The book of Hebrews teaches the preeminence of Jesus Christ regarding His person and His work on the cross. Jesus Christ is superior and more important than any Old Testament prophet, priest or king. In fact, He is superior and more important than all of the Old Testament saints put together.
John 1:17 tells us that "......the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." Grace and truth are contrasted here with the law. When placed in contrast with the law, grace and to truth are seen to be superior and have a much greater glory. To say that "grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" is to say "that believing you might have life through his name," "grace reigns or is sovereign.....even unto eternal life through Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:21). The fact "that believing" is conditional for receiving life again shows that life is of grace, for faith and grace are inseparable. "It is of faith so that it might be by grace" (Romans 4:16). The Bible teaches that life is "through his name." His name refers to that which is always of grace. In fact, it is the merit and work of Jesus Christ that is the basis of grace. The merit and work of each one of us is the basis of the law. The law is hard, cruel, non-compassionate, inflexible, intolerant, and will curse all who attempt to follow it. That is why the law is not a part of the Christian life.
In II Corinthians 3:7, the law given by Moses is called "the ministration of death." In Romans 11:6 works are said to replace grace under the as each man strands by his own merit instead of the merit of Jesus Christ. From these and other Biblical sources, it is very clear that the law and grace are incompatible. Where there is law, there is no grace, and where there is true grace, there is no law. Romans 11:6 says "And if by grace, then it is no longer works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace."
Consider too, that the law was given through Moses, a mere human instrument, a member of the sinful human race. Not so with grace and truth. These came through Jesus Christ who was both the Son of Man and the Son of God. Jesus Christ and Moses are contrasted with each other in other passages. Hebrews 3:3 tells us, "Jesus has been found worthy of greater glory (honor) than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater glory (honor) than the house itself." Then in Hebrews 3:5-6 it says, "Moses was faithful AS A SERVANT IN ALL GOD'S HOUSE..........BUT CHRIST IS FAITHFUL AS A SON OVER GOD'S HOUSE......"
The preeminence of Jesus Christ over Moses and all the prophets is indicative of the preeminence of grace over law. The preeminence of grace over law can then be said to be as: the Creator over the creature, as the divine over the sinful, as the spiritual over the flesh, as the infinite over the finite, and as that which endures over that which passes away.
Therefore, when Jesus Christ came at His first advent, He fulfilled the law, and after so doing, the law was set aside. The law has nothing to do with the Christian life under grace. Romans 6:14 tells us, ".....you are NOT UNDER LAW, but UNDER GRACE." Galatians 3:10, "All who rely on observing the law are under a curse......." Galatians 3:11-12, "The righteous will live by faith, the law is not based on faith." Galatians 5:18, "But if you are led by the Spirit, you ARE NOT UNDER LAW." Throughout the writings of the apostle Paul, over and over again he tells his readers, that the Mosaic law is not a part of the Christian life, and, if you desire to follow the Mosaic Law, then you are not following Christ. It is very important to understand this principle if you want your life to be all it can be for Jesus Christ.
Hebrews is one of those books that is almost impossible to interpret properly unless you have an understanding of Jewish history. Many of the things the writer talks about are impossible to duplicate today. For example, we could not commit most of the sins the writer of Hebrews condemns, because there is no Jewish Temple where we could offer sacrifices today. Many of the sins he mentions deal with the offerings and sacrifices of the Jewish Temple. So we must look first at the historical background of this great book.
One of the important concepts to understand in studying the book of Hebrews is the concept of ICE teaching. ICE teaching is the only way anyone can ever hope to understand any part of the Bible. ICE is an achronym for ISAGOGICS, CATEGORIES AND EXEGESIS. ISAGOGICS refers to historical background, CATEGORIES refers to other parts of the Bible that teach the same thing and EXEGESIS refers to a word by word study of each verse. When these three things are accomplished, it is very easy to understand what the Bible is teaching in any given passage.
(1) - Any serious attempt to understand the book of Hebrews must be based on careful exegesis of the text from the original language, plus the study of the historical background, plus a comparison of the categories with other Scriptures. With the language, historical background, and categorical information, there must be an analysis of this information to arrive at the correct interpretation of a passage.
(2) - The book of Hebrews could be titled "The Preeminence of Jesus Christ." Preeminence means "having a paramount rank, dignity or importance; that which is superior, or has a superexcellency." Jesus Christ is superior to and preeminent over everyone and everything.
From the very beginning of this book we are challenged by the bold stand taken by the writer. In Hebrews 1:1-4 we are told that Jesus Christ is superior to the prophets of the Old Testament and He is superior to all angels, because He is the Son of God through whom God has spoken in this new dispensation. Philippians 2:5-11, "Let this thinking be in you that is in Christ Jesus. Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness, and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even the death of the cross! Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven (all angels and humans), and on earth (all angels and humans), and every tongue acknowledge Jesus Christ is Lord, (is deity, is God) to the glory of God the Father."
John 1:1-18, In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John (John the Baptist or John the Baptizer) He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and though the world was made by him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own (Israel), but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right and the authority to become children of God - children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.
The Word became flesh (incarnation) and lived for a while among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, 'This was he of whom I said, He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.' From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but God the only Son, who is at the Father's side, has made him known."
Colossians 1:15-20, "He is the (visible) image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; (this refers to the various ranks of angels. Christ created the angels and gave them their authority and power. The Scripture is very clear that Jesus is not an angel, but the Creator of angels. He is above the angels, who in fact worship Him and are under His authority. Jesus' relationship to the unseen world, like His relationship to the visible universe, proves that He is God). all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things (preexistence), and in him all things hold together (are sustained). And he is the head of the body, the Church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him (in the humanity of Jesus Christ), and through him to reconcile (bring back) to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood shed on the cross (His substitutionaryspiritual death on the cross)."
(3) - You cannot understand the book of Hebrews unless you understand the book of Leviticus, because the book of Hebrews is based upon the principles of the Levitical priesthood. By the time we finish the book of Hebrews, you should have a pretty good grasp of the book of Leviticus as well.
(4) - The author of the book of Hebrews is the Holy Spirit. He is the author of all the books of the Bible. Who the human writer of the book of Hebrews was has been debated throughout the centuries. We do know that he had a Greek background, and was an expert in the use of the Greek language. He also had an excellent Jewish background, and was an expert in Jewish history and traditions.
(5) - There are at least five different views as to who wrote the book of Hebrews.
(A) - The first view is that Luke wrote Hebrews. This view was held by many in the first century. It was also held by John Calvin. The reason for this is because the Greek of the book of Hebrews is very polished. In some cases it is almost pure classical Greek. It is very interesting that the epistle that has the most information by way of the Jewish background should also be the purist type of Greek. However, there's too much Jewish history in this epistle for it to be written by a Gentile, and Luke was a Gentile.(6) - The book of Hebrews was written around 67 AD, about three years before the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersion of the Jews by the Romans. This book was the last warning to the Jews before their national destruction.
(B) -The second view is that Clement of Rome wrote Hebrews. Eusebius (Church historian: 260-340 AD) and Erasmus (Dutch scholar: 1466-1536 AD) held this view. At one point Origen (Greek scholar and teacher in the early church: 185-254 AD) said that "The book of Hebrews had Paul's thoughts, but that Clement of Rome wrote it." Again there is too much Jewish background for Clement of Rome.
(C) - The third view is that Barnabas was the human writer of Hebrews. Barnabas was a Levite with a good Jewish background. He was also the mediator between Paul and the Jewish Christians. And even today there are some scholars who believe that Barnabas is the writer of the book of Hebrews.
(D) - The fourth view is that Apollos wrote Hebrews. This view was held by Martin Luther (1483-1546 AD). As a Jew from Alexandria, Egypt and well - versed in the Old Testament, Apollos is an obvious possibility. However, no ancient tradition or testimony exists in that direction.
(E) - The fifth view is that Paul wrote Hebrews. But it's not like Paul to omit his name. Plus, the style of Hebrews is smooth and literary, two characteristics not applied to Paul's writings. Paul wrote in an iliptical and rough style. Paul would also quote the Old Testament from the Hebrew text. The writer of Hebrews quoted from the Old Testament Greek (the Septuagint), not the Hebrew. There are many Pauline ideas in the book of Hebrews, and there are many Bible scholars who hold the position that Paul is the writer of Hebrews.
In conclusion, any one of these five men could have written the book of Hebrews. But when I read the statements by E.W. Bullinger in his book "Number in Scripture," he brings forth a very good argument for Pauline authorship. Using the principle of Biblical numerology, Dr Bullinger states, "The New Testament contains 27 separate books (3 x 3 x 3 =27)". Three is the number of divine perfection). "Of these 27 books 21 are epistles (3 x 7 = 21)." Three being the number of divine perfection, and seven being the number of spiritual perfection and completion. "If we take the agents employed (in the writing) we have 8 in the New Testament. Of the 21 Epistles of the New Testament 14 (2 x 7) are by Paul (if Hebrews is included), and seven by other writers. In this we have an argument for the Pauline authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews; an argument which is confirmed by numbers of verbal occurrences.........." )I would encourage anyone who may be interested to purchase Dr Bullinger's book "Number in Scripture" and read pages 26-41). Dr Bullinger continues, "This law, affecting the occurrence of important words, may be used in evidence as to authorship. For example, if we take certain words in Paul's Epistles alone, we do not find the law operating unless we include the Epistle to the Hebrews. If we add the occurrences in Hebrews to those in the other Pauline Epistles, the harmony is at once restored."
(7) - The purpose of the Epistle to the Hebrews is explained in eight principles:
(A) - To warn believers regarding negative attitudes toward the Word of God, and to provide Biblical information to aid them in their spiritual growth.(8) - The book of Hebrews is a presentation of Christ, the Messiah, the author of a better system, greater than the one God made in the Old Testament. The old system was not bad or wrong; it was God-given and, therefore, good. But it was incomplete and preliminary. It actually set the stage for the better system. I Timothy 1:8 tells us that "We know that the law is good." Romans 7:12 says, "So the law is holy, and the commandment holy, just and good."
(B) - To deliver believers in Jerusalem from the catastrophe of the national destruction which was approaching.
(C) - To clarify the issues of the angelic conflict and the believer's relationship to this great spiritual warfare.
(D) - To lead believers to spiritual maturity through the learning and application of Bible doctrine in the filling of the Holy Spirit.
(E) - To reveal the glory of the person of Jesus Christ and to stimulate occupation with Christ while on earth. In other words, to help the believer develop category one love, love for God. Your capacity to love Jesus Christ can be measured by the amount of Biblical knowledge you possess and apply.
(F) - To orient the believer to the grace principles regarding the universal priesthood of the believer.
(G) - To distinguish between the function of the Jewish dispensation and the Church Age. The reality of your priesthood and its function is never possible until you understand dispensations and recognize the difference between the Church Age and the Jewish Age.
(H) - To relate the priesthood of the believer to every facet of the Christian way of life.
The overall theme of the book of Hebrews is the superiority, or the preeminence of Jesus Christ. He is better than anything that was before or anything to come. He is better than any Old Testament person, He is better than any Old Testament institution, He is better than any Old Testament ritual, He is better than any Old Testament sacrifice and He is better than anyone and everything else.
The writer of Hebrews begins with a general superiority of Christ to everyone and everything, then he continues throughout the book to give specifics.
The superiority of Christ to the prophets: Heb 1:1-3.This brief outline gives us the flow of the book of Hebrews, which, above all else, teaches the total, complete and absolute superiority of Jesus Christ. When we come to understand that Jesus Christ is truly superior to anything else, then we should come to realize that Jesus Christ and the teachings of grace are far superior to anything in the Old Testament. This is why the apostle Paul said in Galatians 2:16, "By observing the law, NO ONE WILL BE JUSTIFIED." Then in Galatians 3:10 he says, "All who rely on observing the law are under a curse." The Mosaic Law is very inferior to everything that is taught under grace in the epistles of the New Testament. In fact, after Jesus Christ fulfilled the law (Matt 5:17), it was set aside and replaced by something far greater, the system of grace. Law and grace cannot exist together. John 1:17 tells us that "The law was given through Moses, GRACE and TRUTH came through Jesus Christ." Therefore, since Jesus Christ, and the epistles of the New Testament are greater than anything and everything in the Old Mosaic Law, God cancelled the law, He set aside the Law, He made the Law null and void and replaced it with something far greater, the system of grace.
The superiority of Christ to angels: Heb 1:4-14; 2:1-9.
The superiority of Christ to Moses: Heb chapters 3 & 4.
The superiority of Christ to Melchizidek, the king priest of Jerusalem: Heb chapter 7.
The superiority of Christ to Aaron and the Levitical priesthood: Heb chapters 5 - 7.
The superiority of Christ to any high priest: Heb chapter 8.
The superiority of Christ to the Old Covenant: Heb chapters 9 & 10.
The superiority of Christ's sacrifice to the old sacrifices: Heb chapters 9 & 10.
The superiority of Christ's faithful people to all the faithless: Heb chapter 11.
The superiority of Christ's testimony to that of any other: Heb chapters 12 & 13.
(9) - In the book of Hebrews, not only is Jesus Christ brought out as our Redeemer and Savior, but He is also brought out as our High Priest and our King. There were high priests and kings in the Old Testament, but no one was both. Except Melchizidek who was the high priest to the Most High God and the king of Salem (Jerusalem, Gen 14:18). But Melchizidek lived before the Mosaic Law was given, and his status is very unique.
(10) - The book of Hebrews teaches that Jesus Christ came as the Mediator of a better system. Under the Old Testament system sacrifices were made constantly, hour after hour, day after day, month after month and year after year. They never stopped. Besides this, the priests themselves were sinners. They had to make sacrifices for their own sins before they could make sacrifices for the sins of the people. Also, the entire system never removed any sin. It only covered it up, or set it aside temporarily.
What man needed was a perfect Priest and a perfect Sacrifice. A sacrifice that was not just a shadow or illustration. A sacrifice that did not deal with just one sin at a time, but a sacrifice that would take way sin once and for all. Not only the sin, but also the guilt and the judgment that were connected to the sin. That, says the writer of Hebrews, is exactly what Jesus Christ was (the perfect Sacrifice), and what He did (removed sin) and its judgment from the human race permanently.
Jesus Christ came as a Mediator of a better system because it is one that does not have to be repeated every hour, or even every month, or even every year.This was something that no priest could ever do. There were no seats, no chairs, nothing to sit on in the Tabernacle or in the Temple. The priest had to keep making sacrifices; his work was never finished. But after Jesus made His sacrifice, He "sat down." It was finished. It was done. It was completed. Therefore, Jesus Christ is a better priest, making a better sacrifice. There is a central message of the book of Hebrews. To the believing Jew the Spirit says, "Continue to have confidence in this Priest and His sacrifice."
Jesus Christ came as the Mediator of a better system because His sacrifice, once and for all removes every sin and the penalty of every sin.
Jesus Christ came as the Mediator of a better system because He is a priest who does not need to make any sacrifice for Himself. He is perfect in every way. The perfect Priest and the perfect Sacrifice. Hebrews 10:10, "By this we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ ONCE FOR ALL." Hebrews 10:12, "But He, having offered ONE sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God."
(11) - The idea of new system (grace) was not easy for the Jews to accept. After they accepted the new system of grace, it was very difficult for them to make a clean break with the old Mosaic Law. The Gentiles did not have that problem, since they had never been a part of the old Mosaic system. They had long before lost any real knowledge of the true God, and in consequence they were worshiping idols. Some of these idols were primitive and some of them very sophisticated, but all of them were idols just the same.
But the Jews had always had a divine religion. For centuries they had known a divinely appointed place of worship and a divinely revealed way of worshiping. God Himself had established their religion. Therefore, even after a Jew received the Lord Jesus Christ, he had a very difficult time. He had a traditional desire to retain some of the forms and ceremonies that had been a part of his life since earliest childhood. Part of the purpose of the book of Hebrews, therefore, was to confront the born-again Jew with the fact that he could and should let go of all his Judaistic trappings. But since the Temple was still standing and priests still ministering in it, this was especially difficult to do. Letting go became easier after the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD.
(12) - Jews who accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior received intense persecution from fellow Jews. The high priest Ananias was especially hard and cruel. He had all Christian Jews automatically banished from the holy places. All their lives they had access to these sacred places. Now they were not allowed to be a part of the God-ordained services. They were not considered clean. They could not go to the synagogue, much less the Temple. They could not offer any sacrifices, they could not communicate with the priests, they could have nothing to do with their own people. They were cut off from their own society. For clinging to Jesus as the Messiah, they were banished from almost every sacred thing they had ever known. Though in God's eyes they were the only true Jews (Rom 2:28-29), they were considered by fellow Jews to be worse than Gentiles.
Throughout the book of Hebrews these Jewish Christians were told to keep their confidence in Christ, the Mediator of a BETTER SYSTEM and the new GREAT HIGH PRIEST. They were reminded that they were losing nothing for which they were not getting something infinitely better. They had been deprived of an earthly temple, but they were going to get a heavenly one. They had been deprived of an earthly priesthood, but they now had a heavenly Priest. They had been deprived of the old system of sacrifices, but now they had one final, total and complete sacrifice to rely on.
(13) - In the book of Hebrews we are going to see a lot of contrasts. Everything presented will be viewed as being BETTER.
A better hope: Heb 7:9.Jesus Christ is presented as being the supreme best. And we are presented as being in Him and as dwelling in a completely new dimension, the heavenlies. And this term is used over and over again.
A better testament: Heb 7:22.
A better promise: Heb 8:6.
A better sacrifice: Heb 9:23.
A better substance: Heb 10:34.
A better country: Heb 11:16.
A better resurrection: Heb 11:35.
A better everything!
The heavenly Christ:Everything is new. Everything is better. We don't need the old worn-out system of the Mosaic Law.
The heavenly calling: Heb 3:11.
The heavenly gift: Heb 6:4.
The heavenly country: Heb 11:16.
The heavenly Jerusalem: Heb 12:22.
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