The Epistle to the Hebrews

The writer of Hebrews is unknown, but he would certainly have been known to his readers, and would have had the respect and authority necessary for his letter to be influential. Its content tells us that his readers were Jewish converts who were either being tempted back to Judaism, or were perhaps attempting to Judaise the gospel. The date of writing is only known to precede A.D. 70 as there is no mention of the temple destruction, and references to the temple are in the present tense. The theme of his letter is the absolute supremacy of Christ, and is beautifully structured to present that message to a Hebrew audience. The letter can be subdivided as follows: Christ is greater than the angels [1-2] Christ is superior to Moses [3] Rest for God’s people [4] Christ is superior to the Aaronic priesthood [5-7] The superior sacrificial work of Christ, our High Priest [8-10] Perseverance in faith [11-12] Concluding exhortations [13]

Christ is greater than the Angels

[Heb 1-2] Christ is the firstborn of the Father who calls him his son, who laid the foundations of the earth and now sits on the right hand of God. All the angels worship him, but angels are servants, ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation. If words spoken by angels were steadfast, how can we neglect the message of salvation spoken of by the Son of God? Jesus came to us, having been made a little lower than the angels, to suffer death and then be crowned with glory and honour, in order that death and sin be conquered, and that man might be sanctified and brought back to God.

Christ is superior to Moses

[Heb 3] Consider Jesus, our High Priest, who was faithful to the Father who appointed him. Moses was also faithful, but Moses was a servant in God’s house, whereas Christ is the son in God’s house. Beware of being provoked into turning away from God, remembering the people in Moses’ time who failed to inherit the promised land because of their unbelief; we must not fail through such unbelief.

Rest for God’s people

[Heb 4] Christians too have a ‘rest’ to enter. We must be careful we do not fail through unbelief as the Hebrews did in Moses’ time. The ‘rest’ the Hebrews entered in the promised land was a physical rest. Using Psalm 95, the writer concludes that God made a promise of rest to those who believed. David, in this psalm, still spoke of the possibility of entering a rest if people would hear God’s voice, which must therefore be a spiritual rest, which still remains to this day. The way to this rest is provided by coming to God through Jesus Christ, our great High Priest.

Christ is superior to the Aaronic priesthood

[Heb 5-7] Aaron was high priest in the time of Moses, and all priests were of the house of Aaron. Jesus is more than our High Priest; he is a Priest-King in the order of Melchizedek [Ps 110:4] whom Abraham met [Gen 14:18–20] . The writer now warns his readers against falling away, saying they should by now be mature in their faith, but are still as babes. The writer urges them to move on from basic principles of faith towards perfection, warning them that they would not be able to recover from apostasy. They should therefore not be spiritually lethargic, but have faith and patience as Abraham did, for Christians have the certainty of God’s oath and promise given to Abraham, of which they are now heirs. Melchizedek, who had no ancestors or descendants, was a king and priest of the most high God, superior to Abraham who gave him tithes, and therefore superior to the Levitical priesthood who were descendants of Abraham. Righteousness could not be obtained under the law administered by the priesthood, hence a priesthood that offered a means of righteousness must be superior. The priesthood of Christ is superior in that it was not given through the law but by a solemn oath, saying that Christ is of the order of Melchizedek,a perpetual priest with no succession, whereas there were many priests in the Levitical priesthood. Furthermore, Christ does not have to first offer sacrifices for his own sins before the people’s, since he is holy and without blemish. Consequently, he is able to offer righteousness through his own one-time sacrifice.

The superior sacrificial work of Christ, our High Priest

[Heb 8-10] Our High Priest has much more to offer because the earthly priesthood was only a shadow of things to come. Had the original covenant been faultless, there would have been no need for the second, foretold through Jeremiah and quoted here in verses 9 to 12. We are reminded of the nature of the earthly tabernacle, and that it could not make the high priest, who enters the holiest place to perform a service, perfect. The pattern of that service, which first required a sacrifice, was imposed until the coming of Christ whose tabernacle is more perfect, not made by hands, but is in heaven. Christ has entered this heavenly tabernacle by a more superior sacrifice. In previous days, there could be no covenant or forgiveness of sins without sacrifice, but now, the new covenant has been made with the sacrifice of Christ, who is our path to forgiveness of sins. In those days, there had to be many sacrifices for a person’s sins. Now, Christ has offered himself as a one-time perfect sacrifice and the old sacrifices are no longer needed. Readers are warned to hold fast to the profession of their faith in Christ without wavering, and not to reject God’s grace given through him.

Perseverance in faith

[Heb 11-12] Examples of faith are shown in Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and Rahab. Others mentioned in passing are Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and, collectively, the prophets. These men and women of faith could not receive the fulfilment of promises before the coming of Christ. With so many examples of faith, we should be encouraged to persevere, for we now have Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. The sufferings we experience are to be considered as fatherly chastisements from God, which will benefit and encourage us. But we should take heed that we do not fall from grace as Esau did. The writer warns his readers not to reject Jesus, for we have not been brought to the physical mountain as the Israelites had, but to the spiritual mountain that is Sion, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to the church of Christ, who will be our judge. Since we are called to partake in an eternal kingdom, we should have the grace to serve God in an acceptable manner.

Concluding exhortations

[Heb 13] Practical guidance is given for Christian living, with a reminder that Christ suffered for us and we should continuously offer our sacrifice of praise and witness. The letter closes with a prayer, a request for prayer, messages and greetings.
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