Jesus - Pioneer and Perfector
Fr. Thomas Hopko · September 24, 2010
In this next to last episode in the Names of Jesus series, Fr. Tom takes us to Hebrews 12 where the RSV tells us that Jesus is the "Pioneer and Perfector" of our Faith.
As we continue with our reflections on the names and titles of Jesus, we read in the twelfth chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews… And here I must emphasize again: read carefully Hebrews 12. It’s probably the most perfect place in the New Testament that describes what our Divine Liturgy in the Christian Church is, the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, and what we come to when we come to church and gather as Church.
Now that twelfth chapter, it’s in the Letter to the Hebrews, and the main theme to the Letter to the Hebrews, of course, is that Jesus is the great High Priest, God’s own Son, according to Melchizedek. He offers the perfect sacrifice which is himself, his own Blood, his own Body. He enters into the Holy of Holies in the heavens, the shrine not made by human hands. He takes us with [him] into that Holy of Holies, as we have already reflected, as the great High Priest and the Victim, the one who offers and the one who is offered. He is also the Mediator of our salvation, the Mediator of the final covenant community with God, the new testament. He is the one who lives forever to make intercession on our behalf, and he does that mediation and intercession, interceding, by dying, by shedding his Blood, by offering himself in sacrifice.
In this same Letter to the Hebrews, not only is Jesus called the Mediator and the one who lives to make intercession, not only is he called the great High Priest, he is called in the twelfth chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews the Pioneer and the Perfector. And I would again just affirm again and again: please read that Hebrews 12. It’s extremely important, and for us Christians who enter into the Church and have the Holy Eucharist and have Christ as our great High Priest and our Victim and our Bread and our Lamb, and we believe that we enter into [the] kingdom of God itself in the Holy Eucharist, this twelfth chapter of Hebrews is very important.
This is what the letter says. It says that all in the old covenant was a shadow, was a prefiguration, to what is perfected and fulfilled and made perfect in Christ. And in that letter, it even says that all of the holy people of the Old Testament who lived by faith and did such marvellous things as is recorded in the eleventh chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews, that they were not made perfect without us; that apart from us they should not be made perfect, because the Perfector, for us in the New Covenant, is Jesus Christ himself.
So this is how the twelfth chapter begins (Hebrews 12:1-2):
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside also every weight and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perserverence the race that is set before us…
And then here you have the sentence we want right now:
...looking to Jesus…
And the RSV says:
...the pioneer and perfector of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him, endured the Cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Now, that very same passage in the King James version is translated this way:
Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the Cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
So in [the] RSV, Jesus is called the Pioneer and the Perfector. In [the] King James version of the Bible, he is called Author and Finisher. In Greek, these words are Archēgon kai [Teleiōtēn], and actually in nominative case it would be [archēgōn] and teleiōtēs. [Archēgōn] is what’s translated as “author” or as “pioneer,” and that word is used in the second chapter of the Letter [to] the Hebrews as well, where it calls Jesus the [archēgōn] tēs sōtērias, the author of our salvation, the author of salvation. And, strangely enough, I don’t know why, but in the King James version, the translation there is “captain.” For some reason, they translated it “the captain of salvation, the captain of our salvation.” So you have “pioneer,” you have “author,” you have “captain.” I think in the… Let’s see what it says in the Revised Standard Version in that very same place; it says “pioneer”: “the pioneer of salvation.” So it uses that. Sometimes it uses the expression “prince.”
But the term is “archēgōn.” It means the leader. It means the first one. It means the source. It means the one from whom everything comes. In the Book of Acts, you have that word used for Jesus, where it is translated “leader” in the RSV. It’s translated “prince” in the King James Version: leader and savior, prince and savior, [archēgōn] kai sōtēr. Not “sōtēria, salvation,” but “sōtēr, savior.” In fact, in the Revised Standard Version, in the Book of Acts, Jesus is called in the first sermon of Peter at Pentecost, he’s called the “author of life.” It says in the Scripture that he could not stay dead when he was crucified, because the author of life, whom God has raised from the dead, he cannot see corruption. So in the RSV, that text is written like this (Acts 3:13-15):
God has glorified his servant (his child, Jesus) whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. But you denied the holy and the righteous one. You asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the author of life whom God has raised from the dead.
And then it says, also in the Book of Acts, in the fifth chapter, that this author of life could not be a victim of corruption. He could not remain dead. This is what is said about him, that this Jesus, who is our leader and savior, he gave repentance to all men, when God of our fathers “raised up Jesus whom you killed by hanging him on the Tree. God exalted him on his right hand as archēgōn kai sōtēr, as leader and savior” (Acts 5:30-31). So the Holy One can’t see corruption, and he is the source of all incorruption. He is the leader. He is the first. He is the prince. He is the source. This is what that term “archēgōn” means.
But then you have, also, “teleiōtēs,” and that can be translated as “finisher.” It can be translated as “accomplisher.” It can be translated as “perfector.” It can be translated as “completer.” That’s what it means. It’s from the word that means “perfect,” as a noun, and “to perfect” as a verb: the one who perfects, the one who accomplishes, the one who finishes, the one who fulfills. And probably the most well-known use of that particular term is the last words of Jesus from the Cross in the Gospel of St. John when giving up his spirit into death and giving his life into the hands of God the Father, he says, “Tetelestai—it is fulfilled; it is accomplished; it is finished; it is perfected.”
So he is the Author and the Finisher, the Beginner and the Ender. And in the Letter to the Hebrews, he is even called, in the sixth chapter, the Prodromos, the Precursor or the Forerunner. So we could say: Author, Forerunner, and Finisher. Or we can say: Pioneer, Precursor, and Perfector. These are titles of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Letter to the Hebrews.
So in him everything begins. In him everything ends. Everything starts from him; everything is accomplished by him; everything is finished in him. All is completed in him. There’s nothing before him. He is before all things, it says in [the] Colossian letter. And there’s nothing after him that is going to [be] beyond him, that he is the final act; he is the final word; he is the final one.
In the Book of Revelation, you have this same kind of teaching put in another way. Not only is he the Author, the Prince, the Pioneer of life, of salvation, of the New Testament, and the Accomplisher of the final covenant in his broken body and spilled blood, but in the Apocalypse, in the Book of Revelation, it simply identifies Jesus as the Lamb, together with God the Father who sits on the throne, as the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. And that is what we find there. For example, in the first chapter of Revelation, the Apocalypse, you have the Lord God Almighty, the Pantocrator, the almighty one, and that term, “almighty,” is used six or seven times in the Book of Revelation. It’s almost like a formula: the Lord God Almighty, Yahweh Elohim, the El-Shaddai, the Kyrios Theos Pantokrator.
And here it’s a little bit… There’s a kind of theological nuance, because in the Apocalypse, everything that is said here is said about God the Father, the one who sits on the throne, but every single time it adds, “and the Lamb”: “him who sits upon the throne ... and the Lamb, the one who was dead and is alive again.” So you have this expression in Revelation 1:8: “ ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘the one who is, the one who was, and the one who is coming, the Almighty.’ ”
So in Greek, it sounds very nice, and in many Greek Orthodox churches, up in the dome of the church, and over the church, and in the classical Orthodox churches, it’s very often this text that’s put up there. But the image that’s put in the dome is Christ; it’s Christ. God the Father is invisible. God the Father cannot be seen. God is seen in the face, in the person of his Son, who is Light from Light, true God of true God, Yahweh from Yahweh, Pantokrator from Pantokrator, Almighty from Almighty, who receives the same honor, dominion, glory, majesty Christ gets that is given to the Father. He’s the Son of God who sits on the throne with the Father, the Lamb. In fact, he’s the Son of man. He’s the Lord who sits at the right hand and all the enemies are put under his feet.
If you read that same text from the Apocalypse in the King James version and in the Greek translation, what it would say would be this; it would say: “Egō eimi—I am—to Alpha kai to Homega legei kyrios ho theos—I am the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord God—ho ōn kai ho ēn kai ho erchomenos, ho pantokrator.” Now that’s very interesting, because it says, “ho ōn,” and that’s a present participle: “the being, the one who is.” “Ho ēn”: “the one who was.” But then it does not say, “the one who will be”; it says, “the one who is coming, the coming one, ho erchomenos.” That’s really lovely, because when we pray to God now, we see him as the one who was; we see him as the one who is with us now, and then we don’t say, “the one who will be forever,” we say we see him as the one who is coming to us.
How does God Almighty come to us? He comes to us as he always comes to us: in the Person of his Son, the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. So who is the “coming one”? At the end of the Apocalypse, to whom will they say, “Come!”? It’ll be to the Lord Jesus: “Come, Lord Jesus,” because when you come, you bring God with you. God comes and Christ comes, and they come together, so to speak. You don’t have one without the other, but God is always acting and doing the agency of everything through the Person of his Son.
In the same Book of Revelation, when you have this expression about “I am,” you have the expression where it doesn’t simply say “Alpha and Omega,” but it says “First and Last.” And this would be in Revelation 1:17, when John, the seer, the visionary, who is writing the book, sees him who sits upon the throne and the Lamb, he falls down on his face in front of them. He worships. He’s scared to death. And he sees, not only him who sits upon the throne, but the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and he has a golden girdle, and he has hair like white wool, and his face is like snow, and his feet like brass and like burned in a furnace, his voice like the sound of many waters. Anyone who knows Scripture knows that’s simply a repetition of the words from Daniel the Prophet, where he saw the Ancient of Days sitting upon the throne and the Son of man comes to him. But now this one is described as the Son of man himself.
And then the seer, the visionary, the prophet, John, the apocalyptic visionary, says (Revelation 1:17-18):
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as one dead, and he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, “Fear not (be not afraid). I am the First and the Last. I am he that lives. I was dead, and behold, I am alive forever more. Amen. And I have the keys of death and Sheol (of death and Hades).
Let’s hear it in Greek. He says, “Don’t be afraid—mē phovou. Egō eimi—I am—ho prōtos kai ho eschatos—the last—kai ho zōn—and the living one—kai egenomēn nekros—and I became dead—kai idou—and behold—zōn—and I’m living—eimi—I am living—eimi zōn eis tous aiōnas—forever, unto ages—tōn aiōnōn—of ages.” That’s the liturgical formula: unto ages of ages—eis tous aiōnas tōn aiōnōn. “Kai echō tas kleis tou thanatou kai tou hadou—and I have the keys of death and of Hades (of Sheol).”
So the same thing that’s said about God the Father is said about the Lamb: Alpha, Omega; First and Last. In the Apocalypse, at the end of the book, it will not only say “First and Last” and “Alpha and Omega,” but it will also say, “Beginning and End.” He makes all things new; the holy city is coming from heaven; Christ is coming like a bridegroom, and the New Jerusalem like a bride out of heaven. The apostles of the Lamb are there; all the angels and saints are there; everybody is there. The Lord God Almighty—you see, again you have Yahweh Elohim, El-Shaddai, the Most High Lord God, Kyrios Theos ho Pantokrator—he is there. There’s no shrine in the city, as we learned when we reflected on Jesus as the Shrine, Jesus as the Temple. The Lamb is the Light. All the nations come there. They are all with him there.
And then what you have there in the 22nd [chapter] is the Logos and the Lamb are in that temple, the Lord God Almighty, and then you have this very same expression in the next chapter. This is what it says. It says, “Behold, I come quickly” (Revelation 22:12). And, of course, the New Testament will debate: what does “quickly” mean for God? And in the Letter of Peter, it will say what we think about quickly isn’t quickly for God, and God will come quickly, but for God, everything is like an instant. In the Letter of Peter and quoting the psalm it says, “With God a thousand years are like a flash in the night, like a watch in the night. A thousand years are like a day, like a flash in the night.” God is in a different temporal setting. And even in the Letter [of] Peter, it had to debate the issue: if he was coming soon, how come he didn’t come yet? And he still hasn’t come, and it’s the 21st century.
And atheists could say, “Ha ha! You see how you Christians, how crazy you are?” But I would just answer and say, “Well, he is coming. He’s ho erchomenos, and what quickly means for God may not mean what quickly means for us, but Peter explains the reason. He said he can’t come until the full number of the elect is fulfilled. In fact, I have a personal theological opinion—it’s not a dogma—that Jesus cannot come until the end of the ages until everything that can possibly happen happens, and until every possible creature that can possibly exist in every possible form is actually created and has a chance to exist, so that even if they become extinct, they can be raised from the dead and reign forever in the unending kingdom of God that will fill the whole universe with its hundred thousand billion galaxies and stars. I reflect on this, by the way, in my talks on Darwinianism and natural science and theology.
But in any case, it is not fulfilled until it is all fulfilled. The Fulfiller is Jesus. He fulfills it all on the Cross when he is saved, but the ultimate fulfillment comes only at the end of the world in history when all things will be made new: new heaven, new earth, new creation, and you finally have the kingship of God coming in the face of Christ in power, in the Person of Christ in power at the end of the ages. So here you have him saying, “Idou—behold—erchomai tachy—I am coming quickly, and my reward is with me, to give to every person according to his work.” That’s very important: he gives to everyone of us according as his work is: hōs to ergon estin aftou—how the work is, or as it will say later on in the Apocalypse in the Book of Life, “kata ta erga, according to the works.” That’s in Proverbs, that’s in Psalms, and that’s very important, especially when people say we’re saved by faith alone.
Well, we are saved by faith and by grace, but it’s for works. And the only way you can prove your faith is by what you do. And it’s written in the Book of Life in the Apocalypse about what we do. So he comes to give to every person according to his work. Then you have the words: “Egō eimi to Alpha kai to Homega—I am Alpha and Omega.” Then it says, “The Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.” In Greek it says, “Ho prōtos kai ho eschatos hē archē kai to telos—the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”
And “archē”—that’s where you get the word “archēgōn” in the Letter to the Hebrews—”archē” means “source, principle, beginning.” The Bible begins: “In the beginning, God created heaven and earth”: “En archē.” In the New Testament, the Gospel of St. John begins with the words: “In the beginning was the Word—en archē en ho Logos.” In the Colossian letter, it says that Jesus is the Archē; he is the Beginning. He is before all things. He is not a creature. Some Christians, like Jehovah’s Witnesses today and Arians in the fourth century said, “Jesus is the first of God’s creatures.” But we Orthodox Christians say, “No! He is the Beginning of everything, the Cause of everything, the Principle and the Source of everything.” “Archē” is the word that’s used, in Slavonic “nachalo,” in Latin, “principium.” And he is also the fons, the fountain, the pēgē, the istochnik in Slavonic.
But he is a divine source. He is the demiurgos. He is the one by whom, through whom, for whom, in whom, and toward whom all things were created, according to St. Paul. So he is the Archē, and he is the Telos, to Telos, the End: the Beginning and the End. So you have this in the Book of Revelation. But who is the one who’s coming? Who says, “I come quickly”? Well, it’s Christ. It’s the Lamb, but he brings God, so we could say God is coming quickly, too. God is still coming. God was, God is, and God is coming. But he was and he is and he’s coming in the Person of his Son, Jesus Christ, who was dead and who is alive again. So you have it beautifully. King James: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.”
And then he says what he’s coming to do. Well, he’s coming to bring the kingdom of God to the world, to bring the kingdom of God to all of the ages. This is how he says it: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.” And you have that same sentence repeated not only in Revelation 22:13, but you find it earlier in Revelation 21:6, where it even says:
It is done—tetelestai—it’s accomplished, it’s finished. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give them the fountain of the water without payment. He who conquers shall have this inheritance, and I will be his God, and he shall be my Son, and all who belong to him shall be the sons of God, the Lord God Almighty, and the Lamb.
Then when you get really to the end of the book, in Revelation 22, you have it repeated another time: “Behold, I am coming soon.” What is soon? “Bringing my recompense, to repay everyone for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” That’s how it’s put in the Revised Standard Version. And then we get to the end of the book, where the Lord Jesus says to John, “Surely I am coming soon. Come, Lord Jesus.” And, of course, that “Come, Lord Jesus” or “Come, O Lord,” you find that in the Corinthian letter of Paul: “Maranatha—Come, Lord Jesus, yea, come quickly.”
So: Beginning and End, First and Last, Alpha and Omega, Archēgōn kai Teleiōtēs, Prince and Perfector, Pioneer, Captain, Author, and then Finisher, and even in the middle as we noticed, Forerunner. He’s the Beginning, the Forerunner, and the Ending. All of these are titles for Jesus that we find in the Holy Scripture, particularly here, and in some sense even exclusively, except for the Book of Acts, you find it in Hebrews and the Apocalypse. So this is our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the one.
All of this is for us and for our salvation. And here, all of this tells us that Jesus is not a mere man. He’s a man. He is the mediator who is anthrōpos. He is the final and last Adam, the man from heaven, a real man. But he is God. And he brings God the Father, and God the Father is in him, and he is in God the Father. And he brings what he has heard and received from God the Father from before the foundation of the world, as the Beginning, the Source, the one through whom all things were made, the one through whom all things came to be. And then he is the one who sums it all up.
When we spoke of the term “head” recently, we had virtually the same teaching, but there’s a wonderful word in the Letter to the Hebrews, “anakephalaosis,” where he brings everything to a head. He sums up everything. He accomplishes, perfects, fulfills, finishes, and ends everything. He begins everything, and he ends everything. He starts everything; he finishes everything. He is the source of everything; he’s the summation of everything. In fact, he is everything. And we could even end our reflection here, on the names and titles of Jesus, where it will say, St. Paul will say it twice: “He is all and in all.” When everything is put under his feet, and he submits everything to God the Father, God becomes all and in all, and Christ himself is all and in all, as the Beginning and as the End, and even as the Forerunner and the inn along the way.
So we have contemplated all of these names and titles of Jesus, and then we can think just one more thing more today: Pantokrator, because in the domes of the churches, Orthodox churches very traditionally, where we have this image of the glorified, majestic, powerful Christ, not the meek Jesus hanging on a cross, not the meek Jesus being beaten and spit upon and scourged and killed, but the one who rises in glory, the one who destroys Death by his own death, the one who’s enthroned on the same throne of God. So in our domes, over everything, we have this Pantokrator. “Panto-krator”: “all-mighty.”
And when we were contemplating Jesus as Head, we saw how the Apostle writes (Ephesians 1:22-23), Paul writes that through what he suffered, and because of what he suffered, in his humanity, God the Father Almighty has made Jesus the Head over everything, hyper panta, tē ekklēsia, for the Church, which is his sōma, his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. So Jesus is not only over the Church. So every time we go to an Orthodox church building that is painted and constructed in the classical manner, we can look up into that middle dome, into the center of the church, over the whole church, and we see Christ the Almighty over the whole of creation, over everything, as the Almighty God, but now in his human form. And we see him as the holy, holy, holy Lord God Almighty, like Isaiah saw in the Temple. And we see the angels singing to him, “Holy, holy, holy!” with the holy God, the holy Son of God, the Holy Spirit of God, the thrice-holy God, the tri-Personal, tri-hypostatic divinity, the Godhead of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Lord God Almighty who is true and righteous and powerful in all things. Jesus has the very power of God.
We see him as Pantokrator, and “pantokrator” means “the one who rules over everything.” “Krator” means “to rule,” and “panta” means “all.” “Pantokrator”: the one who rules over everything, the all-mighty, the all-ruler. Now, God alone is the all-mighty and the all-ruler, but he has given from all eternity to his Son who is incarnate on the Planet Earth as Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of Israel, and the Savior of the world, the King of the whole world, the King of God’s coming kingdom. He gives all this to him: all dominion, authority, power, thanksgiving, blessing, honor, worship. That’s Daniel. That’s the Apocalypse. That’s the Bible.
And that’s what we see when we enter an Orthodox church. If we enter a church that’s painted in the traditional manner, you just walk into the middle and look up. And what do you see? “Ho ōn kai ho ēn kai ho erchomenos, ho pantokrator—the one who was, the one who is, and the one who is coming, the Almighty One.” The one in whom all things hold together from all eternity, the very Logos of God who’s in the bosom of the Father before all ages, the one through whom all things came to be, in his flesh, because the very center, essence, of Christian faith is “Kai ho Logos sarx egeneto kai eskēnōsen en hēmin” (John 1:14)—that the Word has become flesh, sarx, flesh, and has dwelt among us: Incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, glorification. All for the sake of our resurrection, our glorification, our deification.
So when we look up into the dome of the church and see Jesus as Pantokrator, the one who was, the one who is, the one who is coming, was, is, and coming, Alpha and Omega, Prōtos and Eschatos, Archē kai to Telos, then we see who he is, from Beginning to End, from the Start to the Finish. That’s who it is, and it’s all there. And then when we look at it, we can say also, all this is for us. It’s for us. It’s for us, for us and for our salvation. As it says in Acts, he is the Archēgōn tēs zōēs, the Prince, the Pioneer, the Author of our salvation. He is the Archēgōn tēs zōēs, the Author of life, tēs sōtērias, of our salvation, of everything.
But it’s all for us. It’s for us human beings, and it’s for our salvation. All this is for us. How absolutely marvellous and wonderful and mind-blowing it all is. And all of this comes together. And so we have reflected, actually, on about 55 names and titles of Jesus from Holy Scripture. Maybe there’s more. Some people email me, trying to find some more. Someone mentioned we could call him, not only the Rock, but the Mountain, you know, that’s coming. Sometimes in the Liturgy, it’s the Theotokos who’s the mountain, and he’s the Rock hewn from the mountain that the Theotokos is.
Someone said maybe we could call him the [chōra] tōn zōntōn, hē [chōra] tōn zōntōn, the land of the living. In Constantinople, outside of the city, there was a beautiful cemetery church in a place that’s called “Chōra.” It’s now called Kachrie Djami, and people go there because the mosaics have been preserved. And in the cemetery chapel on the side of that beautiful basilica, you have that beautiful icon of Jesus in a mandorla, pulling Adam and Eve out of the graves, and it’s written over the top: “Hē chōra tōn zōntōn—the land of the living.” And that’s why the [cemetery] is called “Chōra.” And in that same church, there’s an icon of the Theotokos, and she is called the mother of the land of the living: hē mētēr tou chōrou, the one who gives birth to the land of the living. So Jesus is the promised land. He’s the place that we enter into.
So there’s other names we could have maybe thought about, we could pick up. But for now, let this be enough. But we will still reflect one more time, in one last reflection on the names and titles of Jesus, and that would be on the name Jesus, as the Name which is above every name, and that at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and give glory to God the Father. But that’s still to come. We will do that next time: the Name above every name.
But for now and for today, let’s just think of Jesus as Pioneer, Precursor, Perfector; Author, Forerunner, and Finisher; Prince and Captain; First and Last; Beginning and End; all in all: Jesus, the Lamb who was dead and is alive again, who receives all glory, honor, and worship, as the Almighty God, in his human flesh, together with God his Father with whom forever he is enthroned upon the throne for ages to ages—eis tous aiōnas tōn aiōnōn. All for us and for our salvation.