Hebrews 13:8-16

“Jesus, the Messiah, is the same yesterday, today and forever. So do not allow yourselves to be led astray by strange doctrines. The heart is spiritually strengthened by God’s grace, not by religious dietary rules. Those whose lives are guided by such things derive no profit from them. Ours is a spiritual altar, from which those who minister in the tabernacle have no right to partake. The flesh of those animals, whose blood was carried into the sanctuary as a sin offering, was burned outside of the camp. Allegorically, Jesus also suffered death outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by His blood. Let us follow Him beyond the boundaries of the camp, sharing His disgrace, contempt, and abuse. Our permanent home is not on earth, but we anticipate an eternal one in heaven. So let us perpetually offer up sacrifices of praise to God through Christ - and glorify His name. Remember to be benevolent and generous, for God is highly pleased with such sacrifices.”
  (paraphrased)
                                                                           
In a series of brief and powerful admonitions, the writer summarizes his argument for the superiority of Christianity over Judaism. 

v. 8
The title Christ (Christos) means “Anointed One” and affirms Jesus as the Messiah. This verse is a declarative statement concerning the permanence of His Messianic office. It can be translated, “Jesus is Messiah, yesterday, today - and is the same forever” (Heb. 1:12 & 7:24). Mighty world empires have crumbled into dust, but His kingdom will permanently endure (Lk. 1:33). Jesus Christ is eternally available and accessible. Although He never changes, His sacrifice changed everything for the human race. 

Throughout Jesus’ sojourn on earth, His demeanor is neither affected by slander, false accusations, nor loaded questions. He never vacillates or is at a loss for words. When did He ever apologize or retract a single statement? Whether facing mob violence, rebuking Peter, or speaking to the woman at the well, His character is absolutely consistent.

<>Because He is omnipotent, His power and invincibility will never diminish.
<>Because He is omniscient, His wisdom and insight are infinite.
<>Because He is omnipresent, He will never leave or forsake His people.
<>Because He is omnicompetent, His rule and judgment are eternally perfect.

v. 9
When our faith in Christ is fortified through the teachings of godly leaders (13:7), we are less likely to be steered off course by false teachers. The doctrines of Jesus are unchangeable and remain relevant in every generation. “Divers” (poikilais) means “a great variety” “or “many-colored.” Bad theology is deemed multi-faceted compared with the singular message of the Gospel. “Strange” is xenias and refers to that which is foreign or unusual. The doctrine of Christ (2 Jn. 9) has nothing in common with doctrines of men or demons (Col. 2:22 & I Tim. 4:1). Believers are exhorted to avoid all intriguing and alluring theories foreign to the Gospel message.

The Rabbis and false teachers of the first century added myriads of petty religious trivialities to the Levitical law. Stipulations regarding kosher foods reached epidemic proportions. Paul continuously contended with those who sought to bring Believers into bondage by forcing dietary regulations upon them. He told the Corinthians that neither abstaining nor partaking of certain foods would bring them closer to God (I Cor. 8:8). Some demanded Christians abstain from meat altogether (I Tim. 4:3). Paul warned the Galatians that erroneous teachings will “pervert the Gospel of Christ” (Gal. 1:7). The church must not allow people’s faith to be destroyed over such divisive issues (Rom. 14:15, 20). The Colossians were taught to not let anyone judge them “concerning meat or drink” (Col. 2:16). Only the living water of the Holy Spirit and the nourishment of God’s Word can stabilize Believers.

The writer’s previous mention of “meats” refers to controversial doctrines (Heb. 9:10). But in the broadest sense, this term epitomizes all man-made dogmatic directives regarding food. Every religious dietary law is based on a doctrine of works and is therefore diametrically opposed to Christ’s doctrine of grace. The readers are encouraged to place their hope in Christ, rather than in legal observances concerning what to eat - or abstain from eating.

v. 10
The “altar” from which Believers partake is not connected with the dietary debate just mentioned. Although this verse has been a source of much debate among commentators, the writer’s meaning is clear. Confusion results when one attempts to link the previous verse closely with this one. Whereas the consumption of food in verse nine is literal, the “eating” mentioned in this verse is figurative.

“We have” are words designed to call attention to our wonderful privilege. “To eat” is a metaphor meaning “to partake.” Our spiritual sustenance is Christ’s vicarious atonement. The concept of “an altar” represents a religious system. None may partake of Christ’s “altar” and a Levitical altar simultaneously, for the two are mutually exclusive. Those still trapped in legalism have no right (exousian) to partake of Christ. Exousian refers to rights and privileges. Whereas Judaism’s altar is the Old Covenant, the Christian’s altar is the New Covenant. In his closing remarks, the writer again affirms that redemption through Christ and Jewish ritualism have little in common.

vv. 11-12
The concept of taking people or things “outside the camp” has its roots in the Old Testament. Blasphemers were stoned to death outside the encampment of Israel (Lev. 24:14). Lepers were not allowed near the camp (Num. 12:14). If one worked on the Sabbath day, he was to be taken beyond its perimeter and stoned to death (Num. 15:32-36). Executions could not take place within the gates of Jerusalem. As the animal carcasses from the sacrifices for sin were disposed of outside of the compound, so Christ was rejected and crucified outside the Holy City (Jn. 19:16-17).

The sin offerings on the Day of Atonement were symbolic of Christ’s redeeming sacrifice. On that day, the remains of animals which had been offered for sin were disposed of beyond the boundaries of the encampment. Their bodies were burned, rather than eaten (Lev. 16:27). What the Israelite “camp” represented to the Jews in Moses’ day, the city of Jerusalem represented to the Jews in Jesus’ day. What was unlawful to do in the Levitical tabernacle was unlawful to do later in the temple in Jerusalem.

v. 13
When the epistle to the Hebrews was written, Jerusalem was viewed as the epicenter of Judaism. Inside its walls, Jews were insulated from the Gentile world. But throughout this epistle, the writer strives to affirm the impossibility of communing with God through empty ceremonialism. All rituals must be left behind in order to follow Christ. Those who come to Him “outside the city” - at Calvary - will endure the same derision, contempt, and scorn heaped upon Him. To bear His “reproach” (oneidismon) is the same term used earlier, alluding to the public defamation and persecution his readers had suffered (Heb. 10:32-33). Moses esteemed the reproach (oneidismon) of Christ as greater riches than all the wealth of Egypt (11:26).

v. 14
The phrase, “for here we have no continuing city” draws our attention to a primary benefit of salvation. On our impermanent earth, the hope of something permanent sustains us. That which is “better and enduring” awaits is in heaven (10:34). The earthly Jerusalem was doomed. Within a few years of the writing of this epistle, the temple and the remnants of the obsolete Levitical system would virtually disappear. Jerusalem and Judaism were destined to be uprooted by Titus and his Roman legions. There was no future for religious ritualism, for only those “things that cannot be shaken will remain” (12:27). The heroes of chapter eleven sought “the city whose builder and maker is God” (11:10 & 12:22). Because Believers have no permanent home on earth, they anticipate the heavenly Jerusalem (Rev. 21:2).

v. 15
Because of the certainty of our heavenly abode, we spontaneously praise God. David said, “I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise will continually be in my mouth” (Ps. 34:1). “The fruit of lips” is a Hebraism referring to what we confess to be true (Hos. 14:3). The sacrifices Believers offer are not found on cold altars of stone, but flow from hearts warmed by the love of Jesus. Unlike occasional animal offerings, sacrifices of praise can be offered to God perpetually.

v. 16
Praise alone does not please God, for the fruit of our lives must supersede the fruit of our lips. True discipleship is validated by empathetic action. There are two admonitions in this verse. To “do good” (eupoiias) refers to works of mercy that spring from a generous heart. The second command is to “communicate” (koinonias), meaning “to make one’s self a partner.” Koinonias has its roots in the term “fellowship” (koinonia) which pictures a close association with others. Whereas praise is directed upward to God, acts of compassion must be directed outward to those in need. As a result, our beneficent actions will motivate those we bless to praise God (Mt. 5:16). The Lord is pleased with our praise, but He is well pleased as we share our tangible resources with those less fortunate (Acts 4:32).

QUESTIONS: DOCTRINES, SACRIFICES AND HEAVEN

Hebrews 13:8-16

1. The writer cautions us to avoid false teachers. What astonished the people in Mark 1:22?

2. Paul said the day would come when people would not endure what? (II Timothy 4:3)

3. According to John 14:26, who is our best teachers?

4. Jesus is:
A. omnipresent
B. omniscient
C. omnicompetent
D. omnipotent
E. all of the above

5. According to I Corinthians 8:8, eating certain foods can bring us closer to God. True or False?

6. The writer urges us to praise the Lord. According to Psalm 107: 8, 15, 21 and 31, list the reasons we are to praise God.

7. According to Psalm 51:17, what type of sacrifice pleases God?

8. According to Luke 6:38, what will happen if I provide for the needs of others?

9. Make a list of people you know that are in need. In what specific ways can you help them?

 


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