Introduction to Hebrews

hebrews-supremacy-of-christWe have commenced a series on the book of Hebrews this past Sunday. I will post an overview of each chapter for the next weeks. You can click here to listen to the Sunday sermons.

Hebrews: Jesus is greater, so hold fast to Him

The book of Hebrews is a long list of reasons to cling to Jesus. Hebrews was written for Christians who had been in the church for a while. These folks knew about angels, the Old Testament heroes, the devil, and Moses’ tabernacle, but someone thought they needed to know a little more.

So someone wrote Hebrews—we don’t know who.

It’s a word of exhortation (Heb 13:22), a message that comforts us and motivates us to obey God.

No other book of the Bible so powerfully demonstrates Jesus’supremacy. Throughout Hebrews, the author compares Jesus to the heroes and icons of the Jewish faith. Each hero played a part, but His sacrifice, His covenant, and His current ministry are far, far greater than anything the others have to offer:

Jesus is greater than the angels, because He is the divine King (Heb 1:4, 6, 8).

Jesus is greater than Moses, because while Moses was a servant of God, Jesus is the Son of God (Heb 3:3–4).

Jesus is greater than Joshua, because Jesus brings a greater rest to the people of God (Heb 4:8–9).

Jesus is a greater priest than Aaron, because He is sinless and immortal (Heb 7:26–28).

But not only is Jesus better than any other human religious figure—He also has a better ministry after ushering in a better covenant built on better promises with a better sacrifice, that is, Jesus Himself (Heb 7:22; 8:6; 9:12).

And what should we do about this? The author of Hebrews encourages the audience to join him in two things:

Holding fast to the confession—relying on Christ and not turning away from the faith (Heb 4:14, 10:23).

Stimulating one another to love and good deeds—living in ways that demonstrate faith, obedience, thankfulness, reverence, and love (Heb 10:24).

Apart from Romans, Hebrews is the most doctrine-heavy book of the New Testament1. This book compellingly preaches and repreaches Christ to those who know Him even today. No other book of the Bible so thoroughly explores Jesus’ New Covenant and current priestly ministry like Hebrews.

But that’s not really what this book is famous for. Today, Christians immediately associate two things with the book of Hebrews: the mystery of who wrote it, and the “Hall of Faith.”

We don’t know who wrote Hebrews. It could have been Barnabas, Priscilla, Apollos—it could have been almost anyone.

Here’s what we do know, though: Hebrews was likely written by someone who heard about Jesus after He ascended. The author claims that salvation was first spoken through Jesus, then through those who heard Jesus. “Those who heard”then performed signs, wonders, and miracles (Heb 2:3–4).

 

The author of Hebrews puts himself in a third category of people who heard about Jesus second-hand. This would exclude Paul, who specifically says he did not receive the gospel from men, but from Jesus Himself (Gal 1:12). Besides, the feel of Hebrews is quite different from that of the Pauline epistles.

Hebrews is also well known for its eleventh chapter, which has been nicknamed the “Hall of Faith.” This chapter is a long list of Old Testament characters who, through faith, accomplished great things and bore up under great tribulation. This chapter cites Abraham, Moses, many characters from the book of Judges, and others as examples of what God can accomplish through our faith.

Both points of interest (the mystery of authorship and the compelling presentation of content) may stem from Hebrew’s original nature. Many scholars believe Hebrews was first written as a sermon (or series of sermons) to a congregation. When the sermon was distributed to other churches, an epistle-sounding conclusion may have been added to the end. This could explain why there is no formal introduction to this letter like the ones we see in every other NT epistle.

 

Tradition hold that the book of Hebrews was written to Christian (surprise, surprise!) Hebrews. The author never explicitly says the audience is Jewish, but does assume that the audience is intimately familiar with the Old Testament, especially the Pentateuch.

Even so, this epistle is, I believe, one of God’s greatest gifts to His church: an expository look at the person, life, covenant, sacrifice, and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is indeed greater than all others.

Written by  Jeffrey and Laura Kranz

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