INTRODUCTION TO THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS

Hebrews... is as a rare gem among a kingís treasures; Christís glory shines from its pages. (Irving Jensen).

This epistle, without introduction or subscription, is like the great High Priest of whom it treats, who was without beginning of days or end of years, abiding as a High Priest continually. (Godet)

There is, indeed, no book in Holy Scripture which speaks so clearly of the priesthood of Christ, so splendidly extols the power and worth of that unique sacrifice which He offered by His death, deals more adequately with the use and also the abrogation of ceremonies, and, in short, in short, explains more fully that Christ is the end of the Law. (John Calvin).

I was born in Washington, D. C. The capitol city is one of the few cities in the United States that was designed by an architect before any of the buildings were raised.

George Washington commissioned Piere LĎEnfant, a French engineer in the Continental Army, to design the city. Capitol Hill was selected as the focal point and the broad avenues of the city were laid out like spokes in a wheel , emanating from this central point.

If you ever visit the Capitol, the very first place you ought to go is to the Washington Monument. It rises 40 stories above the city and from here, you have a panoramic view of the Capitol Building, the Library of Congress, the Reflecting Pool and the Lincoln Memorial. Across the Potomac River you can see the Pentagon. After taking in the fantastic design which rules the city, you are then ready to appreciate your tour through all of these great buildings.

The Bible is like that. Each book is a magnificent city, designed by the greatest Architect in the universe. Each book has a pattern and a plan. You will only fully appreciate the book itself if you have first had an overview so that you can see its pattern and design.

 

AUTHORSHIP

The human author of this book does not name himself. On the other hand, he is not anonymous, for he speaks as though the readers are familiar with his identity.

Take notice that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom, if he comes soon, I shall see you. (Hebrews 13:23).

The author of this book was not attempting to be anonymous. If that had been the case, he would not have closed the book on this personal note. He goes unnamed, but assumes that his readers know who he is. This has led to a number of different theories as to the identity of the author.

1. Paul.

Many of the teachings found within this epistle have already been introduced in other epistles of Paulís. It has been suggested that, if this epistle was not written by Paul, then it was at least written by someone who was familiar with Paulís teachings and writings.

Clement of Alexandria tells of a tradition that he had heard that the epistle was written by Paul in Hebrew and translated into Greek by Luke.

The epistle to the Hebrews he [Clement] attributes to Paul, and says that it was written to the Hebrews in the Hebrew language, and that Luke translated it carefully and gave it out to the Greeks. Hence the same style of expression is found in this epistle and in the Acts. (Eusebius, History of the Church 6:14).

However the book does not read like a translation. Its quotations of the Old Testament are evidently taken from the Greek Septuagint.

2. Barnabas.

The early companion of Paul was a Levite and therefore would have been well versed in the Jewish rituals. But this is not in itself sufficient to prove the authorship of this epistle. I am not a Levite or even Jewish, but I have learned a considerable amount about the Jewish rituals.

3. Apollos.

We know very little about Apollos except that he was an Alexandrian Jew who was said to be eloquent of speech (Acts 18:24).

4. Luke.

We have already noted the words of Eusebius in mentioning the similarity of Greek style which is found in Acts and Hebrews. This is a very high style of Greek.

Furthermore, we know from 2 Timothy 4:11 that Luke was with Paul in Rome just prior to Paulís death. It was at this time that Paul instructed Timothy to come to Rome.

In the book of Hebrews, we see that Timothy is now in prison, but it soon to be released. The author plans to journey with Timothy back to the churches to whom the epistle is written.

Take notice that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom, if he comes soon, I shall see you. (Hebrews 13:23).

In the next verse, the author delivers a greeting from the believers of Italy: Those from Italy greet you (Hebrews 13:24b).

We can conclude from this that the epistle was written from Italy after Timothy had come to Rome in accordance with Paulís instructions. It was not written by Paul, for he was not released from prison following this imprisonment.

Let me suggest the following scenario.

Does it really matter who is the human author of this epistle? No. In fact, I think that the reason he does not name himself in the introduction is so that you will focus upon the message rather than upon the messenger.

This is important. We have a tendency to focus upon spiritual teachers as though they were something special. This is wrong. It is not the messenger who is important but rather the message which he is bringing.

 

DATE OF WRITING

  1. The epistle seems to have been written prior to the destruction of the Temple and the city of Jerusalem which took place in A.D. 70.
  2. For every high priest taken from among men is appointed on behalf of men in things pertaining to God, in order to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins; 2 he can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided, since he himself also is beset with weakness; 3 and because of it he is obligated to offer sacrifices for sins, as for the people, so also for himself. 4 And no one takes the honor to himself, but receives it when he is called by God, even as Aaron was. (Hebrews 5:1-4).

    When He said, "A new covenant," He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear. (Hebrews 8:13).

    The priests are continually entering the outer tabernacle performing the divine worship (Hebrews 9:6b).

  3. The group to whom the letter is addressed had now been believers for some time. They are "second generation" Christians. They are told that by this time you ought to be teachers (5:12). They are called to remember the former days (10:32).
  4. As we have already pointed out, this epistle is written after Timothy had been imprisoned in Italy (Hebrews 13:23-25). This could not have taken place until soon after Paulís death in 63-64 A.D.

 

RECIPIENTS OF THE EPISTLE

The epistle is written to Jews - descendants of the children of Israel. We are not told where these particular Jews lived. It may have been a community outside of Palestine. There were Jewish communities scattered throughout the known world. Or it may have been sent to the Jewish believers who were living in Jerusalem.

There is no mention of a mixed church of Jews and Gentiles as existed in most of the churches outside of Palestine.

We know a little of the problems of these Jews by the way the writer deals with these problems. They had heard the message of Jesus Christ, that He had died for sins and that He rose from the dead. They initially believed this message. But then persecution arose. And in the midst of these hard times, they were now being tempted to leave Christ and to go back to their sacrifices and their religious ceremonies as a means of approaching God.

They were missing the point that Jesus is the fulfillment of all of the Old Testament sacrifices and ceremonies. These ceremonies and customs all serve as illustrations of His perfect person and work.

As a result, they were attempting to return to the infanthood of their faith. They were turning back to the Mosaic Law. They were like the baby who wants to again become a fetus.

 

THEME OF THE BOOK

The theme of this epistle is the absolute supremacy of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is better...

1. Than the Old Testament prophets (1:1-3).

2. Than the angels (1:4 - 2:18).

3. Than Moses (3:1 - 4:13).

4. Than Aaron and his priesthood (4:14 - 10:18).

5. As a way of living (10:19 - 13:25).

This theme is still relevant today. In an age when Christians are lured by all that the world has to offer, there is a message that we need to hear.

Jesus is better. He is better than popularity. He is better than status symbols. He is better than any other relationship. He is better.

THE FIVE WARNINGS OF HEBREWS

Have you ever been driving down a road and seen a warning sign ahead? Maybe it said, "Beware of falling rocks." We donít see many of those in Florida, but they are common up north.

The book of Hebrews contains five warnings to the Jewish Christians. They are warnings to beware of certain spiritual failures.

1. Beware of Neglecting Salvation (2:1-4).

2. Beware of Not Entering into Rest (3:7 - 4:13).

3. Beware of Not going on to Maturity (5:11 - 6:20).

4. Beware of Insulting the Spirit of Grace (10:26-31).

5. Beware of Indifference (12:18-29).

Jesus is Better...

1:4

He is better than the Angels

Warning #1: How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation (2:2-4).

3:1

He is better than Moses

Warning #2: Take care lest any should be falling away from the living God (3:12).

4:3

He provides a better Rest

Warning #3: Fear least you should come short of His rest (4:1; 4:11).

4:14

He is a better High Priest

Warning #4: Those who have fallen away find it impossible to renew again to repentance (6:4-6).

8:1

He ministers in a better Sanctuary

8:6

He has obtained a better Covenant which has been enacted on better promises

10:1

He has offered a better Sacrifice

Warning #5: If we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins (10:26-31).

These are all different aspects of the same basic warning. It is a warning against not holding onto Christ. They comprise a spiritual roadmap. This roadmap will tell us of the right way to walk and it will warn us of the hazardous conditions which lie on the road to the Christian life.