New Testament Survey, Lesson 10 of 13
The letter to the Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians in Palestine. We know this because those who received the letter were very familiar with the temple and its sacrifices. They were also well acquainted with the Old Testament Scriptures. The title “To the Hebrews” has been the title of the letter from the very earliest times. The term “Hebrews” was used to describe only the people of Israel who lived in Palestine. Everywhere else in the first century, they were called “Jews.” Hebrews reflects the situation faced by the Jewish Christians in Palestine in the ten year period before the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in AD 70.
The writer of Hebrews, as well as all the other books of the New Testament, was the Holy Spirit. The human writer used by the Holy Spirit is not mentioned in the book. The most widely held view is that Hebrews was written by the apostle Paul. This has been accepted from the earliest days of the church. Clement of Alexandria, an early Christian writer, said Paul wrote Hebrews in the Hebrew language and Luke later translated it into Greek.
Hebrews was written from Italy (13:24). Timothy was with the writer at the time it was written (13:23). Hebrews deals with the situation of the Jewish Christians in Palestine in the last few years before Jerusalem’s destruction. The time fits that of Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome which was from A.D. 61 to A.D. 63.
The purpose of writing Hebrews was to encourage Jewish Christians who were being persecuted. Because of this, they were tempted to return to the Jewish religion. The writer shows them that the old Jewish faith has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. He does this by showing that the religion of Christ is superior in every way. In fact, the key word in Hebrews is “better.” Christ has a better name than the angels (1:4). Better things were expected of the Christians (6:9). Melchizedek was better than Abraham (7:7). Christians have a better hope (7:19). Jesus is the mediator of a better covenant which is established upon better promises (7:22; 8:6). The great heroes of faith looked for a better country and a better resurrection (11:16, 35).
In chapter one, Christ is shown to be superior to the angels. He created all things, and sustains them by the word of His power. Even though they are mighty created beings, angels are simply the servants of those who shall inherit eternal salvation.
In chapter two, the reason God became a man in the person of Jesus Christ is revealed. Christ became man in order that He might die for the sins of man and thereby free him from sin and death.
In chapter three, Christ is shown to be superior to Moses, the great Lawgiver. Moses was only a servant in God’s house. Christ is the Son over God’s house.
In chapter four, Christ is shown to be superior to Joshua. Joshua led Israel into the Promised Land, but the permanent rest for the people of God still remains. Christ will lead His faithful people into that eternal rest which is in Heaven.
In chapter five, Christ is shown to be superior to the priests under the Old Testament. A discussion of Christ as the Christian’s high priest began in Hebrews 4:14. It is discussed more fully in this chapter. The discussion continues through chapter ten. Not only is Christ our high priest, but He is also the offering for man’s sins.
In chapter six, a warning against apostasy is given. If one rejects Christ, there is no other hope for salvation. God’s promise to His people was confirmed by His oath. Since it is contrary to the nature of God to lie, we have double assurance that God will keep His promises.
Chapter seven shows that Christ is a priest after the order of Melchizedek. Melchizedek was superior to Abraham, father of the Levites from which the priests came, because Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek. Melchizedek blessed Abraham. It is an accepted fact that the one who blesses is greater than the one who is blessed.
In chapter eight, Christ’s new covenant is shown to be superior to the old covenant which was given to Israel at Mt. Sinai. The old covenant was weak because it could not take away sins permanently. Under the new covenant, our sins are removed forever.
Chapter nine tells us Christ is the offering for our sins as well as our high priest. He has given us His new covenant. The old covenant given to Israel at Mt. Sinai was dedicated with the blood of animals. Christ’s new covenant is superior to that old one for it was sealed with His own blood.
Chapter ten shows Christ’s sacrifice is superior to the sin offerings made under the old covenant. Those animal sacrifices had to be made over and over. They could not permanently take away sin. They served only as a reminder of sins year after year. However, Christ’s sacrifice of His own blood was made once for all time.
Chapter eleven is one of the best known chapters in the Bible. It is called “the hall of fame of the heroes of faith.” Because of their faith in His promises, great men and women of God overcame many trials and temptations. They were able to do this because they were looking for a better city, a better country, and a better resurrection.
Chapter twelve shows that Christians are running a race. We are surrounded by the great heroes of faith of the past. In order to complete the race successfully, we must keep our eyes on Jesus who is the author and finisher of our faith.
Chapter thirteen closes with various exhortations to faithfulness. Hebrews is a great book of faith. It presents Jesus Christ as God’s last word to mankind. He is the offering for sin as well as the Christian’s high priest. If we reject Christ and His new covenant, there is no hope for our salvation.
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