4:9), a better priesthood (7:12.24), a better law (7:12), a better high priest (7:18.104.22.168), a better sacrifice (7:27, 9:26, 10:12), a better ministry (8:6), a better hope (7:18), a better promise (8:6.7), a better covenant (7:22, 8:13, 9:13), a better order (9:10.11), a better tabernacle (chapter 9), a better access to the Father (6:19, 10:19-22), a better mediator (9:18). No element of the Old Covenant religion is left untouched. Finally only Jesus remains, seated at the right hand of the Father, as the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, and the only and ultimate authority, object and focus of our worship and adoration.
The wider context of the New Testament supports the picture of a limited and temporary use of religion. It speaks of the Old Covenant as something that is fading away, disappearing and becoming obsolete in Jesus. Religion is “a veil taken away whenever anyone turns to the Lord”, and a “guardian put in charge to lead us to Christ” (2. Corinthians 3:7-18, Hebrews 8:13, Galatians 3:24). Jesus himself is everything and much more than what any religion can offer.
Following His life, death and resurrection Jesus Christ did not upgrade the old Jewish religion to a new level. He was not a “new patch placed on the old garment”, or “a new wine poured into old wineskins” (Mark 2:21.22) Nowhere does He suggest that He was a founder of a new religion either. The Four Gospels and the rest of the New Testament are uncomfortably quiet about Jesus leaving behind any instruction about how to turn his legacy into a religious system. Instead He called people to follow and trust Him, suggesting that if we do a new worshiping, caring and serving community will emerge. It is made of people who, having been embraced in Jesus, are embracing each other in love. And thus this new Kingdom community of his followers will be the light and the salt to the world (Matthew 5:13-16). The New Testament calls this community His church or His body, and defines it relationally rather than institutionally.
I suspect that not much of what many of us today identify as Christian religion was ever intended by Jesus or his immediate followers. I fear that much of our colorful religious heritage, spiritual folklore, including many cherished teachings and beliefs, are nothing more than ancient or more recent accumulation of superstition that is continuously drugging us back into the shadow-land of religion outgrown in Jesus.
The Old Testament religion, or the Old Covenant, with all its religious décor, had only one legitimate purpose: to surrender people, communities and history to Jesus Christ. This is no less true of any other religion. They are only as useful as they eventually capitulate to the One who transcends them all. And Jesus’ intention was never to return his followers back to religion, but to keep them in His embrace.
Richard C. Halverson, former Senate Chaplain and Presbyterian minister, summarizes it all well in his book A Living Fellowship: “Jesus Christ transcends all religions! Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism. He is greater than all these, including Christianity. Religions are the inventions of men. They may begin with a great leader in mind, but human tradition soon reduces the original to a mere set of ethical standards and a dead letter of the law which no one can follow. Jesus transcends religion because He is the incarnation of all that is true, good, loving, gentle, tender, thoughtful, caring, courteous and selfless. Jesus does not want you to become Christian. He wants you to become a new creation! There is a great difference between the two.”