The epistle to the Hebrews has an excellent design, a fascinating subject, and a dynamic style. This book begins like a treatise but ends like a letter. Its purpose is established in the opening verses: to show Christ’s relationship to the Old Testament and vice-versa. When Christ is introduced in this epistle, He is seated at God’s right hand in heaven (1:3).
The writer proves Jesus is above any person, institution, ritual, or sacrifice. Jesus Himself declares He is greater than Solomon or Jonah (Lk. 11:31-32). He is absolutely in command of all creation. Christ is better than the prophets (1:1-3), angels (1:4-2:18), Moses (3:1-19), Joshua (4:1-13), Aaron (5:14-7:18), Abraham (7:2), Judaism (7:19-10:39), and the Old Testament saints (11:1-12:3). The book addresses the better sacrifice He offers and the better covenant He mediates (10:1-10).
The theme of heaven is prominent throughout the letter. We have a heavenly calling (3:1), a heavenly gift (6:4), heavenly things (8:5), and are headed for a heavenly country (11:16). The character of the epistle is stated at the end: the readers are exhorted to mature in Christ (13:22).
The book of Hebrews is written as the Mosaic covenant transitions into the Messianic covenant. The writer depicts Christ as the bridge between the temporary Old Testament and the permanent New Testament. Whereas the old covenant is imperfect and unable to eliminate sin, Jesus is perfect and able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him (7:25). Jesus has a better name (1:4), offers a better hope (7:19), gives better promises (8:6), and has a better ministry (8:2). He is humble, reverent, obedient (5:8), sinless (4:15), all-powerful (1:3), and perfect (7:26). Jesus is worthy of worship, for He is the Heir, Creator, Revelator, Sustainer, Redeemer, Ruler, and God’s own Son (1:2-14).
“Greatness” is the definitive theme of Hebrews. By making sweeping contrasts, the author shows we have a great salvation (2:3), a great reward (10:35), a great company of witnesses (12:1), a great Shepherd (13:20), and a great High Priest (4:14). The Lord is shown to be eternal (7:16), continuous, and unchangeable (7:24). He mediates His new covenant (12:24) by a new and living way (10:20). We look to Jesus as the Captain of our Salvation (2:10), our great Apostle (3:1), and the Author and Finisher of our faith (12:2).
The book has no equal in the canon of Scripture. The book of Galatians brings us into liberty, Philippians is the epistle of joy. Ephesians takes us into the heavenly places. But Hebrews takes us to the throne of grace. In content, doctrine, and scope, it exceeds even the epistle to the Romans.
This epistle is a wonderful commentary on the Old Testament. It explains more about typology than any other Bible book. In this short epistle there are nearly one hundred references directly traceable to Old Testament passages. The author’s favorite source is the Pentateuch. These first five books of the Bible, either by allusion or direct quotation, are referenced over fifty times.
Hebrews divides itself into two sections. The doctrinal portion (1:1-10:18) regards the person and work of Christ and the pragmatic portion (10:19-13:25) addresses the life He enables us to live. In the first chapters, we discover Jesus is the Mediator of the new covenant. In the final chapters, we discover Believers are the beneficiaries of this covenant. Specific Christian duties are not the focus of the first part and there are no doctrines stressed in the second part.
Most Christians know little about the high-priestly ministry of Christ. It is only in Hebrews that this essential doctrine is explained. The call for steadfast perseverance is more evident in this epistle than in any other. The letter is written to encourage Believers who might become discouraged through long and bitter trials. The writer hopes to reignite a fiery trust in God, lest their faith die in the ashes of smoldering apathy.
There are several distinct warnings in this letter. The most solemn precautions against backsliding and apostasy are found within the book of Hebrews. Five times the writer pauses to make a strong appeal to his readers. However, these exhortations do not seem to increase in severity, as some allege. They can be inserted into the text in any order and still serve their purpose. Each warning is an encouragement to apply the teachings God has given us. Every one of them carries a prevailing undertone of caution against being drawn back into Judaism. These five are as follows:
1. Don’t Drift – 2:1-4
2. Don’t Doubt – 3:7-4:13
3. Don’t Denounce – 5:11-6:20
4. Don’t Disobey – 10:26-31
5. Don’t Depart – 12:25-29
The fact that there are consequences for disobedience should prompt us to stay faithful. In the first warning, we are told we cannot escape if we disregard salvation through Christ (2:3). The second tells us we will face the wrath of God if we distrust His ability to supply our needs (3:11). In the third we are in danger of being rejected if we discredit the Son of God (6:8). The next admonition makes it clear sinning guarantees God’s judgment (10:27). The final one lets Believers know the consequences of not listening to God (12:25). The Lord uses both love and fear to motivate us. His love is proven by His exhortations. Although God chastens us at times, it is always with a redemptive purpose. The church today needs to be concerned about spiritual slothfulness. Church rituals of the twenty-first century can entrap Believers as easily as temple rituals entrapped the Jews in the first century.
The epistle opens with the assurance God is still speaking to Believers today (1:1) and closes with the admonition to listen to what He says (13:22). We would do well to heed the warnings of Hebrews by pressing on and running the race with patience.
QUESTIONS: THE BOOK
The answers to the following questions are found both in the Bible and within this essay.
1. Which of the following men are named in Hebrews?
E. all of the above
2. Which of the following are obvious themes in Hebrews?
B. Christ’s superiority
E. A, B & D
3. In scope, doctrine and content, Hebrews exceeds even the book of: ______________
4. The book of Hebrews explains more about ________________ than any other Bible book.
5. The writer of Hebrews most often quotes which of the following?
A. the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible)
6. The first part of Hebrews (1:1-10:18), is considered the __________________portion.
7. The second part of Hebrews (10:19-13:25), is considered the ______________portion.
8. The five warnings found in Hebrews deal with neglect, unbelief, apostasy, sin, and rebelliousness. True or False?