Many speculate concerning who the readers of this epistle are and where they are located. But it is evident the original recipients of this letter are a community of Jewish Believers. This is why the author does not explain the details of Judaism or make reference to Gentiles. First-century Jewish Christians viewed themselves as still connected to ritualistic Judaism. At that time, the concept of Christianity apart from Jewish ritualism was in the earliest stages of development.
From God Himself the Jews received the blueprint for a dramatic visual religion. This was outlined for them in the book of Leviticus. The tabernacle served as a temporary, mobile arena for sacrifices. The temple in Jerusalem later provided a centralized place of worship. It was natural for them to attempt to retain this rich spiritual heritage. The epistle rests on the premise the readers still held Judaism in high regard. For Jews of that era, conversion to Christianity changed everything. Christian Jews were banished from the Temple and all forms of worship associated with it. The author desires to wean them away from their attraction to the Mosaic rituals with which they are so familiar. There was a crying need for a systematic treatise to be written to address these issues. The book of Hebrews serves this purpose perfectly.
This epistle was written to the generation of Christians who were converted soon after Jesus ascended into heaven. The internal evidence in this letter shows the readers came out of Judaism and became disciples of Jesus. In Acts, we see the reluctance of the disciples to accept the Gentiles into the Kingdom of God. Without a vision from God, Peter would been reluctant to interact with Cornelius (Acts 10:28). Although it is made clear Gentiles are to have equal status in the Christian faith, Jewish disciples are uncertain how to bridge this prejudicial gap.
In accordance with Levitical directives, the Jews had been worshiping Jehovah for centuries. The author does not suggest Judaism be totally abolished, for this would have been an intolerable culture shock. Paul’s epistles reflect concern that Christianity not be labeled as a sect of Judaism. While Paul does not seek to eliminate Judaic rituals, he is determined that converted Gentiles will not be put in bondage to Old Testament circumcision (Gal. 5:1). The epistle to the Hebrews was essential in order to help Jewish Believers transition from the old covenant into the new.
The impending destruction of the temple was destined to shake the foundations of Judaism. In the very near future, the Jews and their religion will be globally displaced. This is why the book so sharply contrasts the impermanence of the Old Testament with the permanence of the New Testament.
The progression of Christianity can be traced from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria, and into the uttermost parts of the world (Acts 1:8). The personal references in the letter indicate it is sent to a group residing in a definite location, such as Palestine, Rome, Antioch, Colossae, Ephesus, Borea, Alexandria, or Jerusalem. Wherever they are, the readers are national Hebrews still involved to some extent in the customs, rituals, traditions, and sacrifices of the old Judaic system.
The author of Hebrews warns them about slothfulness (6:12), not giving earnest heed (2:1), growing faint (12:3), neglecting salvation (2:3), drawing back into sin (10:38), falling short (4:1) and losing their faith (4:14). They are exhorted to be diligent (6:11) and to run their race with patience (12:1). Although they are not new to the faith (5:12), he encourages them to press on to full maturity as he reveals the glory of Christ. They are to consider Him their victorious Messiah, overcomming all obstacles to reap the ultimate reward (10:35). The writer acknowledges his readers have suffered greatly since placing faith in Christ. Some had lost everything short of their own lives (10:32-34). Because they faced tremendous hostility and persecution, some lacked confidence in Christ and were in danger of drifting back into ritualism.
The writer proves Christianity is not simply an addendum to Judaism. In Luke 24:45, we find Christ opened the comprehension of the disciples, helping them to understand the Old Testament scriptures. This is the aim of the writer of Hebrews as well.
QUESTIONS: THE READERS
1. The original recipients of the letter to the Hebrews are:
2. How many references does the writer make concerning Gentiles?
3. What religion do the readers hold in high regard?
4. Without a vision from God, Peter would have had a hard time interacting with whom?
5. The Old Testament book giving the most specific directions concerning sacrificial offerings is:
C. I & II Samuel
E. none of the above
6. The author suggests that Judaism be totally abolished. True or False?
7. The aim of the writer is to:
8. After reading the letter to the Hebrews, the readers understand that Christianity is a supplement to Judaism. True or False?
9. Discuss with your mate the importance of Christians understanding their Jewish “roots.” Dialogue concerning Jesus comment in Matthew 15:24.