Hebrews 13:17-25

“Continue to obey and be submissive to your leaders, for they are accountable to God as the watchful guardians of your souls. Do this in order that they may minister with joy and not with sorrow, for that would not be advantageous for you. Continue to pray for us, for we are convinced our conscience is clear before God. It is our desire to conduct ourselves honorably in every respect. I especially urge you to pray that I may return to you very soon. May God, the source of all peace, who raised our Lord Jesus from the dead, the Great Shepherd of the sheep, through whose blood the everlasting covenant was ratified, equip you thoroughly with everything necessary to accomplish His will. May the power of Jesus Christ work within you to perform His will - to whom be glory throughout the ages. Amen.

Fellow Believers, I exhort you to listen patiently to my words of warning and encouragement in this short letter. You will be happy to know that our brother Timothy has been released. If he arrives soon, we will come and visit you together. Greet all your leaders and our fellow Believers. The Christians from Italy send their love. May God’s grace be with you all. Amen.”     (paraphrased)

v. 17
This verse affirms the existence of effective ministerial leadership within the Jewish churches. God will always bless Believers who exemplify obedient, submissive, and compliant spirits. The Thessalonians were admonished to esteem their leaders very highly (II Thess. 5:12-13).

Our leaders “watch” (agrupneo) over our spiritual lives. The word means “to exercise sleepless vigilance.” Jesus asked His sleeping disciples if they could not watch with Him one hour (Mt. 26:40). The watchfulness of pastoral shepherds over their flocks involves accountability to God. Ezekiel was appointed as a watchman over Israel to pass along God’s warnings. If Ezekiel failed to do so, he would be held accountable (Ez. 3:17-18).

The readers are asked to cooperate with their leaders. In so doing, they make their ministries joyful rather than sorrowful. Obedience to their teachings enable them to minister more effectively. On the other hand, grief follows rebelliousness. “Grief” (stenazontes) depicts an internalized, silent groaning with which one reluctantly performs tasks. Paul expresses anxious concern for the Galatians, hoping his ministry among them had not been in vain (Gal. 2:2 & 4:11). Many parishioners have no idea of the grief their pastors endure for their sakes. “Unprofitable” means “that which does not pay.” Discouraged ministers are less effective.
 
vv. 18-19
The personal tenor of the writer’s farewell note proves his letter was addressed to a group of Believers known to him. He is anxious to rejoin them and earnestly requests their prayers. Due to the lack of information in these final verses, the circumstances that hindered his reunion with his readers are a matter of speculation. Reasons could include imprisonment, sickness, or lack of travel funds.

A clear conscience is the result of a holy, sincere and upright life (II Cor. 1:12). The writer does not consider himself above the need for prayer. He is determined to live righteously, make good decisions, and is confident the prayers of his readers will be answered.

v. 20
The writer requests prayer for himself and closes his letter with a prayer for his readers. Listed in this single verse are five primary doctrines: God’s peace, Christ’s resurrection, God’s shepherding heart, Christ’s atoning blood, and God’s eternal covenant.

Although this epistle employs numerous illustrations, types, and symbols, there is one more. The Lord is allegorized as a Shepherd (Isa. 40:11 & Ps. 23). The concept of sheep and shepherds are mentioned hundreds of times throughout the Bible. Inevitably, these references are figurative and concern God’s loving care for us. Because human beings tend to stray, the analogy is a natural one. Sheep have significant value, so the Good Shepherd always has them in His sight. He keeps them from danger and finds them food, water, and shelter. Sheep are born to follow their shepherd, and Christ’s sheep are born again to follow Him.

Picturing Himself as the Good Shepherd, Jesus:

<> Views people as sheep without a shepherd (Mk. 6:34).
<> Calls His sheep by name, which listen and follow Him (Jn. 10:3-4,  27).
<> Seeks good things to feed His sheep (Jn. 10:9)
<> Lifts fallen sheep out of the pit (Mt. 12:11).
<> Looks for new sheep to add to His fold (Jn. 10:16).
<> Gives His life for His sheep (Jn. 10:11).
<> Rose from the dead to be our Great Shepherd (Heb. 13:20).
<> Intercedes for us as the Shepherd of our souls (I Pet. 2:25)
<> Will return for us as our Chief Shepherd (I Pet. 5:4).

As a Shepherd knows His sheep intimately, so Christ knows us. Totally dependent upon Him, we follow in meekness and submission. Although we view our pastors as shepherds (Heb. 13:18),  the resurrected Christ is our Great Shepherd.

v. 21
Reflecting upon the truths just listed will mature us, allowing us to serve God and please Him. To “perfect” (katartizo) is “to equip; to fit a thing exactly for its purpose.” It is a medical term used regarding the adjustment of a limb or joint after dislocation. As we submit to the adjustments God wants to make in our spiritual lives, He will provide everything necessary to fulfill His will.

The phrase “to Him be glory forever and ever” should not be passed over quickly. The aim of the entire epistle is to glorify Christ. Angels join with Believers in heaven to praise the Lamb day and night (Rev. 4:8). “Amen” or “so be it” is the affirmation of his prayer. 

v. 22
From the writer’s perspective, the entire epistle is “a word of exhortation.” He asks them to bear with him as they read and benefit from his admonitions and warnings. To “suffer” his words means or endure them. It is a plea for his readers to not be impatient with his straightforwardness. “Exhortation” (parakleseos) is translated “consolation” in 6:18, where it means “to refresh through strong words of admonition.” After his stern warnings, he softens his tone by addressing them as “brothers” and asks them to consider his essay as a letter of encouragement.

Although his epistle can be read in less than an hour, the writer refers to it as “a few words.” Had he developed each doctrine fully, his letter would have been very lengthy. Considering these powerful teachings are condensed into one short document, his modest description is appropriate. He had many things to say regarding the Melchizedekian priesthood, but refrained from doing so (5:11). He stated time would fail him to write more about the heroes of the faith (11:32). Although he has boldly warned them against the dangers of apostasy, he is almost apologetic as he attempts to lighten the burden of such heavy doctrinal truth.

v. 23
It is uncertain whether the “Timothy” referred to here was the same young man with which Paul was so well acquainted. Doubtless there were numerous disciples bearing such a common name. The Timothy named here seems to be on equal terms with the writer, rather than subordinate to him. However, because church tradition holds this Timothy to the same man to whom Paul wrote two letters, we should assume this is the case.

Paul warned Timothy to expect persecution (II Tim. 3:12) and the reference here seems to indicate he had been incarcerated at some point. If this is true, this is the only New Testament reference to his imprisonment. 

We first meet Timothy as a young disciple at Lystra on Paul’s first missionary journey (Acts 16:1). Even then, Timothy had a good reputation in Athens, Derbe, and Lystra (Phil .2:22). We know he was the recipient of a godly heritage (II Tim. 1:5) and that he loved God’s Word (II Tim. 3:15). Few Christian workers are given such accolades as Timothy. Paul ranks him alongside the apostles (I Thess. 1:1 & 2:6). He regards him as a beloved brother, a fellow worker, and his “son in the faith” (I Cor. 4:17; I Tim. 1:2 & II Tim. 1:2). His name is found in Acts, Romans, I & II Corinthians, Philippians, I & II Thessalonians, Colossians, and Philemon. A survey of the New Testament shows Timothy is active in Asia Minor, Macedonia, Lystra, Berea, Corinth, Athens, Thessalonica, and Ephesus.

By the time the letter to the Hebrews was written, Paul had probably been martyred. Timothy would have since developed into an experienced minister. As a man who followed in the apostle’s footsteps, it is not surprising to find him incarcerated for the sake of Christ. The writer had learned of Timothy’s release before his readers did. He hopes Timothy will join him soon, allowing them to travel together to visit them.

v. 24
From these few personal notes and closing remarks it is impossible to determine the writer’s true relationship to his readers. Not once in his letter does he assert ministerial or pastoral authority over them. “They of Italy salute you” could be interpreted “Greetings from natives of Italy.” The phrase seems to infer the writer was in Italy at the time of the writing and that this greeting came from Italian Believers who were with him. But it is possible this salutation to the leaders and saints may have come from Italians who are with the writer in another country. In the final analysis, it is unknown if the letter was written from Italy or to Italy.

v. 25
Because grace is a dominate theme in this epistle, it is appropriate the writer close by wishing grace upon everyone.

<> We are to boldly approach God’s throne of grace (4:16).
<> We should obey the Spirit of grace (10:29).
<> We must have grace to serve God (12:28).
<> We need our hearts to be established by grace (13:9). 
           
His final word is “Amen”, or “Let it be so.”  Amen is a transliteration of a Hebrew term meaning “to make firm or confirm.” It is a response that affirms an endorsement. It is often interpreted in Scripture as “certainly, truly, absolutely” or “I believe it.” The word is used more than 150 times in the Bible after announcements, blessings, prayers, and promises. It is often employed to conclude a benediction (Heb. 13:21). It is utilized to authenticate the reliability and truth of statements that are made. When the word is attached to the beginning of a sentence, it emphasizes that what is about to be said it true. Every time Jesus says “truly”, it is the word “amen”. He often used it twice to doubly emphasize His statements (Jn.5:24-25).

The Lord is called “the God of truth” (Isa. 65:16), but the Hebrew term means “the God of Amen.” One of the titles given to Christ in Revelation is “The Amen” (Rev.3:14). Amen! was originally used as an affirming verbal response to synagogue teachings. This Jewish tradition was adopted by the Christian community. In this connection, it is very appropriate the very last word in the Epistle to the Hebrews is Amen.

Summation

The colorful and elaborate Levitical system was specifically designed for one nation on earth, yet it has had a global impact. It was given by God to graphically portray the only way in which man may approach Him. But despite its wondrous splendor, it was a mere shadow of things to come. In the divine plan of God, the transitory Hebrew religion faded away to reveal God’s global plan of salvation.

The original recipients of this letter are asked to forsake the pomp and pageantry of temple services. As Christianity spread from Judea to the uttermost parts of the Gentile world, their leaders were no longer priests, but former fishermen, tax collectors, and tent makers. Though persecuted, ridiculed, and lambasted for their new-found faith in Christ, they must not abandon their only hope of salvation.

First-century Believers were in danger of discouragement (12:3), apostasy (3:12), and indoctrination by false teachers (13:9). However, this epistle has tremendous relevance today, for these same dangers exist in our current era of prevailing apathy.

Written in a symmetrical style, with excellent word arrangement and rhythmical sentence-structure, this eloquent book demonstrates the very best of grammatical and rhetorical skills. It is a doctrinal treatise with a pragmatic purpose. Without it, the relationship of Judaism to Christianity would be almost impossible to comprehend. For two millennia The Epistle to the Hebrews has remained the key that unlocks the mysteries of the Old Testament, providing us access to the New.   

QUESTIONS: FINAL ADMONITIONS, BENEDICTION AND POSTSCRIPT

Hebrews 13:17-25

1. The word “watch” (13:17) means “sleepless vigilance” True or False?

2. From 13:17, we learn those in spiritual authority over us are guardians of our souls. In Philippians 3:18, what was Paul’s emotional response to those who led others astray through false doctrines?
A. weeping
B. laughter
C. indifference
D. gratitude
E. anger

3. A survey of the New Testament shows Timothy to be active in:
A. Athens
B. Berea
C. Corinth
D. Derbe
E. all of the above

4. Timothy is mentioned in:
A. Philemon
B. II John
C. II Peter
D. James
E. none of the above

5. According to John 10:4, what do sheep always know?

6. According to John 10:5, who will sheep not follow? 

7. What is a good shepherd willing to do? (John 10:11 & 15)

8. According to John 10:27-28, what will the Good Shepherd give His sheep?

9. The word “Amen” can mean:
A. so be it
B. let it be so
C. absolutely
D. I believe it
E. all of the above

10. Make a list of the most important truths you learned from your studies in The Epistle to the Hebrews.


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