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Rev. Marcus is pastor of the First Protestant Reformed Church in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.

Hebrews 1:9

The book of Hebrews is all about Jesus Christ and His work as the mediator of a better covenant. Jesus was appointed heir of all things. Now, as our mediator, He is working to bring us to that inheritance. That is why God anointed Him with the oil of gladness, in order that Jesus could accomplish His work as mediator. That’s a glorious truth. It has implications for every believer. God called and equipped Jesus to be a faithful servant. But, just as God called and equipped Jesus for office, so too does He call and equip us, who are brethren of Jesus. As we receive the anointing, we are able to carry out the duties to which God calls us. 

That Jesus was anointed to serve in an office is indicated by the fact that He is the Christ; that is to say, he is “the Anointed One.” Of course, Jesus was not anointed with physical oil; but he was anointed with the Holy Spirit.Hebrews 1:9 speaks of this fact when it says that God anointed Jesus with the oil of gladness. This was nothing less than the anointing with the Holy Spirit. It was this anointing that perfectly equipped Jesus to carry out the duties as mediator in His glorious office. His task was, and is, to bring us to God. 

Anointed with oil 

Anointing was a familiar occurrence in the Old Testament. The basic idea of anointing is to pour oil upon something in order to set it apart for special service. We find that idea expressed in God’s conversation with Jacob in
Genesis 31:13:

I am the God of Bethel, where thou anointedst the pillar, and where thou vowedst a vow unto me: now arise, get thee out from this land, and return unto the land of thy kindred.

The pillar was set apart to serve as a special memorial; that is the significance of its being anointed.

Similarly, oil was used to anoint the tabernacle and the various vessels of the tabernacle to set them apart for special service. We read inExodus 30:26-29,

And thou shalt anoint the tabernacle of the congregation therewith, and the ark of the testimony, And the table and all his vessels, and the candlestick and his vessels, and the altar of incense, And the altar of burnt offering with all his vessels, and the laver and his foot. And thou shalt sanctify them, that they may be most holy: whatsoever toucheth them shall be holy.

Anointing showed that these things were specifically meant for the service of God. The anointing indicated that these things were holy; they were set apart from common use and consecrated to be used in the service of God. 

Just as anointing was used to set things apart for special service to God, it was also used to set certain persons apart for service to God. We find that God commanded that those who served in any of the three special offices in the Old Testament were to be anointed. Most of us are familiar with the anointing of kings. David, for example, was anointed by Samuel:

And he sent, and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to. And the LORD said, Arise, anoint him: for this is he. Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren…

I Sam. 16:12-13.

Similarly, priests were anointed: “And thou shalt put them upon Aaron thy brother, and his sons with him; and shalt anoint them, and consecrate them, and sanctify them, that they may minister unto me in the priest’s office” (Ex. 28:41). Lastly, we find mention of particular prophets being anointed: “…Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abelmeholah shalt thou anoint to be prophet in thy room” (I Kings 19:16). Anointing showed that God Himself had set these people apart for special service. 

The anointing with oil indicated that a special office was being assigned to the person being anointed. It stands to reason, then, that the oil used in the anointing ceremony was very special. The oil was so special that God Himself gave the recipe for how it should be made: “And thou shalt make it an oil of holy ointment, an ointment compound after the art of the apothecary: it shall be an holy anointing oil” (Ex. 30:25). The contents are described in the following verses:

And the LORD said unto Moses, Take unto thee sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum; these sweet spices with pure frankincense: of each shall there be a like weight: And thou shalt make it a perfume, a confection after the art of the apothecary, tempered together, pure and holy,

Ex. 30:34-35.

It is evident that the recipe produced a sweet-smelling oil. This special oil must not be used for any ordinary purposes. Furthermore, we are told in Exodus that anyone who tried to duplicate the smell of this oil would be cut off from the people. 

Why the pleasant smell? Why didn’t God simply tell Moses to use plain old olive oil? Obviously God didn’t go through all the trouble of specifying a recipe for nothing. He had a reason for specifying a sweet-smelling oil. The oil, with its pleasant smell, was meant to serve as a picture of equipping those who were anointed. This is connected to the fact that the oil made the officebearers smell good. Psalm 45:7-8 declares:

Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows. All thy garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia, out of the ivory palaces, whereby they have made thee glad.

What was it that gave Solomon’s garments such a sweet smell? It was the fact that he had been anointed with the oil of gladness.

Notice that the sweet smell made the officebearer glad; the psalmist says, “Whereby they have made thee glad.” This is why the anointing oil is called the “oil of gladness.” The fragrant oil poured on the officebearer had an effect on him. Wherever he went with his anointed garments, that wonderful sweet smell followed him. One can almost imagine a smile on his face as he breathed in the smell of the anointing oil while he went from one task to another. In effect, the sweet-smelling oil made his service a delight.

Inasmuch as the sweet smell made the officebearer willing to serve, the anointing oil was a picture of equipping him for service. The anointing set the officebearers apart in order that they might serve. When Samuel anointed David to be king, we read, “Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward…” (I Sam. 16:13). Following David’s anointing, the Holy Spirit came upon David and equipped him for his office. Thus, the anointing with the oil of gladness points to the anointing with the Holy Spirit, who equips and strengthens officebearers to serve in office. Only in that strength are they able to serve. 

Jesus was anointed with the oil of gladness. That is, He was anointed with the Holy Spirit. Even in His childhood, Jesus was given a radical measure of wisdom and grace from the Holy Spirit: “And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him” (Luke 2:40). As Jesus was about to enter His public ministry, there was another, more dramatic anointing: “And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him” (John 1:32).

Strengthened for service 

The reason that Jesus was anointed was to equip Him for the duties of His office. Jesus needed the anointing power of the Holy Spirit in His entire earthly ministry. We might wonder why the second person of the Trinity would need the Holy Spirit. But we have to realize that Jesus had a human nature. His human nature must be preserved from sin. And His human nature must be strengthened to do God’s will. 

The Holy Spirit certainly strengthened Jesus in His ministry. By the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus cast out devils: “But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you” (Matt. 12:28). By the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus delighted to do God’s will. Hebrews tells us that the very words quoted from Psalm 40 refer to Christ: “Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God” (Heb. 10:7). This is why Jesus could say, “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work” (John 4:34). Similarly, it was by the power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus rose again from the dead: “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit” (I Pet. 3:18). It was the anointing of the Holy Spirit that strengthened Jesus to serve in His human nature.

Jesus loved righteousness and hated iniquity His whole earthly ministry. And this faithfulness earned Him a special degree of the Spirit’s anointing in heaven. Jesus, the mediator, in His human flesh must also have the Holy Spirit’s anointing in heaven. With that special anointing, Jesus, in His human flesh, is able to rule as He sits at the right hand of God in heaven. This is why we read in Hebrews 1:8, “But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom.” This is talking about Jesus in heaven. But then, immediately following, we find the reference to His being anointed with the oil of gladness: “Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows” (Heb. 1:9). Jesus continues to be anointed with the oil of gladness in His state of exaltation. 

Why was Jesus exalted to such a high degree? He was exalted because all His life, He loved righteousness and hated iniquity. He hated iniquity so perfectly that He never sinned, even once, His whole life long. He loved righteousness so much that He was obedient even to the point to giving up His own life, for righteousness sake. In other words, Jesus earned His position as eternal king over His kingdom. 

Now, in heaven at the right hand of God, the anointed Jesus serves as prophet, priest, and king. As prophet, Jesus reveals the secret counsel of God concerning our redemption. The Good Shepherd speaks the good news of the gospel to His sheep. He tells us there is salvation in Him alone. As priest, He made the perfect sacrifice of Himself some 2,000 years ago. Now, as priest, He presents His shed blood in God’s presence. Then He argues, on the basis of that shed blood, that we also deserve heavenly blessings. Jesus, our High Priest, prays for us in heaven. As king, Jesus governs us by His word and Spirit. And He rules over all things in order to defend and preserve us in the salvation that He has purchased for us. Jesus faithfully carries out all the duties of His office in heaven. 

Applied to His fellows 

Jesus’ anointing ought to comfort us. Consider that Jesus, the anointed One, rules in heaven for our good. The fact that Jesus enjoys the anointing of the oil of gladness in heaven means that we also enjoy the same anointing here on earth. Not just those who occupy the special offices of minister, elder, and deacon, but every believer receives the anointing of the Spirit to equip him to serve in the office of all believers. This is why 
Hebrews 1:9 talks about Jesus being anointed “above thy fellows.” Jesus is anointed in great measure. But His fellows also enjoy this same anointing Spirit. 

Think of that. We are fellows of Jesus Christ. We are united to Him. He is our Head and we are members of His body. Of course, if the Head is anointed, then the oil of gladness will flow down upon all the members of His body.Psalm 133 talks about that precious ointment that is poured on the Head. What does it do? It runs down the beard all the way to the skirts of His garments, so that every member of the body is covered with that sweet-smelling ointment. Since we are united to Christ, we are anointed with the oil of gladness. Christ is anointed without measure. But by faith we are members of Christ and therefore partakers of His anointing. 

The result of our anointing is that we are glad. That’s not to say that we wear a permanent smile on our faces and that we are constantly bubbling over with joy and laughter. The gladness we have is not necessarily visible on the surface, like a babbling stream. Rather, our joy runs like a deep river; though it is quiet, its current is strong and is not easily redirected. Such is the joy of our hearts that it is not easily affected by the circumstances of life. In the most difficult trials, we still have gladness. No matter what the outward circumstances, we learn to be content. This is why Galatians 5 lists joy as one of the fruits of the Spirit. But, just like every other grace that God gives us, our joy is a fruit that is still in its beginning stages. So we must pray that God would give us more of the oil of gladness. 

Furthermore, just as the oil of gladness makes Jesus glad in His service, so too it makes us glad to serve God. We delight in righteousness and hate iniquity. More and more we say with the psalmist, “O how love I thy law.” More and more we hate sin and fight against it, so that we say, “Depart from me, all ye that work iniquity.” Only the fact that we have been anointed with the oil of gladness can explain our love for God’s law. 

Having that anointing, we are also glad to confess the name of Jesus Christ. Yes, the sinful flesh drags us down. Yes, our old man tries to keep us from confessing Christ. But still we are glad to confess His name. We confess Jesus’ name with our mouths before others when we are not ashamed of the gospel. And we make a confession by the way that we live. We are glad to present ourselves as living sacrifices of thankfulness to Christ. After all, look what He has done for us! 

All this is bound up with the truth concerning Christ, the anointed One. What a privilege to know Him and His anointing. What a privilege to be anointed with the oil of gladness with Him. Anointed with the oil of gladness, we say with the psalmist,

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want…. Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever,

Ps. 23:1, 4, 5, 6

Since we have the anointing of the oil of gladness, we are confident that it will never be taken from us, but will abide with us even to the very end. Then we shall have it in its glorious fullness.